UMD Scholars Discuss Frederick Douglass’ Irish Connection

Members of the Frederick Douglass Ireland Project examined links between the struggle for freedom in Ireland and the African American civil rights struggle in the U.S. at an event held Thursday.

The University of Maryland’s Division of Research hosted a dialogue that provided a history of the relationship between two renowned abolitionists, Frederick Douglass and Daniel O’Connell. The event was in celebration of Irish Heritage Month and part of UMD’s “Maryland Dialogues on Diversity and Community” series.

Professor Christine Kinealy of Quinnipiac University and co-founders of the Frederick Douglass Ireland Project, Don Mullan and Kristin Leary made presentations at the event.

Kinealy detailed the life of Ireland native Daniel O’Connell who was known as “The Liberator” internationally for convincing the British government to emancipate the Catholics.

Throughout the event, an emphasis was made not only on the parallels between the Irish and Black experience but an intersectionality between both.

“I’m not interested in history for the sake of history…we are here to figure out how we can use it to make positive change,” said Mullan after speaking about Frederick Douglass’ trip to Ireland to escape capture by his slave owner.

“As an Irish American, it’s incredible to think of the place that my great-grandparents came from being a place that transformed someone as iconic as Frederick Douglass,” said Leary.

Leary said she and Mullan were inspired to start the Frederick Douglass Project after overhearing former Congressman Donald M. Payne speak about Frederick Douglass visiting Ireland.

Following the installment and dedication of a memorial statue of African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass here at UMD, members of the FDIP plan to initiate a tour of a resin model of the statue to other colleges and universities. The FDIP also plans on recreating a Frederick Douglass cultural tail that would showcase where he went and whom he interacted with while in Ireland.

Mullan’s idea to connect Douglass’ visit to Ireland with the U.S.’s election of its first African American president is exhibited in the statue of Douglass, which has the imprint of Obama’s hand.

In a question-and-answer forum at the end of the event, Parren J. Mitchell’s great-nephew Clarence Mitchell IV said for him the event reaffirmed that there are men of good will, regardless of color, that believe in freedom.

Don Mullan, Christine Kinealy, Kristin Leary and Pat O'Shea (left to right) pose for a picture following the dialogue. India Hamilton for Pulsefeedz
Don Mullan, Christine Kinealy, Kristin Leary and Pat O’Shea (left to right) pose for a picture following the dialogue. India Hamilton for Pulsefeedz