Northern Ireland news

North's links to transatlantic slave trade highlighted

Artist Ciarán Harper will exhibit some of his artwork as part of commemorations around the 400th anniversary of the transatlantic slave trade

NORTHERN Ireland's links with the transatlantic slave trade are being highlighted in a new series of exhibitions and lectures across Belfast.

It is 400 years since the first human cargo of people from Africa landed in Virginia in the US and were sold as slaves.

Although the first slaves were transported to the New World in the 16th century, the 17th century saw a sharp increase in the trade.

The African and Caribbean Support Organisation of Northern Ireland (ACSONI) is commemorating the 400th anniversary of the trade with a series of events this week.

Leading academics will discuss the impact of slavery, including how it influenced art and culture, and how the north is inextricably linked to the trade, at a conference at Stranmillis College, Belfast, on Thursday afternoon.

Other events include an exhibition, featuring artwork from Vikki Patterson and Ciaran Harper at Andrews' Gallery on Friday, and a gala including dances and African and Caribbean music and poetry at Titanic Belfast on Saturday.

An exhibition on the slave trade will also be held at Titanic Belfast on Friday and Saturday.

Belfast was known for its abolitionist campaigns, spear-headed by reformers including Mary Ann McCracken and Thomas McCabe.

However, several merchants, including Waddell Cunningham, thought to be the richest man in Belfast, profited from the trade.

Mr Cunningham owned a sugar plantation on the Caribbean island of Dominica.

And in 1786 he called a meeting to explore the establishment of a slave-trading company in Belfast - an idea which was strongly opposed by Thomas McCabe.

Britain outlawed slavery in 1833.

Joseph Ricketts, manager of ACSONI, said: "Inspired by the UN designated International Decade for People of African Descent, we wanted to tell the story of a strong people who survived one of the most oppressive periods in history, and consider what this means for their learning and integration here in Northern Ireland".

"It is of relevance for everyone because it is by recalling the past that we can prevent the same mistakes from happening in the future," he said.

Paul Mullan, director of The National Lottery Heritage Fund Northern Ireland, said the project will help to raise awareness of the north's links to the slave trade.

"Many people in Northern Ireland are unaware of the local connections to the Transatlantic slave trade and how, through our involvement, the city’s wealth and maritime importance grew," he said.

"It is an uncomfortable heritage but it is important to acknowledge this dark period in our history in order to better understand it and the impact that is still felt through the generations by the people most negatively affected by it."

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