Ali made Freeman of Ennis

Tue, Sep 1, 2009, 01:00

Muhammad Ali was welcomed by hundreds of people in Ennis this afternoon where he visited the site of his Irish ancestral home and was named as the town’s first Honorary Freeman.

As many as 10,000 people gathered in Ennis Co Clare today to witness the historic conferring of boxing legend Muhammad Ali become the first person ever to be conferred with the title of Honorary Freeman of Ennis.

Spectators and news crews began arrived in the town early in the morning to secure the best possible location to see the conferring ceremony broadcast on a big screen.

Among the invited guests at the ceremony were three representatives of three families believed to be directly descended from Ali’s great-grandfather Abe Grady and who are believed to be fourth cousins of Ali.

Imelda O’Grady, Mary Grady Gormley and Mary O’Donovan, who can all claim to be related to Ali, sat proudly in the audience and were each overcome when he stepped on to the stage at 3.05pm. ‘Ali the Ennisman’ was introduced on stage by Dr Pearse Lyons, President and Founder of Alltech, the company which organised the visit.

The boxing legend was accompanied on stage by his wife Lonnie and as he sat before the audience, Lonnie remained standing in awe, and clearly moved by the apparently interminable standing ovation which greeted them.

Wearing a grey shirt and black trousers Muhammad smiled several times during the ceremony and despite his frailty he was also obviously struck by the occasion. He fiddled with the strap of his watch and rubbed his eyes as Ennis Mayor Frankie Neylon outlined the legend’s links with Ennis and his many great achievements.

Ennis Town Clerk Edmund Power read the formal declaration, in both English and Irish, conferring on Ali the “dignity of Honorary Freeman of the Town of Ennis.” A scroll on a calligraphy parchment with Celtic lettering was wrapped in a red ribbon and fitted in a piece of bog oak sculpture titled ‘Heart of Oak’. “Oak in the old thesaurus means determined, strong and stalwart,” Mr Power said.

A trumpet and drum fanfare from members of Ennis Brass Band was played after the formal conferring. Ali also insisted on opening the red ribbon on the scroll and viewing the document himself. His wife Lonnie thanked Ennis Town Council and Mayor Frankie Neylon and on behalf of her husband and family and declared, “Now that we know that Muhammad is an Ennisman, we will be back”.

Mayor Neylon and Dr Pearse Lyons, together unveiled a granite plaque which was quickly whisked away to the Turnpike where it was affixed to a specially commissioned sculpture in honour of Ali’s visit. The piece comprises a limestone body with granite plaque and depicts two gloved hands holding the world aloft.

A group of singers from the University of Kentucky performed some songs which it is believed Ali’s great-grandfather Abe Grady probably learned and sang after emigrating to Kentucky from Ennis in the 1860s.

Lonnie Ali took the microphone unexpectedly and asked the audience whether any “kin of Muhammad’s” were in the room. Lonnie invited Imelda O’Grady, Mary Grady Gormley and Mary O’Donovan, all of whom are believed to be third or fourth cousins of Ali’s, to meet him personally.

Each made a little presentation to their long lost cousin and Ali could be seen thumbing through a photo album which he had received from Mary Grady Gormley, whose father Christopher once met Ali in Shannon Airport.