Quinnipiac professor maps Fredrick Douglass’ journey through Dublin

Katie Langley, Copy Editor

Christine Kinealy, professor of history and Irish studies and director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute in Hamden, created a map documenting abolitionist, social reformer and former enslaved worker Fredrick Douglass’ walking route through Dublin, Ireland between 1845-46. 

“It is rare that we get an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of our heroes, but this historic map allows us to do just that,” Kinealy said.

The Statue of Fredrick Douglass is located at the entrance of the Quinnipiac School of Law. (Chatwan Mongkol)

Kinealy, who has authored several books on the Irish famine, Douglass and related topics, said that Ireland has a unique history of supporting social reform. 

“Ireland had been a colony of Britain since the 12th century and had a long history of trying to win her own right to self-govern — unsuccessfully — so (Ireland’s) support for the struggles of other oppressed peoples is fascinating,” Kinealy said.   

Douglass, who escaped enslavement seven years before his arrival in Ireland, found himself seeking refuge in the country when his memoir, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,” put him in danger of capture. Kinealy said he also sought to gain support for the abolition movement in Ireland. 

“(Douglass) spent the first four months of his 20-month exile in Ireland, an experience that he described as ‘transformative,’” Kinealy said. “Ireland was to be an important step in him becoming the international champion of human rights, who continues to inspire us today.” 

Photo contributed by Christine Kinealy

When asked how Douglass’ teachings and experiences in Ireland can inspire racial justice today, Kinealy highlighted the importance of intersectionality within activism, as Douglass practiced. 

“(Douglass) devoted his whole life to fighting for social justice and equality,” Kinealy said. “On the day of his death, when he was 77 years old, he attended a meeting for women’s suffrage.”

Kinealy said Douglass also stressed the importance of all people participating in the constant, ongoing struggle against racism. 

“In September 1845, Frederick gave a speech in Ireland in which he called on people who wanted justice to ‘agitate, agitate, agitate,’” Kinealy said.

Following the killing of George Floyd in 2020, activists have agitated by taking to the streets to demand that Black lives matter. The cause has not been limited to the United States, and has extended to Ireland, where another George was killed by police. 

On December 30, 2020, George Nkencho, a 27-year-old Black, Irish man, was shot and killed by police in Dublin, calling into question if Ireland can be viewed as a beacon of equality. Nkencho was known to suffer from mental health issues, and protesters suggested that insufficient training and racial biases have left police unequipped to handle vulnerable people.  

“The killing of George Nkencho is tragic — a young life ended unnecessarily,” Kinealy said. “It is particularly heartbreaking in the context of Ireland, where police shootings are rare, and he is believed to be the first Black person shot dead by Irish police.” 

Following the example of Douglass, Kinealy said she hopes that justice is achieved for Nkencho’s family. 

“I hope that we can learn from George’s death and say, ‘never again,’” Kinealy said.