The 1845 Dublin visit of anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass has been commemorated with a plaque in Dublin city.
Born into slavery in Maryland in the US in 1818 as Frederick Bailey, he taught himself and other slaves to read and write, eventually escaping in 1838 and taking the name Douglass from the poem The Lady of the Lake by Walter Scott.
Following the publication of his autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself, he came to Europe on an abolitionists’ speaking tour, spending five months in Ireland visiting Cork, Belfast, Limerick and Wexford as well as Dublin.
He arrived in Dublin intending to spend four days, but stayed for almost six weeks. While in Ireland Douglass met Daniel O’Connell, a firm opponent of slavery, and the two men spoke at Conciliation Hall, on Burgh Quay.
Douglass was a guest of Dublin’s Quaker Community, and in September 1845 he spoke at the old Friends’ Meeting House in Eustace Street, now the Irish Film Institute.
Speaking at the unveiling of the plaque at the building historian Cecelia Hartsell said his visit to Ireland had a “transformative” effect on him.
In a letter he wrote after the visit he said he had “spent some of the happiest moments of my life since landing in this county. I seem to have undergone a transformation, I live a new life.”
She said he noted the “deep sympathy” Irish people had for the plight of slaves and the “strong abhorrence of the slave holder”. He said: “I breath and lo the chattel becomes a man”.
The plaque was unveiled by Lord Mayor Alison Gilliland who said it "tells all who see it that back in 1845, he found himself welcomed with, in his own words, 'a total absence of all manifestations of prejudice…' and was treated not 'as a colour, but as a man.'"
The plaque was proposed by Sinn Féin councillor Mícheál Mac Donncha, chair of the Dublin City Council Commemorations and Naming Committee, who said it was a reminder not only of the work of Douglass but the need to continue to oppose racism.
“This plaque to Frederick Douglass sees the great African-American anti-slavery leader recognised by our city for his immense contribution to human liberty and progress,” he said.
“Acts of commemoration such as this serve to remind us that while slavery was abolished in the United States, racism persists and needs to be opposed vigorously in all countries including our own.”