He fixed his eyes in a steely gaze, raised his mighty fists and made a crowd of 10,000 roar.
Okay, so it wasn’t exactly the electric atmosphere he created with the Thrilla in Manila or the Rumble in the Jungle.
But the rapturous reception Muhammad Ali received in a small Irish town yesterday provided a spine-tingling reminder of those glory days.
Welcome: Muhammad Ali with his wife Lonnie (right) and daughter Hana (left) are greeted by a huge crowd
Ancestral home: A sign on a shop front in Ennis ahead of Ali’s visit to the town where his great-grandfather Abe Grady was born
Lonnie announced that her husband, who has been battling Parkinson’s Disease for 25 years, was overwhelmed by the experience.
Ali smiled several times during the ceremony and despite his frailty he was also obviously struck by the occasion, fiddling with the strap of his watch and rubbing his eyes as Ennis Mayor Frankie Neylon outlined the legend’s links with Ennis and his many great achievements.
Some onlookers even suggested the magic of the man even brought fine weather, noting that more than three decades after he famously claimed to have ‘even cancelled the rain’ for his Rumble in the Jungle against George Foreman, it appeared he had pulled off the same stroke.
Irish honour: Thousands of fans watch a big screen in Ennis town centre as Ali unveils his family plaque
Shadow boxing: To the delight of crowds in Ennis, Ali treats them to some moves that made him a three-time world heavyweight champion
After weeks of summer downpours, threatening rainclouds cleared almost within minutes of Ali being spotted touching down at Shannon Airport at around midday.
Imelda O’Grady, a distant cousin who embraced the boxing legend as he arrived in Ennis, said: ‘Look, the sun’s come out – it’s shining down on him.’
Miss O’Grady presented Ali with framed photographs of them both, with the inscription: ‘Cead Mile Failte (One Hundred Thousand Welcomes) from Imelda O’Grady and the O’Grady families.’
First freeman: Ali and his family admire the plaque on Turnpike Road
Hero’s welcome: A young girl carries a doll of the boxing legend as she’s surrounded by crowds who turned out to witness Ali’s historic visit
So too were the thousands more who thronged Turnpike Road, the homeplace of Ali’s great-grandfather Abe Grady, who emigrated to the United States in the 1860s and married a freed African-American slave.
The 67-year-old ex-fighter, renowned as a civil rights champion, astonished his fans when he alighted from a black people carrier to unveil a plaque at his ancestor’s house.
As crowds cheered ‘Muhammad, Muhammad’ and ‘Ali, Ali’, he turned and with an impromptu throw-back to his days in the ring, a shadow boxing cameo once again showed the ageing champion at his greatest.
Proud: Ali (centre) displays his Freedom of the City certificate with the Mayor and Councillors of Ennis
‘It was unreal, it was a privilege,’ she said afterwards. ‘When he saw his relations he was delighted. I think he was emotional – by God, I was certainly emotional.’
In total, among the invited guests at the ceremony were three representatives of three families believed to be directly descended from Ali’s great-grandfather.
After the brief visit to Ennis, fans had to be levered off his people carrier as it made its way through the narrow-lined medieval streets, festooned with flags.
Before leaving for the U.S., Ali stopped off at the nearby baronial Dromoland Castle, for a charity fundraising afternoon tea.
Mark Nolan, manager of the plush hotel, said his latest guest topped the bill of renowned visitors.
‘We’ve had George Bush, Bill Clinton… maybe Nelson Mandela is the only guest who is comparable to Ali,’ he said. ‘I’ve never seen excitement like it here.’
Ali is not the first global figure Ireland has laid claim to.
Of the 44 U.S. Presidents so far, 17 have been found to have links to Ireland, John F Kennedy and Ronald Reagan among them.
Barack Obama’s maternal family tree is also said to trace back to a well-to-do shoemaker from Moneygall, County Offaly, who lived from 1794 to 1861.