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Fightin' talk as Ennis awaits Muhammed Ali

Not since Biddy Early worked her magic on the Clare hurling warriors in 1995 and directed them to bring home Liam McCarthy has the Banner capital been so up for it.

Muhammad Ali, the most recognisable sportsman of the 20th century -- if not ever -- is coming to town.

Small groups are already beginning to meet in local halls and hostelries to perfect the Clare Shout in order to give the former world heavyweight champ a welcome he is unlikely to forget on September 1.

"This is huge for everyone in Clare -- not just in Ennis," said the town's mayor Frankie Neylon yesterday.

The man acclaimed as Sportsman of the Century in any number of international polls is coming to Ennis in search of his roots. His great-grandfather, Abe Grady, was born in the Turnpike Road area of the town in the 1840s.

Ali has specially requested that Ennis be included in his itinerary during his Irish visit and his representatives have been finalising the details with town officials and the mayor since late last week.

"Now we'll be able to market Ennis into the future as the ancestral home of Muhammad Ali," said a proud Cllr Neylon.

The now 67-year-old former boxing champ, who continues to battle Parkinson's disease, established the Alltech Ali Charitable Foundation, which has raised hundreds of thousand of dollars for needy causes and the foundation plans to hold a treasure hunt in Ennis leading up to the visit.

Local journalist Gerry Quinn, who has a unique connection with Ali, dating back more than 40 years hopes to meet the great man.

Gerry's late father, Paddy, worked for TWA at Shannon Airport and had a special task when Ali and the rest of the US boxing team were flying home from the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960 -- a young Ali won gold in the light-heavyweight division, boxing under his then name of Cassius Clay.

The team overnighted in Shannon and Paddy had to arrange beer and sandwiches for the group, who were billeted for the night in staff huts alongside one of the runways.

Six years later, Ali was again passing through Shannon, this time as world heavyweight champion, and Paddy made it his business to meet him. "My Dad asked him for his autograph for me and asked him to sign it Cassius Clay, but he said that wasn't his name any more -- he had converted to Islam.

"He signed it 'To Gerard Quinn from Muhammad Ali, World Heavyweight Champion 1966'. It is still a very treasured possession and I would love nothing more than to meet him and show it to him again when he arrives in Ennis," said Gerry.

Feeling the excitement build, even more than anyone in Ennis is Mary O'Donovan, probably the closest living Irish relative of the great man.

Mary's great-grandfather was Patrick O'Grady, who lived on the Turnpike Road. Having consulted genealogist Annette O'Brien at the Corofin Heritage Centre, Mary said that all the indications are that Abe Grady may well have been a brother of Patrick's.

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