Henry brings it all back home
In 1847, a young man by the name of William Ford travelled with his parents and siblings from the tiny village of Ballinascarthy to the port of Queenstown (now Cobh) before making the perilous crossing to America as famine decimated their homeland of West Cork. The émigrés purchased a farm in Dearborn, Michigan and sixteen years later, a son, Henry was born. The rest as they say…
Now even the most notorious tyrants have their moments of sentimentality so although it didn’t seem in his nature, a trip to Ireland in 1912 appears to have rekindled an interest in Ford’s ancestral homeland. In what could be viewed as something of a ‘Rosebud’ moment, he attempted to purchase the family homestead in Ballinascarthy and have it shipped en-mass to Dearborn.
The decision then to site the first European Ford plant in Cork does seem to have been a sentimental act, and in 1917, production began on Cork’s Marina – Henry expressing the belief that it would “start Ireland along the road to industry”. Indeed for the first few decades of the Independent Irish state, the Cork plant was Ireland’s largest employer and first inward investor.
Initially, the factory was primarily focussed upon production of the Fordson tractor, by 1929 becoming the largest tractor factory in the world. Subsequently, the plant produced passenger vehicles, in fact the last Model T ever produced by Ford rolled off the Cork production lines in December 1928. A wide variety of Ford models were assembled at the Marina plant, including the Model A, Model BF and Model Y; the Prefect, Anglia, Escort, Cortina and finally, the Sierra. The plant closed in 1984, a victim of European competition, inefficiency and Ireland’s geographic disconnection from major markets.
But if Ford’s market dominance in the Republic is now as much a piece of social history as its famous car plant, the Blue Oval retains a palpable connection with domestic hearts and minds. To many in Ireland, and especially in this Southernmost County, Ford is and always will be a domestic brand.
The sentiment appears to run in both directions, with members of the Ford family commissioning a memorial to their founder in the distinctive shape of a Model T. Located on the main N71 between the market towns of Bandon and Clonakilty, Ballinascarthy isn’t really on anyone’s tourist map, so the tin ‘Tin Lizzie’ that sits pride of place may well be the only reason to slow down as you make the same journey West the Ford clan took in ‘Black 47’.
With the 100th anniversary of the Marina plant’s opening this spring, Ford’s Irish arm is running a campaign highlighting the Blue Oval’s ties to the old country and how the Ford brand is more relevant to Irish drivers than ever in this tech-led era. The online spot features US actor Aidan Quinn, windswept amid crystalline Irish coastline, setting the scene for all manner of Hollywood fulminations on journeys and the cycle of life.
“The Future is Unwritten”, he tells us, “but you can get there in a Ford.” As adlines go, it’s not terrible, and given recent efforts, it’s almost accomplished, but even more bracingly apparent than Quinn’s sandblasted visage is a total absence of Unlearning. Yes, they’ve gone awful quiet on that front…