US president may visit crypt of O'Connell at Glasnevin


A VISIT to Glasnevin cemetery and the Daniel O’Connell memorial there is being considered as part of President Barack Obama’s visit.

Some way of acknowledging the inspirational influence on former slave Frederick Douglass of his stay in Ireland in the mid-1800s is being sought.

“If we can fit that in the schedule, that would be a wonderful gesture,” US ambassador Dan Rooney said.

Douglass, the escaped slave, abolitionist, orator and statesman, travelled to Ireland in 1845. In September that year, he appeared at a rally in Dublin with O’Connell, who was such a passionate opponent of slavery that he refused to ever shake hands with slaveholders.

Douglass was 27 when he heard the 70-year-old O’Connell speak.

Douglass later wrote, “Eloquence came down upon the vast assembly like a summer thunder-shower upon a dusty road.”

The American felt that O’Connell “held Ireland within the grasp of his strong hand and could lead it whithersoever he would”.

Mr Obama has received appeals from both sides of the Atlantic to inaugurate a memorial to Douglass in Cork. “He won’t go to Cork,” Mr Rooney said, referring to the shortness of time.

There are places in Dublin also associated with Douglass, the ambassador noted.

John Green, chairman of the Glasnevin Trust, wrote to Mr Rooney, inviting the US president to visit Daniel O’Connell’s tomb in Glasnevin cemetery.

“The Glasnevin Trust started life as the burial ground committee, a Catholic association that was one of the pressure groups formed to obtain Catholic emancipation,” Mr Green said.

“Glasnevin, along with the Bank of Ireland, is the last legacy of Daniel O’Connell.”

Mr Green became interested in Douglass because Mr Obama repeatedly spoke of him as a hero during his presidential election campaign.

An exhibition at Glasnevin cemetery’s museum records Douglass’s visit, when O’Connell called Douglass “the Black O’Connell of the United States”.

By visiting Glasnevin, Mr Obama would pay homage to a great Irishman, as well as a great American. “We would love to see President Obama beside O’Connell’s crypt, with the round tower built over it,” Mr Green said. “It was O’Connell who changed Douglass.”