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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 brought renewed attention to the experience of Frederick Douglass in Ireland in 2021. 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 annual commemoration of Frederick Douglass’s journey to Ireland in 1845, taking place in 2024 between the 14th and 20th of April. 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. Focused in Belfast in 2024, the event will also feature events in Cork, Washington DC, Rochester, and online around the world. 

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.”

Visit for more information. 

For more information

Douglass Week and its focus on historical events call to mind the 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. 

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