As a young enslaved man, Frederick Douglass took an immediate liking to the name Daniel O’Connell.
When Douglass listened to his master loudly curse the Irish nationalist O’Connell and his abolitionist convictions, he resolved that an enemy of his master was a friend of his.
Hear more on this and other stories on Sunday when Christine Kinealy, a professor at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, presents “How Ireland Changed Frederick Douglass.”
The lecture starts at 2 p.m. at the Lawrence Heritage State Park Visitors Center. It is brought there by Northern Essex Community College as part of its free White Fund Enlightenment Series, which presents interactive cultural enrichment and intellectual enhancement programs for Lawrence-area adults, youths and children.
Kinealy has dug deep into her modern Irish history research and written on the findings — winning an Emmy Award last year for work on the documentary “The Great Hunger and the Irish Diaspora.”
Her interest in O’Connell, an ardent supporter of universal emancipation, led her to Douglass and his connections to Ireland.
Out of this discovery, Kinealy came to direct the Frederick Douglass Ireland Project and now is finishing a book on the social reformer and Ireland.
At 20 years old, Douglass escaped from slavery and became an itinerant voice in the abolitionist movement. O’Connell’s reputation as a powerful speaker preceded him.
The two met when Douglass traveled to Ireland. He heard O’Connell speak. On that same occasion, O’Connell invited Douglass to follow him to the podium, and he was impressed with the American’s oratory powers.
On Sunday, Kinealy will take up the torch of O’Connell and Douglass — that of a public speaker. Douglass will be her model and inspiration, she said.
Kinealy, who was named one of the top 100 educators in Irish America and is inducted in the Irish America Hall of Fame, doesn’t use notes because she never wants to give the same lecture twice.
“I like the medium of lecturing because it allows interaction — the lecturer always learns from the audience,” she said.
We posed a few questions to Kinealy to learn a bit about what people can expect on Sunday:
Q: What’s the background of the Frederick Douglass Ireland Project?
A: The Frederick Douglass Ireland Project was founded by an Irish activist, Don Mullan, from Derry. At age 15, he had witnessed Bloody Sunday, and that experience was pivotal in his pathway to peace and social justice. Frederick Douglass was one of Don’s heroes, and he wanted the story of Douglass in Ireland, and his respect for Daniel O’Connell, to be better known. Don knew about my work on the Great Hunger, and when he heard I was writing about O’Connell and the Irish abolition movement, he asked me to become a director of the board. That was 2012. Two of Frederick Douglass’ descendants are also on the board, Nettie Douglass and Ken Morris.
Q: Is your topic relevant today? If so, why?
A: Parts of the U.S., and many other areas in the world, are at a point where the society seems to be more defined by division than unity, by hatred and suspicion than by our common humanity. Frederick Douglass, despite what he suffered during his lifetime, advocated forgiveness, equality and social justice for all, regardless of gender, race, religion, color, etc. His message transcends time and is as fresh today as it was during his lifetime.
Q: How does Douglass relate to your other published works?
A: My main research and publications have related to the Great Hunger — it is still my main interest. But a few years ago, I was asked to write a book about Daniel O’Connell. As I did more research, I came to admire him for his international human rights activities — something he is not generally associated with — and particularly his work on abolition. During his lifetime and long after, he was a towering figure in the trans-Atlantic abolition movement. Frederick always claimed he first heard of him in 1837. When Frederick found himself in Dublin in 1845 — a self-imposed exile following the publication of his autobiographical “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” — he went to hear O’Connell speak. He was not disappointed. At the end of the evening, O’Connell invited Frederick to speak to the audience. Throughout the remainder of his life, Frederick would refer to his time in Ireland and to meeting O’Connell.
For the last six or seven years, I have been transcribing all the speeches (Douglass) made in Ireland, about 50. That book comes out in June; it’s called “Frederick Douglass and Ireland. In his own words.” I have also curated a “Frederick Douglass and Ireland” exhibition at Quinnipiac, which opened on Feb. 1, and have produced a small booklet to accompany that, “Frederick Douglass — From Fugitive Slave to Civil Rights Champion.”
If there is an overarching theme to my work and interests, it is social justice and how each society throughout history has had to search for it. And today, that struggle continues. As Frederick said, “Power conceded nothing without a struggle.”
Q: Are there any Merrimack Valley connections in your talk?
A: The Merrimack Valley area was generally sympathetic to abolition and part of the underground railway — Andover was a renowned center. Not to say Douglass did not encounter danger and prejudice wherever he went, even in the northern states.
IF YOU GO
What: “How Ireland Changed Frederick Douglass,” presented by Quinnipiac professor Christine Kinealy
When: Sunday, 2 p.m.
Where: Lawrence Heritage State Park Visitors Center, 1 Jackson St., Lawrence
How much: Free
More information: www.necc.mass.edu/whitefund
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