More than 1,200 guests gathered in a tent at Lincoln Center on May 5, for the American Ireland Fund New York Dinner Gala,  the largest of the 100 events held annually by The Worldwide Ireland Funds.

The dinner, chaired by Duncan Niederauer, CEO of NYSE Euronext, exceeded its goal and raised $3 million: $2.65 million for charities across the island of Ireland and a further $350,000 for Irish charities in New York.

The evening’s special guest was the Prime Minister of Ireland, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny. 

Muhammad Ali was honored with the Fund’s Humanitarian Award for his contribution to charitable and educational causes through the Muhammad Ali Center, and in recognition of his ancestral links to Ennis in Co. Clare, Ireland.

The Fund also honored Irial Finan, Executive Vice President of The Coca-Cola Company and President of the Coca-Cola Company’s Bottling Investments Group.

The Co. Mayo-Born Taoiseach and Finan, who was born in Co. Roscommon, spoke eloquently about their personal and professional commitment to Ireland and both paid special tribute to Muhammad Ali. Indeed, the Taoiseach said he had particularly wanted to attend the event because Muhammad was a hero of his from childhood.

But perhaps the real star of the evening was Yolanda “Lonnie” Ali, who spoke on behalf of her husband who is incapacitated with Parkinson’s disease. She talked about how proud Ali was of his Irish roots and about going with him in 2009  to Ennis, Co. Clare, the hometown of Ali’s great grandfather Abe O’Grady.

“I can’t tell you how warm the people of Ireland where to Muhammad, he’ll never forget this, and I’ll never forget this, every individual in that town, even the infants turned out to greet him. They lined along the streets – there must have been one hundred thousand people there. It was something phenomenal. And of course, his Irish roots go way back and he’s very, very  proud of them. And I know now that you all can take pride as well in his legacy, and in being somewhat apart of his pugilist abilities and the greatness that he has achieved in that arena.  I’m sure that’s due to his Irish roots, I’ve met quite a few, and I say that with all humility, I’ve met so many Irish people who have come through the ranks as being a boxer and I know that’s where he gets it from – his Irish roots.”

The bulk of the money raised at the dinner will go to charitable and non-profit organizations across the island of Ireland, while an additional $200,000 will be donated to the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan, which is a focal point for promoting Irish culture in all its forms. A further $150,000 is being donated to Irish Centers across New York City that cater for the those elder Irish who have fallen on hard times.