The American Ireland Fund will present its annual Humanitarian Award to the boxing legend Muhammad Ali at its 36th annual New York dinner gala in May.

The ex-fighter’s great grandfather, Abe Grady, emigrated to the U.S. from Clare in the 1860s and married a freed African slave. The former Olympic boxer remains very proud of his Irish heritage.

He has visited Ireland and was made a freeman of Ennis, Co. Clare, where he also met distant relatives in 2009. He remains hugely popular from his legendary boxing career.

Speaking to, Kieran McLoughlin, the CEO of the American Ireland Fund, said that Ali would be present to accept the award at the dinner.

“We are delighted he has accepted our invitation and we are looking forward to presenting him with the Humanitarian Award,” McLoughlin said.

“He is very proud of his Irish roots. We are honoring him as a great Irish American man and as an inspiring philanthropist,” Kieran added.

The 69-year-old, whose birth name was Cassius Clay, discovered his links to Ireland in 2002. After his great-grandfather emigrated from Co. Clare in the 1860s, he settled in Kentucky with his new wife.

One of their grandchildren, Odessa Lee Grady Clay, gave birth to Cassius in 1942, who would later become known as Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest boxers of all time.

During his boxing career Ali fought Al Lewis at Dublin's Croke Park in 1972.

Thousands gathered in Ennis in September 2009 to watch Ali unveil a plaque which paid homage to his ancestors.

Irial Finan, the executive vice president of the Coca-Cola Company, will also be honored at the dinner on Thursday, May 5 at Lincoln Center in New York.  He will be presented with the fund’s Leslie C. Quick Jr. Leadership Award.

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