Muhammed Ali, Obama share Irish roots

Muhammed Ali, Obama share Irish roots

Monday, June 6, 2016 10:40 pm

Muhammed Ali: the Irish connection

Muhammed Ali: the Irish connection

Muhammed Ali, the world legend was known not just for his talents as a boxer, he was also a conscientious objector, who preferred jail rather than going to fight in Vietnam and an African American who fought for the rights of America’s deprived minority population.

Though Ali rejected his birth name Cassius Clay because it was given to him by white people, Ali was unaware until seven years ago that he had white blood from across the Atlantic running in his veins.

His astonishing Irish roots,  his being descended from Abe Grady, an Irishman from Ennis, County Clare only became known in 2009.

Thirty seven years earlier  Ali  had fought and defeated Al “Blue” Lewis in the same Ireland and had also  sat down with Cathal O’Shannon of RTE for a fascinating television interview.



His Irish root was uncovered by genealogist Antoinette O’Brien.

She discovered that one of Ali’s great-grandfathers emigrated to the United States from County Clare, meaning that  the three-time heavyweight world champion joined the likes of President Obama and Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. as prominent African-Americans with Irish heritage.

Muhammed Ali during his visit to Ireland in 2009

Muhammed Ali during his visit to Ireland in 2009

In the 1860s, Abe Grady left Ennis in County Clare to start a new life in America.  He would make his home in Kentucky and marry a free African-American woman.

The couple started a family, and one of their daughters was Odessa Lee Grady. Odessa met and married Cassius Clay, Sr. and on January 17, 1942, Cassius junior was born.

Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali when he became a Muslim in 1964.


Historian Dick Eastman had traced Ali’s roots back to Abe Grady the Clare emigrant to Kentucky and the freed slave he married.

Eastman wrote: “An 1855 land survey of Ennis, a town in county Clare, Ireland, contains a reference to John Grady, who was renting a house in Turnpike Road in the center of the town. His rent payment was fifteen shillings a month. A few years later, his son Abe Grady immigrated to the United States. He settled in Kentucky.


Also, around the year 1855, a man and a woman who were both freed 
slaves, originally from Liberia, purchased land in or around Duck Lick 
Creek, Logan, Kentucky. The two married, raised a family, and farmed 
the land. These free blacks went by the name, Morehead, the name of 
white slave owners of the area.

Odessa Grady Clay, Cassius Clay’s mother, was the great-granddaughter 
of the freed slave Tom Morehead and of John Grady of Ennis, whose son 
Abe had emigrated from Ireland to the United States. She named her son 
Cassius in honor of a famous Kentucky abolitionist of that time.

When he 
changed his name to Muhammad Ali in 1964, the famous boxer remarked, 
”Why should I keep my white slave master name visible and my black 
ancestors invisible, unknown, unhonoured?”

When Ali said these defining words, he was totally oblivious of his Irish connection.

He made the connection in 2009 when he visited Clare, even though his Parkinson disease was already taking a toll on him.

During the  visit, partly to raise funds for his non-profit Muhammed Ali Centre in his hometown of Louisville,  he was mobbed by tens of thousands of locals who turned out to meet him and show him the area where his great grandfather came from.

*Originally Published by




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