Claims of Ali’s Ennis connection ‘a total con job’
By Owen Ryan
HISTORIAN Seán Spellissy has stood over his claim that Muhammad Ali’s roots are not in Ennis, following criticism at this week’s meeting of Ennis Town Council.
He is also being supported by the author of a history of the O’Grady clan, Ger Madden, who described claims that Ali’s ancestors came from Ennis as “absolute, total rubbish”.
Mr Madden told The Clare Champion that he is sure that no ancestor of Ali’s had come from the Turnpike, as was claimed at the time of the former World Champion’s visit.
“He could have come from almost anywhere else in Ireland but certainly not from the Turnpike,” Mr Madden claimed.
Mr Madden also said that during the mid-19th Century he doubted people from the Turnpike would have had the resources to emigrate to the US. He referred to the claims that Ali had strong Ennis roots as “a total con job”.
Mr Madden said that due to personal circumstances, he hadn’t wanted to become involved in the debate at the time of the Ali visit.
At the town council meeting on Monday, Councillor Brian Meaney introduced a motion asking that the council request Mr Spellissy to present documentary proof of his claims that Ali does not have Ennis links.
“I’ve made enquiries and my understanding is that there is no documentary evidence,” Councillor Meaney commented.
He said that historians generally require two sources of evidence but that Mr Spellissy didn’t even have one.
Mayor of Ennis, Frankie Neylon said that the Ali visit had been a huge success and that doubters of the boxer’s heritage had years prior to the visit to come forward.
Speaking to The Clare Champion afterwards, Mr Spellissy said he isn’t the one who needed to provide proof of Ali’s ancestry. “I don’t have to have proof, I didn’t erect the monument in the Turnpike,” he commented.
Mr Spellissy said that the facts need to be in the open. He has expressed the view that Ali’s ancestor Abe Grady was actually born in the US, with his father having come from Ireland.
“There is no way that a Catholic priest in the 1830s or ’40s would have allowed the name Abraham to be used by a Catholic; it was common among Jews and Presbyterians,” he claimed.
Mr Spellissy believes it was much more likely that Ali’s roots were in Crusheen, where the Grady clan have strong historical links. He believes that Ali’s ancestor may have said he was from Ennis, as it would have been a relatively well-known centre, which was in reasonably close proximity to the area he actually came from.