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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
Over the coming months, the Embassy of Ireland in Washington DC and our Consulates in New York, Boston and elsewhere will partner with organisations across Ireland and the United States to mark the 175th anniversary of Douglass’s visit and to reflect on his enduring legacy. 
Amongst the events already confirmed are:
  • ‘‘Agitate, Agitate, Agitate’’: a virtual tour of Dublin in Douglass’s footsteps with Professor Christine Kinealy & actor Eon Grey, part of Ireland’s Culture Night, 18 September
  • ‘‘Frederick Douglass & Ireland’’: a conversation about history, solidarity, & racial justice in Ireland and the US, featuring some of America’s foremost black history & Douglass scholars, and hosted by the African-American Irish Diaspora Network & Georgetown University, on 29 September, the anniversary of Douglass’s first meeting with Daniel O’Connell
  • ‘‘Douglass in Ireland: An Exhibition’’: on the same date, 29 September, a new exhibition on Douglass’s visit to Ireland will open at the Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI) 
  • ‘‘The Frederick Douglass Project’’: on 22 October, 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
  • ‘‘Douglass in Ireland: A 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’’: From 8 - 14 February next year, academics at University College Cork are planning a range of events to celebrate the anniversary of Douglass visit to Ireland’s southern capital
With the exception of the exhibition, all of the above events will be primarily digital, broadcast online and open to the public. Several other initiatives in Ireland and the US are also at an advanced stage of planning and will be announced – and posted to this website - over the coming weeks. For updates, alongside 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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