An Irish heritage center in County Clare is being flooded with phone calls from Ennis residents looking to establish ancestral ties with American boxing great Muhammed Ali.
Ali is heading to Ireland at the end of the month to help raise money for his non–profit Muhammad Ali Center and to visit his ancestral home in Ennis, County Clare, from which his great-grandfather, Abe Grady, left for the U.S. in the 1860s.
Genealogist Antoinette O’Brien of the Clare Heritage Center in Corofin told the Irish Times: “The phone has not stopped ringing over the past couple of days from people saying that their grandmothers, their grandfathers and great-grandparents were Gradys from the Turnpike in Ennis.”
Since the three-time world boxing champ confirmed his Ennis trip, Gradys have been scrambling to trace their roots.
Imelda O’Grady, who lives right near the Turnpike in Ennis, said: “My father was Charles O’Grady from the Turnpike and his father was Pat O’Grady who also came from the Turnpike. I’m trying to go further back, but there has to be connections.
“I always knew that we were connected to Muhammad Ali. But when he said some time ago, he didn’t want any white blood in his family, we let it go.”
Another Ennis resident, Brian Dinan, claims the same connection, explaining that his great-grandmother was Bridget Grady and his great-grandfather was Pat Grady, from the Turnpike.
O’Brien agrees: “Any O’Gradys who are in Clare today who came from the Turnpike would almost certainly be related to Abe Grady and Muhammad Ali,” she said.
“There is only one Grady, John Grady, a plasterer. Abe’s father was listed as living in the Turnpike in the 1860s, but that Grady family sprung several descendants.”
In the 1860s, Abe Grady left Kilrush in County Clare to start a new life in America. He would make his home in Kentucky and marry an African-American woman.
O’Brien believes that Grady took his first name in honor of President Abraham Lincoln, who abolished slavery in the U.S.
“Abe married an African-America woman who was an emancipated slave. The descendants of those people who did emigrate carry within them the desire to come back and reconnect with the lands of their ancestors,” she said.
The couple started a family, and their son also married an African-American woman and one of their daughters was Ali’s mother, Odessa Lee Grady.
In the 1930s, Odessa met and married Cassius Clay Sr. and settled in Louisville, Kentucky.
On January 17, 1942, Cassius Clay Jr. was born.
Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali when he became a Muslim in 1964.
Ali’s mixed blood on his mother’s side of the family was a point of contention in the boxing legend’s life, particularly when he converted to the Nation of Islam.
At that time, Ali claimed that any white blood in his family came through “rape and defilement.”
The boxer has since recognized his Irish roots.