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Wales needs a lesson in Irish myth-making.

WITH all due modesty I realised last week that I'm part of a pretty impressive tribe. There's me and Muhammad Ali, me and Barack Obama (third cousin maybe?), me and - oh, Ronnie Reagan, Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Jack Dempsey... and that's just the American branch.

Meanwhile, my father always swore that the great World War II Red Army chief Marshal Timoshenko was also one of us - actually Mr Tim O'Shea, grandad born in Newtown. And why not when General Bernardo O'Higgins has gone down in history as the "Liberator of Chile"? I think his grandad was a Splott boy.

And now I see Tony Blair's kids have joined the gang. Yes, his mother Hazel did come from Ireland.

Voice from the back of the hall: "Get to the point."

Certainly, sir. The point is that all of us - me, Muhammad, Barack and the rest - have Oirish grandads. Or grandmas.

Or great-grandads. Or - but you get the picture.

Last week the mighty Muhammad Ali was greeted by 10,000 part-time cousins when he went to County Clare to see the little house where his great-grandfather Abe Grady lived until he left for America in 1860 when just 18 years old. Naturally they renamed him Muhammad O'Li. Just as Barack Obama, on his obligatory trip to the Ould Sod, became Barack O'Bama. Did I say "obligatory"? Dam' right I did. It's essential that every US politician discovers some link with Dear Old Donegal if he wants the Green Vote.

So why Ireland? And not Wales? Why didn't Ali or Obama come up with a couple of Corrugated Iron Baptists among their ancestors? I'll tell you why. Because the people selling Ireland have made a helluva better job of it than the people selling Wales.

Which is why, on March 17, they paint a green line down Fifth Avenue for the Grand St Patrick's Day Parade while politicians waggle their shillelaghs and dye their whiskers green. New York's Jewish mayor Ed Koch used to sport a leprechaun's hat, while his Italian predecessor Fiorella la Guardia, the fabled Little Flower, poured green sauce over his spaghetti.

But no laver bread or leeks on St David's Day.

Scotland gets the treatment as well, especially on Burns Night when those same politicians salute the haggis and bellow Annie Laurie before claiming Rab C Nesbitt as a third cousin.

But the Irish are champs at promoting their patch, turning it into a shamrock-sprouting Shangri-La, ensuring that no dell or dingle was ever overlooked by a succession of cigar-chomping songsmiths who couldn't tell County Cork from the Caucasus or Dublin from Delhi. So Bing Crosby took us from Dear Old Donegal to Galway Bay with never a whisper about dear Old Pontypridd or Trecco Bay. Josef Locke was forever taking Kathleen home - but never told Blodwen Oi'll Take You Home Again Ow Kid.

Those shameless songwriters even came up with an atrocity called When the Rose of Tralee Met Danny Boy ("There was love in their hearts ever more").

Hollywood was the same, delighting the Irish Tourist Board with Going My Way, starring Bing Crosby (yes, him again) as a priest sent to a New York parish, where he assists that quaintest of all quaint Irish characters Barry Fitzgerald, whose aged mother arrives from the old country in the final tear-jerking scene. Meanwhile John Wayne was The Quiet Man, ex-heavyweight champ returning to the land of his grandfathers, tourist brochure turf where that same Barry Fitzgerald dispensed drinks and wisdom.

Barry was there in our only Welsh epic, How Green Was My Valley. Blimey, they even had to get an Irishman to play a Welshman, while Sean Connery, a Scot, kicked off his career as an Irish peasant in Darby O'Gill and the Little People.

Owen Glendower (Owain Glyndwr on S4C) was our Braveheart - which, with Rob Roy, delighted the Scottish Tourist Board - so why not give Mel Gibson a call, tourist people? And if we want Americans to splash their cash over here, what about Prince Madog, who discovered their country before Christopher Columbus was born? They've got Columbus Day but if our tourist blokes were on the ball they'd have had a Madog Day by now, with pilgrimages to his Bedwas birthplace part of the tourist package.

Exactly five years ago John Wake, then director of the outfit promoting Cardiff and south east Wales, moaned that no visitors came here looking for traces of King Arthur and his Round Table. Now we all know they didn't exist (although Bing Crosby was a Yankee at the Court of King Arthur) - but the Yanks don't know that, do they? So if Cardiff &Co can come up with Arthur's grave in, say, Grangetown, I'll see what I can do about getting Ali and Barack over. After all, they are my cousins - two or three times removed.


Boxing legend Muhammad Ali and his wife Lonnie Ali (right) and daughter Hana (lef t) af ter unveiling the plaque to his ancestors on Turnpike Road af ter he was honoured as the first Freeman of his ancestral home in Ireland
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Sep 9, 2009
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