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Ali meets Fighting Irishmen in Phoenix

By Irish Echo Staff

It will be a winning combination. Boxing legend Muhammad Ali will this week pay tribute to Irish boxers of yore at the McClelland Irish Library in Phoenix, Arizona.

Ali will be on hand to help open the Phoenix phase of the globally touring "Fighting Irishmen" exhibit at the library which is housed at the city's Irish Cultural Center.

Ali's maternal great-grandfather, Abe Grady, was born in County Clare, and immigrated to the U.S. in the 1860s. The "greatest" was, in recent years, honored by Grady's home town of Ennis.

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The Fighting Irishmen exhibit, created by New York real estate company owner, James J. Houlihan, first opened in 2006 at the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan, the venue for which it was first specifically created.

The exhibit explores the contributions of Irish amateur and professional boxers over the last 200 years, and features a treasure trove of gloves, robes, posters and a myriad of artifacts.

The exhibit was moved in 2007 to the South Street Seaport Museum in lower Manhattan. In 2008, it was featured at the John Burns Library at Boston College, and in 2009 the exhibit traveled across the Atlantic and appeared in the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh, County Tyrone. In 2010, the exhibit was on display at Croke Park at the GAA Museum in Dublin and by 2011 it was at the Sports Arena at the University of Limerick.

The Phoenix exhibit will run through May on Tuesdays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Wednesdays 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. plus additional times to be announced.

The opening reception will honor Muhammad Ali as well as local boxing officials and celebrities.Special guests include Bob O'Neill, Boston College Burns Library; exhibit curator Jim Houlihan, and Dennis O'Connell, executive director of the Arizona Boxing & MMA Commission. Jimmy Walker, chairman and founder of the Celebrity Fight Night Foundation, will acknowledge Ali and his wife. Head Librarian Chas Moore and library founder Norman McClelland will also be on hand for the opening which will include a video tribute to Ali and the Irish family roots of his great-grandfather, who grew up in Ennis, a sister city of Phoenix.

There are a number of items in the exhibit from Ali who fought, and won, at Croke Park in Dublin in 1972 and was honored in Ennis in 2009. the exhibit will include an array of robes, gloves, boxing bags, prints, photographs, painting and film footage of Celtic prize-fighters from 1820 to the present day.

Objects on display will include pieces from sporting greats such as John L. Sullivan, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, Barry McGuigan, Freddie Gilroy, Bobby Cassidy, Gerry Cooney, Wayne McCullough, Billy Graham, Billy Conn, Frank Moran, John Duddy, Maureen Shea and many more.

Ballymena-born actor Liam Neeson, honorary chair and long-time supporter of the Irish Arts Center, has also loaned personal items from his amateur boxing career to the exhibit, including the gloves given to him by Olympic boxer Freddie Gilroy.

The mission of the Irish Cultural Center in Phoenix is to provide a link between the people of Arizona and the people of Ireland and other Celtic cultures.

Programs, classes, festivals, exhibitions and special events are offered in history, music, art, dance, literature, drama, crafts, language, travel, sports and traditional activities.

The center campus includes the Great Hall, cottage, gift shop, famine memorial and now the McClelland Irish Library, which opened in October 2012 after more than five years of planning.

The three-story building, which is modeled after an Irish castle, houses a book and periodical collection with several reading rooms, archive, genealogy research centre, classroom, board room, exhibition gallery and an permanent exhibition of the Book of Kells. The Academy of Irish and Celtic Studies is housed in the lower level of the building.

The center and library are owned by the City of Phoenix and operated through public-private partnership with the Irish Cultural and Learning Foundation, Inc., a non-profit corporation.

More on the library at and on the enter at For future Fighting Irishmen exhibit hosting opportunities, contact James Houlihan, Houlihan-Parnes Realtors (914)694-6070 or