In 2018, Quinnipiac marked the 200th anniversary of Frederick Douglass’ birth with a series of events to honor his life and his many achievements. One of the high points was a yearlong exhibition curated by Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute that focused on the time Douglass spent in Ireland and his enduring relationship with that country.


Frederick Douglass was born a slave in Maryland. At the age of 20, he escaped to the north, where he quickly established himself as a talented speaker and writer.

In 1845, Douglass wrote his life story: “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. Written by Himself.” To avoid being captured and returned to slavery, he travelled to Europe. He spent the first four months of his exile in Ireland, returning there three more times in 1846. Douglass described his time in Ireland as “transformative” and as “the happiest days of my life.” In 1847, he returned to America, his freedom having been “purchased” by female abolitionists.

A statue of Frederick Douglass

Statue of Frederick Douglass

By Andrew Edwards, Castle Fine Arts Foundry, England. Photography by Jack Rummel, Boston.

Douglass did not know his birthday, suspecting he had been born in either 1817 or 1818. It later turned out to be 1818. He chose February 14 as the date to commemorate his birthday.

“I am not only an American slave, but a man, and as such, am bound to use my powers for the welfare of the whole human brotherhood.”
Frederick Douglass, 1846

Interactive Map

Interactive Ireland Map: Frederick’s Speeches

A colorful illustration depicting Frederick Douglass standing with a quill pen in his right hand and a chain in his left

In May 1845, Frederick Douglass published a narrative account of his life history as a way of proving to his detractors that he really had been enslaved for the first twenty years of his life. The success of the publication put Douglass in even greater danger of being captured and returned to slavery under the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Act. To protect Douglass, his friends persuaded him to leave the country and travel to the United Kingdom. There, not only would he be safe, but he could work to strengthen the trans-Atlantic abolition movement.

Douglass arrived in Liverpool in August 1845. He spent two days in the city and then sailed for Ireland where a Quaker printer, Richard Webb, had agreed to publish an Irish version of the “Narrative.” Douglass had only intended to stay in the country for a few days only, but he was so warmly welcomed that he stayed for four months. During that time, he toured throughout Ireland and made almost fifty speeches on slavery and abolition.

Publications and Documentary

Publications and Documentary

“Frederick Douglass and Ireland: In His Own Words”
Edited by Christine Kinealy

Frederick Douglass spent four months in Ireland at the end of 1845 that proved to be, in his own words, “transformative.” He reported that for the first time in his life he felt like a man, and not a chattel. Whilst in residence, he became a spokesperson for the abolition movement, but by the time he left the country in early January 1846, he believed that the cause of the slave was the cause of the oppressed everywhere.

This book adds new insight into Frederick Douglass and his time in Ireland. Contemporary newspaper accounts of the lectures that Douglass gave during his tour of Ireland (in Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Limerick, and Belfast) have been located and transcribed. The speeches are annotated and accompanied by letters written by Douglass during his stay. In this way, for the first time, we hear Douglass in his own words.

“Frederick Douglass in Ireland”
Directed and Produced by Rebecca Abbott

Rebecca Abbott, Professor Emerita of Communications at Quinnipiac University, recently directed and produced the short documentary “Frederick Douglass in Ireland.” The film gives an overview of Douglass' life, focusing on his life-changing time spent in Ireland from 1845-1846.

Rebecca Abbott is Professor Emerita of Communications at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut, and is an independent film producer, director and editor.  Her many films include the Emmy award winning documentaries “Albert Schweitzer: My Life is My Argument” (2006) about humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, “Aeromedical” (2013) on aeromedical rescue in the US Air Force,  and “Ireland’s Great Hunger and the Irish Diaspora” (2016), which is narrated by actor Gabriel Byrne and explores the many complex, historical events that lead to mass starvation, disease, death and emigration in 19th-century Ireland.  Abbott has degrees from Dartmouth College (BA, Visual Studies), The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (MFA, Filmmaking) and Yale University (MA, American Studies).


Selected Press

Irish Times, September 2018
“‘Frederick Douglass and Ireland: In His Own Words’: A compelling account of a historic moment”

Irish Times — The Women's Podcast, September 2018
“The Irish Women who Helped Frederick Douglass”

Near FM 90.3, September 2018
“The Arts Show: Prof. Christine Kinealy, author of Frederick Douglass and Ireland: In his own words”

Irish Examiner, September 2018
“Irish women’s fight against slavery during the Great Famine”

RTÉ, September 2018
“When Frederick Douglass came to Ireland — in his own words”

Irish Central, July 2018
“Take a live tour of the Frederick Douglass in Ireland exhibit with Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute”

Contact Us

For more information, please contact:

Ann Marie Godbout
Assistant to Ireland's Great Hunger Institute

About Us

About us

Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University fosters a deeper understanding of the Great Hunger of Ireland and its causes and consequences through a strategic program of lectures, conferences, course offerings and publications.