STILL THE GREATEST

THE great Muhammad Ali clinched his latest title when he was declared the first honorary freeman of Ennis.

On an emotional visit to his ancestral Irish roots, the three-time world heavyweight champion was welcomed by thousands of fans.

As an overwhelmed Ali accepted the honour, his wife, Yolanda, or 'Lonnie', predicted that, despite medical advice against travelling, this would not be his last visit to Ireland.

“Now that we know Muhammad is an Ennis man, we will be back,” she said.

The cheers that rang through the streets were a match for those that rumbled a jungle during his titanic title fight in Zaire (Democratic Republic of the Congo) where he demolished George Foreman.

Up to 15,000 people thronged the town to catch a glimpse of the legendary man. Although stricken with Parkinson’s Disease, Ali made straight for Liam Mulcahy from Lahinch, who watched in amazement from his wheelchair as his hero shook hands with him. Liam, 21, who suffers from cerebral palsy, said: “He just kind of smiled at me. I said hello and we shook hands. It was so cool. I thought he looked good. I am a great boxing fan and I thought his fight against Joe Frazier in Manila was his best.”

Before he left Ennis, he was brought to The Turnpike, the part of the town where the old Grady home once stood and which Abe Grady left in the 1860s. He spent about 15 minutes greeting people there, where more than 3,000 had gathered.

Back in Ennis, thousands of fans, spanning generations, had packed into the town’s main square for hours before the civic reception was broadcast on a huge screen. Among the invited guests 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 when “Ali the Ennis man” was introduced on stage by Dr Pearse Lyons, president and founder of Alltech, the company which organised the visit.

Lonnie announced that her husband, who has been battling Parkinson’s Disease for 25 years, was overwhelmed by the experience. More than three decades after he famously claimed to have “even cancelled the rain” for his Rumble in the Jungle against George Foreman, it appeared he had pulled off the same stroke – rain clouds cleared almost within minutes of Ali touching down at Shannon Airport at around midday.

Before he departed Shannon yesterday evening, Ali attended a fundraising event at Dromoland Castle. More than 200 guests attended the function and the funds raised will go to the Alltech-Muhammad Ali Centre Global Foundation Fund which helps community-based humanitarian and educational programmes.

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