Anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass was remembered in Waterford on Monday.
A blue plaque was unveiled on the facade of Waterford City Hall to mark a speech he gave in the city during a lecture tour of Ireland in October 1845.
A former slave who was one of the leading abolitionists of his day, Douglass wrote about how heartened he was by his visit to Ireland during the famine.
Mayor of Waterford John Cummins discussed how he met and befriended Daniel O’Connell during his visit.
“While in Ireland, Frederick had the great fortune to meet, befriend and work with one of our national heroes, Daniel O’Connell and, like O’Connell, he was a believer in non-violence and a passionate advocate of reform,” said Cummins.
“He himself regarded his time in Ireland as significant in the development of his ideas. To quote President Obama, his Irish experience ‘defined him not as a color but as a man’ . . . it is only right that the visit of such a significant figure to our city should be commemorated.”
Timothy J Madigan, director of Irish Studies at St John Fisher College in Rochester, NY was also in attendance for the ceremony, the Irish Times reports.
Frederick Douglass lived in Rochester for 25 years and is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester.
“We started on this project about two years ago when we learned that Frederick Douglass had visited Ireland and the visit had a profound impact on him and when we learned he had spoken in Waterford, our sister city, we thought it was a connection worth exploring,” Madigan said.
Born in 1818, Douglass escaped slavery in 1838. It was during his visit to Ireland and Britain in 1845 that some British benefactors bought him out of slavery.
He later wrote about his time in Ireland in ‘My Bondage and My Freedom.’
“I am covered with the soft, grey fog of the Emerald Isle. I breathe, and lo! the chattel 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,” he wrote.
Douglass’ trip to Ireland features in Colum McCann’s bestselling novel TransAtlantic, published earlier this year.
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