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Frederick Douglass in Ireland - 175th Anniversary Commemorations

Frederick Douglass in Ireland - 175th Anniversary Commemorations

Frederick Douglass, the most photographed man of the 19th Century, in the decade he visited Ireland

‘‘Eleven days and a half gone, and I have crossed three thousand miles of the perilous deep ocean… Instead of the bright blue sky of America, I am covered with the soft grey fog of the Emerald Isle. I breathe, and lo! the chattel becomes a man. I gaze around in vain for one who will question my equal humanity, claim me as his slave, or offer me an insult.”
Frederick Douglass, January 1846, reflecting on his arrival in Dublin on 31 August, 1845
 
At a time of extensive debate in both the United States and Ireland on racial inequities and how to address them, join us in reflecting on the legacy of arguably history’s greatest abolitionist and civil rights activist, and his ''transformative'' visit to Ireland, 175 years ago.
 
Douglass in Ireland
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland in 1818. Aged about twelve, two Irishmen working in a ship-yard alongside him counselled young Douglass ‘‘run away to the north’’. Eight years later, he did just that, establishing himself in Massachusetts. 
 
He documented his life in servitude and escape from it in his autobiography, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave published, to great controversy and acclaim, in the spring of 1845. 
 
Three short months later, Douglass fled Boston for Ireland. After a short stop in Liverpool, he arrived on 31 August, 1845, writing to friends in America, ‘‘I am now safe in old Ireland, in the beautiful city of Dublin’’. 
 
His stay was to have been only a few weeks, but lasted more than four months. In that time, Douglass delivered scores of lectures across Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, Limerick, Cork and Belfast; published an Irish edition of The Narrative; bore witness to the suffering & strife of a people experiencing the first months of what would be the Great Famine; and met fellow celebrated abolitionists, above all ‘‘the Liberator’’ Daniel O’Connell, by whose oratory Douglass was ‘‘completely captivated’’, his style of ‘‘sweet persuasiveness… beyond any voice I ever heard.’’  
 
Writing to William Lloyd Garrison from Belfast, towards the end of his stay, Douglass observed that: ‘‘I can truly say, I have spent some of the happiest moments of my life since landing in this country. I seem to have undergone a transformation. I live a new life.’’ 
 
The Douglass Legacy in Ireland: Commemorations & Reflections
Through 2020 and the first months of 2021, the Embassy of Ireland and our Consulates in New York and elsewhere are partnering with organisations across Ireland and the United States to mark the 175th anniversary of Douglass’s visit and to reflect on his enduring legacy. 
 
Already, we have already held several major events, including a virtual tour of Dublin in Douglass’s footsteps as part of Ireland’s Culture Night on 18 September and ‘‘Agitate: Frederick Douglass & Ireland’’, a conversation with some of America’s foremost black history & Douglass scholars on 29 September, the anniversary of Douglass’s first meeting with Daniel O’Connell. 
 
On that same date, our Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney joined Nettie Washington Douglass, Frederick’s great-great granddaughter and James Pellow, CEO of the The Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) to announce a new initiative, the Frederick Douglass Global Fellowships, which will see ten outstanding American students from minority backgrounds follow in Douglass’s footsteps by studying in Ireland next summer. 
 
If you’ve missed these events, don’t worry. A host of other programmes are planned over the coming weeks and months, with highlights including: 
  • ''Famine Heroes: Frederick Douglass in Ireland'': on 18 October (2pm ET, 7pm Irish time), Great Famine Voices present a new half long documentary on Douglass’s visit to Ireland, followed by an interview with filmmakers 
  • ''The Frederick Douglass Project'': on 22 October (2pm ET, 7pm Irish time) the creative team behind Solas Nua’s award-winning production The Frederick Douglass Project come together to discuss how they translated Douglass’s time in Ireland to the stage and what lessons their experience might hold for others seeking to develop multicultural artistic productions
  • ''Black Abolitionists in Ireland: A Book & Film Launch'': on 28 October (2pm ET, 6pm Irish time), the Embassy will celebrate Ireland’s Black History Month by hosting the launch of Black Abolitionists in Ireland, an essential new work by Professor Christine Kinealy which traces the stories of ten black abolitionists, including Douglass, who travelled to Ireland in the decades before the American Civil War to win support for their cause. Marking the occasion, we will also premiere a new short film, commissioned by the Embassy and created by the African American Irish Diaspora Network, celebrating the 175th anniversary of Douglass's historic Irish visit
  • ''Douglass Symposium at Celtic Junction Minnesota’’: on 30 October (7pm ET, 11 pm Irish time) our friends at Celtic Junction, with support from our Consul General in Chicago, will host a panel reflecting on Douglass’s visit and his legacy today across Minnesota and beyond   
  • ''Douglass in Ireland: Princeton Symposium’’: on 13 November, Princeton University’s 2020-21 Fund for Irish Studies series presents a symposium on Douglass’s tour of Ireland, including Colum McCann, author of TransAtlantic, and Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies Autumn Womack
  • ''Douglass Week in Cork'': last, but by no means least, from 8 - 14 February next year, friends at University College Cork, with support from a host of others across Ireland and the US, are planning a range of events to celebrate the anniversary of Douglass visit to our southern capital
All of the above events are entirely or primarily online and open to the public though, as capacity is limited in certain cases, we encourage you to register early. For updates, alongside this webpage and our Embassy twitter feed, please follow our partners, including: The Frederick Douglass Ireland Project; Douglass in Cork; and the African American Irish Diaspora Network
 

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