NEWS of Muhammad Ali’s death has shaken County Clare in Ireland, to where he traced his roots, The Sun reports. Ali’s great-grandfather, Abe Grady, was born and grew up in the town of Ennis before he emigrated to America in 1860, later marrying an Afro-American woman who was a former slave.
And the late boxing legend touched everyone he met in Ennis when he famously came to visit his ancestral home in September 2009. The streets were lined with fans as locals celebrated The Greatest by decking the town out in Irish and American colours.
Schools were closed as 5,000 wellwishers took to the streets to put on a stunning celebration of the part-Irish icon’s sporting achievements. Ali, the “King of County Clare”, touched everyone in Ennis so deeply that he was made the first Honorary Freeman of the town.
At the time, Mayor Frankie Neylon said: “It was incredible. We’ve had so much rain and yet today it was beautiful. The rain held off wherever Muhammad Ali went.” A motorcycle parade took the late legend to his great-grandfather’s ancestral home, where he unveiled a plaque before going off-script to walk into the crowd at the emotional event.
Attendees recall how Ali parted the crowd to kiss the cheek of a small boy in a wheelchair. Imelda O’Grady, a distant cousin of Ali, said at the time: “It’s very hard to put into words. He is a boxing icon, and we are so very proud to see him come home.
“The sun’s come out – it’s shining down on him. “I think he was emotional – by God, I was certainly emotional.” Back in 2009, Ali’s wife Yolanda ‘Lonnie’ Ali described how the champ planned to revisit to country despite advice from his medical staff against travelling.
Speaking to RTE, she said: “Now that we know Muhammad is an Ennis man, he will be back.” But, saddened by the news that their town’s first Honorary Freeman will never return, emotions are running high in Ennis once again.
President Michael D Higgins led the tributes in Ireland, saying: “The passing of Muhammad Ali will have been heard with the greatest sadness by Irish people of all generations. “Many will remember the wit, grace and beauty he brought to boxing and some will recall his visits to Ireland.
“He will be missed not only by his close friends and family but by those who heard him and were influenced by him, all over the world.”
Retired Irish boxer Barry McGuigan spoke to the BBC about Ali’s actions inside and outside of the ring, including his role in the civil rights movement and his refusal to fight in the Vietnam war.
McGuigan said: “He was hugely inspirational for me and many fighters all over the world.” “Everybody wanted to box because of him. He was just so amazing in every way. “More than anything else it was how humble and how brilliantly charismatic he was.
“He was a beautiful looking man, a beautiful looking individual and he had so much compassion.” And locals in Ennis have taken to social media to pay tribute to the former World Champion boxer.
Many spoke of the day when Ali visited their town, with one resident tweeting: “RIP Muhammad Ali, I will never forget high 5ing you in Ennis.”
Others shared videos and pictures from his legendary visit, with one mourner saying: “The death has occurred of a man who gave Clare and Ennis one of its most memorable days. RIP Muhammad Ali.”