Celebrating Frederick Douglass in Ireland
An online festival commemorates the visit of an African-American abolitionist to Ireland
“I am now about to take leave of the Emerald Isle, for Glasgow, Scotland. I have been here a little more than four months – 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.”
These were the words of famed African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass at the end of his speaking tour to Ireland in January 1846. Douglass had just spent four months in Ireland, where he met fellow abolitionists and addressed enthusiastic audiences in Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, Limerick, Cork, and Belfast. He even met one of Ireland’s greatest heroes, Daniel O’Connell, known as “O’Connell the Liberator” for his work in Catholic Emancipation - and pronounced himself “completely captivated”.
The 175th anniversary of this visit has brought renewed attention to the experience of Frederick Douglass in Ireland. At the time of his arrival to Ireland in the fall of 1846, 27-year-old Douglass was already a prominent anti-slavery activist, after fleeing north to escape the slavery into which he was born. His Irish visit inspired and transformed him, and after some more travel through England and Scotland, he returned to America, where he would ultimately become known as “the father of the civil rights movement” – a superb orator, writer, suffragist, and statesman.
#DouglassWeek is an online commemoration of Frederick Douglass’s journey to Ireland in 1845, between Monday the 8th and Sunday the 14th of February. It brings together students and researchers, historians, artists, musicians, writers, singers, activists and community groups from Ireland and abroad to commemorate Frederick Douglass’s visit. Throughout the week, the event features talks and “in conversation” events as well as other projects, performances, initiatives and contributions from Ireland, the UK and the US.
The organizers say, “#DouglassWeek’s programming highlights the experience of Douglass and other abolitionists and explores issues like identity, migration and race in contemporary Ireland. It emphasizes the continued importance of remembering slavery and the intertwined struggles for independence and liberation in Ireland and the US.”
Highlights of the festival include:
Monday, 8 February, 7-8:15pm (GMT): The Iveagh House Lecture: Douglass/O’Connell Address: Address by Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, followed by a panel conversation with Douglass descendant Kenneth B. Morris, Jr., Secretary General Niall Burgess, Mark Durkan from the John & Pat Hume Foundation and including a tribute to the late US Congressman John Lewis
Tuesday, 9 February, 8:30pm (GMT): Douglass and Diversity on Screen: Roundtable with actors Roger Guenveur Smith and Paul Oakley Stovall (Hamilton), followed by a live performance by Smith of his play “Frederick Douglass NOW”
Wednesday, 10 February, 8pm (GMT): A Musical Evening to Commemorate Douglass, featuring Hamilton stars Paul Oakley Stovall and Nikhil Saboo, Lesley Roy, Grammy-award winning songwriter Marcus Hummon and many others
Thursday, 11th February, 8.30pm-10pm (GMT): Douglass’s Genres: Panel discussion highlighting Douglass’s enormous contribution across several literary genres – autobiography, oratory, letter writing and more
Friday, 12th February, 8pm (GMT): Poetry Evening: Frederick Douglass: Past, Present and Future: Poetry readings featuring a selection of Irish and U.S. poets reading work about and inspired by Douglass. This event includes the announcement of #DouglassWeek Poetry Competition winner and a live performance of the poem by Roger Guenveur Smith
Saturday, 13 February, 8-9pm (GMT): Imagining Douglass: Authors Colum McCann and Jewell Parker Rhodes read from and discuss their novels Transatlantic (2013) and Douglass’s Women (2002)
Sunday, 14 February, 8-9pm (GMT): Our Strong Women: Closing Event, featuring former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, Douglass descendant Nettie Washington Douglass, Lord Mayor of Dublin Hazel Chu, Dr. Ebun Joseph and Emma Dabiri
For more information
Douglass Week and its focus on historical events come at a time of flourishing creativity from people who are both Black and Irish. Here are some resources if you’d like to learn more:
Black and Irish – An Instagram account that uses the Irish art of storytelling to explore Black and Irish identities. Also check out their TikTok account, and the TikTok account of Bonbonod14, one of their founders.
African American Irish Diaspora Network is a new organization connecting African-Americans with Ireland
The Association of Mixed Race Irish is a charity supporting mixed-race people in Irish life.
Black, Brown, and Green Voices at NYU’s Glucksman Ireland House gives voice to the diversity of the diaspora by recording interviews with Black and Brown Irish-Americans.