Frederick Douglass speaks in Limerick

21st November 1845
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In 1845, the American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) visited Ireland, forging a lasting friendship with our great liberator, Daniel O’Connell. His time here, Douglass said, defined him "not as a colour but as a man." In 1845, he published a memoir of his life as an American slave (which placed him at risk of recapture) and fled to the UK, spending several months campaigning in Ireland. Douglass spoke at events around the island including Limerick.

From the pulpit at the Independent Chapel on Bedford Row (now The Buttery café) during his visit to Limerick, Frederick  Douglass, delivered one of the world’s most stirring anti-slavery talks. In it, Douglass firstly tackled the historical belief that the Irish were slaves.

“If slavery existed in Ireland, it ought to put down, and the generous in the land ought to rise and scatter its fragments to the winds, he asserted, which was followed by loud cheers, the Reporter wrote. “But there was nothing like American slavery on the soil on which I now stand. Negro slavery consisted not in taking away a man’s property, but in making property of him.”

Limerick had a blackface actor during the 1840s, by the name of Bateman. Expressing disappointment, Douglass said that he was “sorry to find one of these apes of the negro had been recently encouraged in Limerick”. 

After condemning backward slave laws that governed America, and the apologists of slavery, Douglass concluded his lecture with a graphic demonstration of slavery. In an extravagant showcase, Douglass displayed implements of torture; a cowskin whip with indelible bloodstains, manacles, shackles and chains. Slave-whipping was a horror which he endured many times.

He concluded his speech by saying: "Whether at home or abroad, I will never forget the very kind manner I was received in Limerick".  The Reporter newspaper wrote that the crowd left the Bedford Row lecture “incensed against the infernal traffic in human blood and flesh”.

On November 21, Douglass was feted by Mayor of Limerick Francis P Russell at a lavish soiree at the Philosophical Rooms [also known as Havergal Hall] on Upper Glentworth Street. 400 people attended, the Reporter noted. Adding to the uniqueness of the visit, Douglass declared: “Oh what a transition it was to be changed from the state of a slave to that of a free man!” 

Limerick City Library historian Liam Hogan, has done much research on Limerick’s relationship with the transatlantic slave trade and abolitionism for the past six years. His work on Frederick Douglass’ visit was first published in the Old Limerick Journal in 2015. “As an anti-slavery figure and as an American, he was a really significant person, even literary- and politically-wise, everything. We have everything, including the text, of his lecture, and that should be remembered and commemorated,” Liam says, reflecting on his years of research.

READ MORE Frederick Douglass & His Journey from Slavery to Freedom by Liam Hogan

 

 

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