On St Patrick’s day we celebrate Muhammad Ali’s Irish roots; Ali’s maternal great-grandfather, Abe Grady, hailed from Ennis, Ireland, and immigrated to America in the 1860s.
Abe made his home in Kentucky and married a free African-American woman. One of their daughters, Odessa Lee Grady, met and married Cassius Clay, Sr., and on January 17, 1942, Cassius Jr. was born.
After losing the Fight of the Century to Joe Frazier in March 1971, Ali went on something of a world tour, fighting 13 times in six different countries before defeating Frazier in a rematch in January 1974.
Dublin, Ireland July 19, 1972, Ireland was part of the ‘tour’. The opponent, Alvin Blue Lewis.
On arrival, Ali immediately captured the heart of a nation by announcing that he had Irish roots.
“Yes I am an Irishman and that is what makes me The Greatest because I am an Irishman,” Ali said according to The Irish Post.
Ali also said of the Irish in an interview with Cathal O’Shannon on the eve of the fight:
“In America, I stand up for black people regardless of what it costs me. I speak out for what I believe. You have got people in Ireland fighting and speaking out for what they believe.
“I’ve got something else to say. This is one thing I love and admire about the Irish people. I have studied a little bit of history since I’ve been here. I found out that you have been underdogs for hundreds of years, people dominating you and ruling you and you can identify with this freedom struggle.
“I just have mine at the other side of the water. We are all fighting for the same cause and ideas but we have different reasons and different approaches.”
Ali returned to Ireland for the launch of the Special Olympics in Ireland in 2003 and again to visit Ennis, Ali’s great-grandfather’s hometown – traced by historian Dick Eastman – in 2009 when he was made the first Honorary Freeman of the town.