South Court Auditorium
12:21 P.M. EDT
AMBASSADOR MULHALL: Taoiseach, Madam Vice President, it is my honor, as the Ambassador of Ireland to the United States, to moderate this session, which has convened to celebrate the first class of Frederick Douglass Global Fellowships Ireland.
I’m doing so with some portraits in the background here. We have a portrait — a joint portrait of Daniel O’Connell, the Irish Liberator, and Frederick Douglass, who met in Ireland, in Dublin, in 1845. And on the other side of me, I have another connection between the civil rights movement in Ireland and in the United States, in the person of the late John Hume and the late Congressman John Lewis.
So the purpose here is to enable you, Taoiseach and Madam Vice President, to meet with the fellows who have gathered here and to hear from also — from our partners in the Council for International Educational Exchange; and indeed, also to hear from the artist, Nikkolas Smith; and last but not least, Nettie Washington Douglass, the great-great-granddaughter of Frederick Douglass.
But, first of all, Taoiseach, if I may hand it over to you to say a few words about this exciting new program that we have decided to support this year.
PRIME MINISTER MARTIN: Thank you, Ambassador Mulhall. And I am delighted to have this opportunity to meet with the inaugural class of Frederick Douglass Global Fellows Ireland.
Arriving in my hometown of Cork 175 years ago, Frederick Douglass was greeted with a psalm, whose refrain ran: “Céad Míle Fáilte to the Stranger, Free from Bondage, Chains & Danger.”
From Ireland today, I want to wish you all Céad Míle Fáilte, which means “100,000 welcomes.”
Douglass spent four months touring our island. As he readied to leave, he reflected that that had been amongst the happiest moments in his young life. He said he’d undergone a transformation and lived a new life. He had encountered severe suffering, but he had experienced kindness and respect.
With poignancy, he said, “I find myself not treated as a color but as a man — not as a thing, but as a child of the common Father of us all.”
What he did not and could not know was that, 175 years later, his legacy would be very much alive in Ireland. He gave to Ireland every bit as much as he took with him as he left.
The Ireland Douglass visited was under cusp of tragedy. The Great Irish Famine, which began that year, killed more than a million people and drove us many again to become emigrants fleeing Ireland — President Biden’s ancestors amongst them.
One hundred and seventy-five years on, ours is no longer a country of mass emigration. We are looking now that the greater flow of people is into Ireland, not out.
As a nation, we are far stronger for the diversity that now powers and enriches Ireland, just as America is. Ireland is changing in a positive and inclusive way. As we do so, we are inspired by Frederick Douglass and what he stood for.
Building a truly equal society is not easy. As you step forward as leaders, you will need courage for the task. You will also need to be resilient and persistent. But as Douglass said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
All of us who value and respect Frederick Douglass’s legacy and who cherish diversity need to stand up every day for equality and against intolerance. We must recognize the privilege from which we sometimes speak and make space so that all voices can be heard in our national dialogues.
We need to ensure that all hands get to shape our future. Acknowledging that work rema- — and acknowledging that work remains to be done is not an admission of failure; rather, as Amanda Gorman said of America, it is a recognition that it “isn’t broken, simply unfinished.” That holds true for Ireland too.
When Frederick Douglass met the Great Irish Liberator and abolitionist Daniel O’Connell, neither could have known what an impact the other would come to have on their thinking and their lives.
It is in that spirit that we look forward especially to welcoming you all to Ireland so that you can engage with your counterparts in Ireland so that you can support and challenge each other, learn from each other, and enrich each other, and forge together the next generation of friendship between Ireland and the United States of America.
I’m particularly delighted that, when circumstances permit, you will be visiting my hometown, Cork, which among its many charms and attractions is also a sister city of Vice President Harris’s San Francisco. There, you will see a plaque to mark the visit of Frederick Douglass and, indeed, a less formal but much loved street mural of Douglass.
From Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day: My sincere congratulations to you all. And I look forward to wishing you Céad Míle Fáilte to Ireland. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR MULHALL: Madam Vice President, would you like to say a few words to the fellows — the Frederick Douglass Fellows?
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: I will. Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. And Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone gathered here.
I’m looking at the screen to see all of the faces of our young leaders. I’m so proud of you. I’m so proud of you.
And, Taoiseach, we — Taoiseach, we spent the morning together talking about the challenges and the hope that we share knowing what is possible when we are committed to democracy, when we are committed to fairness, to equality. And I really enjoyed our conversation this morning.
And, Taoiseach, I thank you for that. It was really an honor to meet with you today to discuss our friendship and the friendship of our two countries, our shared values, and our shared commitment to helping people worldwide reach their full potential.
And I know it is in that spirit that Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs is co-sponsoring this year’s Frederick Douglass Global Fellows. On behalf of the United States, thank you.
So this fellowship program, led by the Council on International Educational Exchange, gives students in the United States — students of color — the opportunity to study abroad.
Ms. Nettie Washington Douglass, who is here with us today, has supported this program since its inception. I’m sure she’d agree, given her great-great-grandfather’s time in Ireland, that this year’s fellowship program is very special.
Frederick Douglass, the great American statesman, traveled to Ireland, as the Taoiseach said, over 175 years ago. He traveled to Ireland to avoid being recaptured into slavery. So he was seeking safety and refuge. And there he crossed paths with the Irish abolitionist, Daniel O’Connell. And for the first time, Frederick Douglass felt truly free. In his own words, in Ireland he was “not treated as a color, but as a man.”
I have this sculpture of Frederick Douglass, on loan from the Howard University Gallery of Art, that reminds me of who he was and what he stood for.
Many of you know that, like a few of this year’s fellows, I attended Howard University — a school that was founded at a time when few recognized the potential of black students to be leaders.
At HBCUs and fellowship programs like this, students of color are prepared to lead. Like Frederick Douglass in Ireland, you can come as you are and you can leave who you aspire to be.
So to the fellows here today: Congratulations. Your nation is so proud of you. You will travel. You will create friendships around the globe, as an extension of the work that we do as a country, to inspire and to work on and to build on the friendships we have around the world.
And, hopefully, when you’re in Ireland this summer, walking in the footsteps of that great American, Frederick Douglass, remember that you are great. You not only have the capacity to be great, you are great. And you are walking in great footsteps. He imagined, I’m sure, in those days when he was in Ireland, that you would be coming behind him. So I’m counting on all of you to live up to that potential.
And again, to the Taoiseach and the Irish people, thank you for sponsoring this fellowship and supporting these students. Together, may we build on the legacies of Frederick Douglass and Daniel O’Connell and John Lewis and John Hume, and all of those who have fought for freedom. Thank you all.
END 12:31 P.M. EDT