Muhammad Ali

It is great to see the Dalcassian and honorary Clareman, Muhammad Ali celebrate his 70th birthday, especially when we have been reminded so recently of the mortality of the kings of boxing with Joe Frazier’s passing.

Given the Banner County’s temporary lack of sporting success, you bet your bottom dollar, we are going to claim him as one of our own. It was actually in Croke Park itself when he was pencilled in to fight Joe Lewis, that the greatest was first publicly quizzed about his alleged Irish roots.

‘Well, I guess there was a lot of sneaking around in them plantation days’ he wistfully replied.

Yet the Clare Heritage Centre in Corofin later traced that Ali’s mother Odessa Clay was the granddaughter of Abraham O’Grady, of County Clare extraction. These O’Gradys had immigrated to the US in the antebellum era.

Now we know that the Louisville Lip was filled with the mystical Atlantic lyrics of Clare. Ali’s visit to Clare and the wonderful welcoming scenes are still fresh in the memory. What has not been so enlightened though has been the follow up, and even the use of language by one or two town leaders who should know when publicly surmising how they could make a fast buck. There is no quick buck, but long term fruit lay in getting one thing right, even though it doesn’t sound sexy – the context.

Honour not just Ali, but the great boxing legends from the region, most of whom were forced to emigrate. The Cinderella Man himself, Russell Crowe with Clare connections would be a fine candidate to unveil such a sports and heritage attraction. Or link in with the renowned northern boxer, Liam Neeson, the honorary chair of A Celebration of the Celtic Warrior, a rare collection of boxing imagery and artefacts curated by James J. Houlihan. Damn it, get Michael Flatley to display his golden gloves, he won the hard way in the dusty ringsides of Midwest America.

Dance or die, because Angela ain’t going to keep dishing out the Bundesbank bailouts forever for those who have profited most from it, and shown very, very little in return. It is in the interests of the people to make things happen, tourism projects that have substance, and longevity and true social capital. It is a fact that for one euro invested in heritage & sports history tourism projects such as this, four times that has been returned to the exchequer. As for those who believe that Ireland and her people at home and abroad is still a country yet and not just a failed economic state, there are many still who want to show they keep the faith and want to give back in a practical way. This is a way to make a statement. It means nothing when compared to where guaranteeing bank criminals, their murky guarnators and the like in footing their bills, and yet it means everything. Its positive.

Show the pride of Kilnamona’s pride, Michael Francis McTigue. He was the first Irishman to win a world boxing title on Irish soil, defeating Battling Siki for the World Light Heavyweight title before a highly charged crowd in Dublin on St Patrick’s Day 1923 at the height of the civil war.

People can at such an attraction retrace the footsteps of Irish born world boxing champions such as the Gardiner brothers, Jimmy and George from Lisdoonvarna and Lowell, Massachusetts. They were the first ever brothers to hold professional boxing world titles, in the early 1900s. A third brother Billy also boxed professional. Their father, Pat, was no mean bare knuckle fighter himself; he had moved his young family to Lowell, Massachusetts, a place which has had close Clare connections for over a century and it was from here that their Celtic fists found glory.

Fr. Seamus Gardiner of Tipperary, a PRO of the Gaelic Athletic Association’s referees association used to formerly advise the Celtic Times and his associates that he was the grand-nephew of world boxing champions if we ever wanted to go one on one with him instead of accepting detainee status while he was president of St Flannan’s College. The outcome would most certainly suggest he was their kinsman. Fr Seamus was the son of the former President of the GAA, Seamus Gardiner

Go Nationwide. Belfast’s Jimmy McLarnin, came from a privileged background, and was a renowned champ. He lived a long, healthy and wealthy life in US after a successful pro career. Louth’s Tom McCormick became a world welterweight champion when he defeated the Dane Waldemar Holberg in Australia. He was a sergeant in the British army in WW1 and was killed in action in Italy near the war’s end. Cork’s unbeaten Jack McAuliffe, was known as the famed Napoleon of the ring; like Rocky Marciano he retired undefeated.

Of course there is the nineteenth century prototype Irish boy made good, Old Smoke, Congressman John Morrissey. This Tipp native, a noted political enforcer who squeezed out the infamous Boss Tweed and the notorious Bill Poole, allegedly had political foes murdered, and claimed the US Heavyweight crown of 1858. He was later elected to two terms in Congress. His nickname derives from the time of knocking over a coal stove in a bar room brawl, burning his clothes and filling the room with the stench of burning flesh before proceeding to take out his adversary. Don’t abolish our own senate here yet, it could be throwing the baby out with bathwater!

Hopefully punters to such a heritage tourism attraction would avoid the fate of short-changed ticket holders who viewed one of the last stands of Gem Roche, a Wexford blacksmith, and a member of the great Wexford four-in-a row all-Ireland football champions. He fought Canadian champ Tommy Burns for the only world heavyweight fight ever held in Ireland, in 1908. It remained the shortest lived bout in heavyweight history for 74 years, as it took 88 seconds for Burns to win. One canny punter dashed out from the audience as the ref finished the count and announced to the gathered throng outside ‘It’s terrible in there, they are killing each other, I can’t stand any more. Who wants to buy my ticket?’ After heated exchanges, the delighted new ticket holder was soon swept back out by the departing crowd.

So ‘bumiye’ to all the lip service as Ali might say, and lets dance the dance.