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Min Brophy remarks, A diverse diaspora, the African American link

The Irish America Series

A diverse diaspora: the African American link

Wednesday 28 October 2020


Opening Remarks


A chairde,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the third event in our Irish America Series. Through the series, we hope to encourage discussion and gain a deeper understanding of who or what Irish America is, how it may be changing, and how best we can connect with the next generation of our diaspora. Some of you may have attended the first event of the series in Iveagh House in February during which Professor Liam Kennedy looked at what it means to be young and of Irish descent in the US today.

For our second event in June of this year, and in view of the pandemic, we moved online and invited three academics and Fulbright scholars to share insights from their research into diverse groups of Irish Americans.

Today, we will hear about the historical links between African American and Irish groups in the US, the significance for Irish American identity, and indeed for the wider diaspora.

As Minister of State for the Diaspora at the Department of Foreign Affairs, I oversee the Irish Government’s support for and engagement with our Diaspora communities. It has often been said that Ireland’s greatest asset is its people. Indeed from the establishment of the State, Ireland has deeply valued its diaspora. Much of my work focuses on empowering Irish communities abroad to remain as connected as possible to Ireland and to each other.

Ireland’s largest diaspora population is in the United States and our relationship with the US is one of our deepest, most important and most enduring. Last year, the Government launched a new Strategy for the United States and Canada, committing Ireland to strengthen on our connections with the diaspora in those two countries.

As we bring the series online, it is encouraging and heartening to see the great interest from both sides of the Atlantic in these discussions.  

For generations, Irish people of all ages and identities have emigrated and settled in the United States - some pushed by hardship, others in search of greater economic opportunities and a life that may not have been possible for them at home. As a consequence, over 30 million Americans today claim Irish heritage, with many more holding a special affinity for our nation. Their stories speak of shared experiences and of a shared history. And as Ireland and the United States become progressively more diverse, their stories are woven into the patchwork of diaspora communities.

This event, which falls during Black History Month in Ireland, focuses on this diverse diaspora; in particular, the African American Link. It is also fitting that this year marks the 175th anniversary of the visit to Ireland by Frederick Douglass, arguably one of the most significant abolitionists of the 19th century. Later in life, Douglass remarked that this visit included some of the happiest times of his life.

We are fortunate today to have three panellists who will speak to us about the historical links between the Irish and African Americans in the US, as well as what this means for race relations in Ireland today. I am delighted to welcome:

-         Dennis Brownlee, founder of the African American Irish Diaspora Network,

-         Lenwood Sloan, also on the board of the African American Irish Diaspora Network

-         And Ebun Joseph from the Institute of Antiracism and Black Studies in Dublin

Before we hear from them, I would invite you to watch a short video clip which was directed by our guest Lenwood Sloan and produced by Dennis Brownlee. It is narrated by Nettie Washington Douglass, a descendent of Frederick Douglass. The video explores Ireland’s connection with Frederick Douglass and the living legacy he leaves today. The full version of this video will be played again this evening at the launch of Christine Kinealy’s new book “Black Abolitionists in Ireland”. That event will be hosted by our Embassy in Washington D.C. at 6pm Irish time.

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