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  Cape Clear & Frederick Douglass

Readers of the blog will be very interested to hear of a recent visit to the Island by author Don Mullan who is promoting a heritage trail in Ireland to commemorate the famous former slave and human rights advocate Fredrick Douglass who was befriended by Daniel O Connell and who visited Ireland in the 1840’s. Speaking of the places he had visited Frederick refereed specifically to Cape Clear Island.

According to Don, Douglass went to Cork for about a month with the Jennings, a Church of Ireland family and tea merchants. While he gave some lectures in Cork, his main purpose was R&R. My guess is that while there he was told about Baltimore, Co. Cork and given that he was born close to Baltimore, Maryland, decided to pay a visit. And, possibly, while there, he was offered the opportunity to take a boat trip out to Cape Clear Island. There might even be a connection between the Jennings (or their minister in Cork) and the local Church of Ireland minister in Baltimore. I know there is a lovely Anglican church in Baltimore which is still functioning. That might also be a connection.

What's important is that Baltimore and Cape Clear are part of Douglass's 'transformation' and 'new life' and 'some of the happiest moments' of his life. Indeed, as I took the ferry out to Cape Clear I reflected on what Frederick Douglass might have been thinking and the emotions he was experiencing. The oarsmen gliding their boat through the water, the vast expanse of the Atlantic ahead and the feeling of being free, befriended and, above all, respected, by the people of Baltimore and Cape Clear Island. Perhaps he was the first black visitor to the island. What's important is that Baltimore and Cape Clear welcomed him and that was balm to his recovering spirit and why, no doubt, he mentions it in one of his most important and revelatory letters about his Irish sojourn.

During his visit to Cléire Don visited Foill Chú, to where the first ferry Don Mullan and Séamus Ó Drisceoiloperated in the 19th century, also the heritage centre and took the tour around the Fastnet Rock. He was also very interested in the story of the Old Signal Station and would be interested if there are others who have some insights into Fredrick Douglass’s visit to these parts. He is of course, a very important historical figure to African Americans and it is hope that the proposed Frank Douglass Heritage trail in Ireland will encourage more from that community to visit our country, including our beautiful Island.

Photos of Frederick Douglass above and Don Mullan with Séamus Ó DrisceoilDinb Mullan and Séamus Ó Drisceoil

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