Mansion House Dublin
Mansion House Dublin

Frederick Douglass Way Celebrates Abolitionist’s Visit to Ireland

The  176th anniversary of Frederick Douglass’s visit to Ireland was celebrated in 2021 by organizers of a special weeklong event hosted by University College Cork and now The Consulate General of Ireland in New York and the African American Irish Diaspora Network in Ireland have launched the Frederick Douglass Way, a map that shows the key places in Dublin that Douglass visited between 1845 and 1846.

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The charismatic African American abolitionist sailed from the United States in 1845, at the height of the Great Famine in Ireland, with the intention of landing in the country for a four-month lecture tour.

Douglass also visited England during this time.

Douglass spoke before large crowds in Belfast, Cork, Dublin, Limerick, Waterford, and Wexford, even meeting with Daniel O’Connell, also a great speaker and known in Ireland as the “Great Liberator.”

Douglass also visited the Giant’s Causeway in Co. Antrim.

The Frederick Douglass Way Map

The map, which was created by Christine Kinealy, founder of Ireland's Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.

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Kinealy is also the author of the new book, “Black Abolitionists in Ireland.”

She created the Frederick Douglass Way to enable Dublin residents and tourists to follow in the footsteps of Douglass.

The Mansion House in Dublin, where Frederick Douglass dined during his visit to the city. Photo: Mark Dalton, Pexels.

Some of the 10 locations include O'Connell's home on Merrion Square, the Mansion House, home of the lord mayor of Dublin where Douglass was invited to dine, and The EPIC Emigration Museum, formerly a warehouse for ship cargo, which historians believe could have been one of the first buildings in Dublin that Douglass saw when he arrived there from Liverpool.

Read More: Dublin's Free Museums and Galleries

The Story of Frederick Douglass

Douglass was born into slavery on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. Unsure of his birth date, Douglass said he later chose Feb. 14th as his birthday since his mother often called him her “Little Valentine.”

While Douglass was born into slavery, he eventually managed to escape bondage on a plantation in Maryland, fleeing to the North where he emerged as a prominent anti-slavery activist.

Most historians agree that Douglass was half White. The infant was separated from his mother almost immediately and raised by his maternal grandmother.

The Wye House Plantation where a young Frederick Douglass spent several years as a slave. Photo: By Historic American Buildings Survey – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID hhh.md0776. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2405155

He would only see his mother, who lived on a plantation 12 miles away, occasionally as a child. She died before he turned 7.

At that time, he was already separated from his grandparents and had been moved to the Wye House Plantation, also in Maryland.

A portrait of Frederick Douglass in his 20s when he visited Ireland and England. Photo: By Unknown author – http://explorepahistory.com/displayimage.php?imgId=1619, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55480150

Throughout his young life, Douglass was an avid learner, at one point teaching himself to read and write.

Perhaps it was an innate skill for Douglass who once said that his mother, even though she was a slave, was also literate.

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Before freedom, Douglass experienced suffering like many other slaves in the United States at the time. One owner beat Douglass so regularly that his wounds barely had time to heal.

Douglass later wrote about the experience in his autobiography, “My Bondage and My Freedom.”

a house Frederick Douglass Way
The home where Frederick Douglass lived in New Bedford, Mass., with his wife, Ana Murray. Photo: Daniel Case, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4384044

On Sept. 3, 1838, Douglass escaped bondage by boarding a northbound train from Baltimore to freedom.

His first wife, Anna Murray, provided Douglass with the financial means to run away. He arrived in New York City less than 24 hours later, marrying Murray on Sept. 15th.

They would later settle in New Bedford, Mass.

Arrival in Ireland

Ireland was Douglass’s first official stop on his international tour, even though he sailed from the U.S. to Liverpool, then took a boat across the Irish Sea to Dublin.

Douglass was relieved by the freedom he felt while in Ireland, very different from the racial discrimination he had left in his native country.

The history of Ireland is apparent around every corner in Dublin city. Above is a statue to Daniel O'Connell, the “Great Liberator.” Images courtesy of Getty Images and Getty Images Signature.

Douglass wrote, “Instead of the bright, blue sky of America, I am covered with the soft, grey fog of the Emerald Isle [Ireland]. I breathe, and lo! the chattel [slave] 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. I employ a cab—I am seated beside white people—I reach the hotel—I enter the same door—I am shown into the same parlour—I dine at the same table—and no one is offended … I find myself regarded and treated at every turn with the kindness and deference paid to white people.”

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Giant’s Causeway: Frederick Douglass’s Irish Odyssey and the
Making of an American Visionary

While in Ireland, Douglass experienced for the first time in his life a real sense of freedom, having the ability to finally find his true voice as an international human rights champion.

Throughout his journey, Douglass was, for the most part, welcomed by all classes. He was horrified, however, by the poverty and plight of the ordinary Irish person.

There are several remembrances of Douglass’s visit to Ireland in the form of historical plaques, such as those on the Imperial Hotel in Cork City and on the façade of Waterford City Hall.

In addition, a portrait of Douglass hangs in the lord mayor’s parlor in Belfast.

a plaque on the wall Frederick Douglass Way
The plaque, which was erected by the Waterford Civic Trust in honor of Douglass's speech in the city in 1845. Photo: William Murphy, https://www.flickr.com/photos/infomatique/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Are you interested in Irish history? If so, let me know in the comments below.

colette

Colette is a County Sligo native who created Ireland on a Budget to provide her readers with money-saving tips on how to get to Ireland and then save even more when they're there. She's a professional copywriter who lives in the New York area with her husband and two children.

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