Ennis welcome gives Ali one of his greatest days


THE WIFE of boxing legend Muhammad Ali has described the reception he received in Ennis yesterday as one of the most exciting days of his life.

Up to 10,000 people gathered to witness him become the first to be conferred with the title of honorary freeman of Ennis.

Spectators and news crews began arriving early to secure the best possible location to see the conferring ceremony broadcast on a big screen. Hundreds rushed along Carmody Street to seek the best vantage point from which to view the global icon.

Others stood and watched Ali and his entourage drive in to the rear yard of the Ennis Town Council offices avoiding the media at the main gate.

Among the invited guests were representatives of three families, believed to be fourth cousins of Ali’s great-grandfather Abe Grady.

Imelda O’Grady, Mary Grady Gormley and Mary O’Donovan watched as the boxing legend was accompanied on stage by his wife Lonnie. They later made presentations to their long-lost cousin.

Wearing a grey shirt and black trousers, Ali smiled several times during the ceremony. 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 parchment scroll with Celtic calligraphy was wrapped in a red ribbon and fitted in a bog oak sculpture entitled Heart of Oak.

A trumpet and drum fanfare from the Ennis Brass Band was played after the conferring.

His wife thanked Ennis Town Council and Mayor Frankie Neylon and on behalf of her husband declared, “Now that we know that Muhammad is an Ennis man, we will be back”.

Later, in an interview on RTÉ, she said: “I have never seen anything like this before and neither has he. He was overwhelmed by it, really ecstatic. It was better than any medicine you could give him. He was excited and surprised by the outpouring of people, even the children who were out in the street. It was wonderful.”

Following the formalities of the civic reception, Ali set out on his tour of the town and waved from the open windows of a SUV.

Mr Neylon and Dr Pearse Lyons of Alltech, the company which organised the visit, together unveiled a granite plaque. It was taken to the Turnpike where it was affixed to a specially commissioned sculpture in honour of Ali’s visit. It depicts two gloved hands holding the world aloft. The monument has been erected across the road from where it is believed Ali’s great-grandfather once lived.

When Ali arrived at the Turnpike, to the delight of fans he left his car to pose for photographers. In an impromptu gesture, he shook hands with wheelchair-bound cerebral palsy sufferer Liam Mulcahy from Lahinch.

The several thousand people gathered chanted “Ali, Ali, Ali” as he walked, assisted by his wife, to unveil the sculpture.

Fans had climbed trees, porches, garden walls and poles to get the best view. After the unveiling, Ali waved to fans and walked towards the barriers where he shook hands with onlookers. One man leaned over and kissed Ali’s hand to the cheers of those around them.

Just 15 minutes after arriving, he was again whisked off to a fundraising function at Dromoland Castle before leaving on a private jet back to Kentucky.