What do Conor McGregor, Muhammad Ali and Mickey Ward have in common?
The obvious answer may be being great in their respective generation of combat but look deeper and there’s something more connecting them. They are all of Irish Descent.
Yes Muhammad Ali, the great one, a leading figure in the Civil Rights Movement and an enduring symbol of standing your ground for black people in America, was of Irish Descent. In fact, you didn’t have to go back very far on his family tree to see these white ancestors.
While one might naturally assume that it would’ve been a stain on his reputation to have white ancestors, Ali himself was very proud of his heritage, even visiting his ancestral home twice in his life.
Ali was born into an America that was heavily segregated and would writhe in anger every time a black person started achieving more than his means. A famous story of Ali not being served in a southern restaurant even after capturing Olympic gold for The US, because of his skin color would be a lasting and horrifying tale about the state of racism in the US.
How an Irish Immigrant and Free Black woman started the legacy of Muhammad Ali
While nowhere near in comparison, the Irish may very well be the closest people of fair complexion can get to suffer the pain that black and other minorities did. Under the brutal watch of the English crown, Ireland and its people were subjected to centuries, perhaps millennia of oppression that saw man-made famines and a militaristic reprisal for all crimes on a large scale.
In fact before Conor McGregor broke into the mainstream, redfiining the Irish as drunken loudmouths, their countery was known for it’s fight against opression everywhere, including recognizing the ongoing struggle in Palestine. Just like black people in the United States, the Irish never stopped fighting for their identity and freedom and were ultimately freed from the shackles of the crown after 4 years of bloody conflict named the Irish War of Independence.
Ali’s mother, Odessa Grady Clay, was born to John Lewis O’Grady and Birdie B. Morehead. While she had white ancestry on her mother’s side too, it had a much more sinister story with her maternal grandfather being the son of a slave. However, on her father’s side, she had a grandfather who was a first-generation Irish immigrant.
Abe O’Grady emigrated from Ennis County, Ireland to the US and married a free black woman shortly after the Civil War. So in effect Muhammad Ali’s great-grandfather was Irish. Abe left the then small town of Ennis back in the 1860’s and never returned. Today, the town has a monument dedicated to his great-grandson.
Later on in life after he had retired from boxing and was starting to show signs of his eventual battle with Parkinson’s, Ali made time to visit his great grandfather’s hometown of Ennis in Ireland.
The Great One drew a wild pack for spectators who were eager to reunite with their great-grandson who had gone on to achieve things no one from the small city could have ever imagined. Through the thousands of adoring fans, Ali spotted a fan on a wheelchair, and shadowboxed in his direction with his own hands trembling due to his condition.
He went on to take a watch off his hand and put into the fans hand, making sure the young one had a memory to cherish for the rest of his life.