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BOXING legend Muhammad Ali was to be honoured this week as the first freeman of a west of Ireland town from where his great-grandfather emigrated to the US in the 1800s.
Abe Grady left Ennis, County Clare, for Kentucky in the 1860s and his great-grandson went on to become one of the world's greatest boxers, as the first to win the world heavyweight championship title three times.
"It's fantastic. I never thought this would happen," Mayor Frankie Neylon told AFP. "He is definitely the most famous son of Ennis."
"With all the talk of economic recession in Ireland, the visit of the international sporting icon was a 'ray of sunshine' for the town," he said.
Neylon was due to present a scroll of freedom to the boxer, now 67 and fighting Parkinson's disease, at a civic reception in the town, which has been decked out with bunting and US flags.
It marks Ali's unrivalled sporting achievements and his contribution to educational and charitable causes through his global fundraising foundation.
While in some cities the status of freeman brings ancient privileges - in Dublin a freeman is allowed to graze his sheep in a city park - the freedom of Ennis is simply an honorary title.
"It is the highest honour we can give him but if he returns with a flock of sheep we will let him graze them somewhere in the town," Neylon said.
"We will also give him free parking which is a bigger bonus than sheep grazing in Ennis these days."
Ali fought Al "Blue" Lewis in 1972 in front of a crowd of 25000 in Dublin, and also visited Ireland to lead out the US team when Dublin hosted the Special Olympics in 2003.
In Kentucky, Abe Grady married an African-American woman and they had a son called John Grady - Ali's grandfather. His daughter Odessa Lee Grady was Ali's mother.
Ali was originally Cassius Marcellus Clay Jnr but changed his name to Muhammad Ali after joining the Nation of Islam in 1964. - Sapa-AFP