Talk to Me Like I'm Stupid: Revolutionary Ireland

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I was familiar with Frederick Douglass fondness for Ireland, as discussed here:


For Douglass, his warm reception in Ireland also served as an ironic contrast to difficulties he would soon face in his native land. Even as he toured Ireland, a blight was destroying the potato crop on which the island depended. In the coming years, the disaster transmogrified into a full-fledged famine, sending millions of Irish to North America. During that period and through the Civil War years, many -- but not all -- Irish-Americans and their leaders opposed Douglass's fight to gain rights for African-Americans. They opposed his efforts to win rights for enslaved blacks in the South and for blacks in the North, free but denied U.S. citizenship and subject to widespread discrimination -- including, in many cases, both de facto and de jure segregation. 

Even so, Douglass, during his four months in Ireland, found in many Irish nationalists he met a kindred spirit of resistance against an oppressor -- in his case, the slave-owning South; in theirs, the United Kingdom. Indeed, at least one influential and younger Irish nationalist even talked of allying with America in any war that erupted in the Pacific Northwest. "England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity," proclaimed the Irish firebrand John Mitchel that season. "'If there is going to be a war between England and the United States, 'tis impossible for us to pretend sympathy for the former. We shall have allies, not enemies, on the banks of the Columbia." 

Awkward moments notwithstanding, Douglass in Ireland found new avenues for self-expression that he'd never been afforded in the United States. "I can truly say," he wrote to Garrison, "I have spent some of the happiest moments of my life since landing in this country, I seem to have undergone a transformation, I live a new life." Speaking before Irish audiences -- and feeling un-shadowed by "slave-catchers" and others who would do him harm -- Douglass basked in a new confidence. And he came to view his fight against slavery as belonging to a larger, global struggle against all social injustices.

But I know very little about the roots of the Irish struggle against the British, save some vague outlines around "colonialism" and some oft-repeated references about them being "the niggers of Europe." (I believe my friend Jelani Cobb would say the Russians have the crown.) I have some knowledge of the Irish-American experience, but not much more. And frequently people of Irish descent are quick to note the parallels of history. I'm embarrassed to admit that I've often nodded along as though I understood, even though I clearly did not. So I would open this up to the Horde and ask for some of our more knowledgeable members to speak on Daniel O'Connor, his progeny and his ancestry. 

As always what I would also ask is for people to not speak, because they simply want to be heard. That has it's place. It's called the Open Thread. I'd also, again, ask that people not post comments that say "If you're interested, read this..." That has it's place too, and I've much benefited from it. But it isn't here. I'm looking for your perspective, not your recommendation of someone else's perspective. If you don't have one, that no sin. Just be honest enough to admit it. Nothing wrong with sitting back with us plebes, reading, asking questions and learning. Nothing wrong with silence.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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