The 100 years of our Ford in Ireland

Ford Plant - Aerial View
Ford Plant - Aerial View
Ford Plant - Final Assembly Line Inspection 1967
Ford Plant - Final Assembly Line Inspection 1967

CAR manufacturer Henry Ford’s Cork roots led to him setting up a factory in the city 100 years ago and while the plant may be gone, the memories continue to live on for many.

The motor firm is celebrating its centenary in Ireland this year and has released a book containing pictures and tales of Ford’s proud links to the Rebel County. 

Back in 1847, Henry’s grandfather John, from Ballinascarthy, left Ireland to follow other family members to Dearborn, Michigan, after being evicted from his tenant farm during the famine. 

His son William, Henry’s father, travelled with him and went on to marry Mary Litogot Ahern, who had been adopted by Patrick and Margaret Ahern. 

Patrick was from Fair Lane, which is now Wolf Tone Street, in Cork and the Aherns helped bring up Henry after his mother died when he was 13. 

By 1896, Henry had built his first car and the Ford Motor Company was set up in the U.S. in 1903.

Five years later the Model T car hit the market and the company started to grow. 

By 1912, Henry visited Cork for the first time and visited Patrick Ahern’s former home, as well as Ballinascarthy. 

On this trip he decided to set up a factory in the city and five years later he started Henry Ford & Son Ltd in Cork. 

While he clearly had a soft spot for Ireland, Ford was still a hard-nosed businessman and after locals held out for a better offer when he tried to buy the land farmed by his grandfather, he walked away from the deal, refusing to make a second offer. 

Henry was “extremely proud of his roots” and set up Europe’s first Ford plant in Cork for this reason.

The factory initially produced Fordson tractors when it opened in 1919, but by 1921 cars were being built at the site, which grew into a 750,000 square metre assembly line with 7,000 employees.  

Everything from the Model T to the Ford Fiesta was built at the plant.  

Henry once proudly claimed to have transformed the city with the factory, stating: “The men no longer spend their evenings hanging around grog shops in old clothes and kerchiefs... you will see them in the evening strolling out to see the pictures with their wives, and they are wearing collars and swinging canes.”

Things started to look troubling by the 1970s, at which point the factory was a ‘two car plant’, making the Escort and Cortina. 

By the 1980s rumours that the factory would close were spreading, but people felt Henry’s Ford’s sentimental links to Ireland would ensure its future. 

However, it was announced in 1984 that the factory was to close with the loss of 800 jobs. Today 40 people are directly employed by Ford in Cork. 

Classic cars that lit up the silver screen:

1968 Ford Mustang GT
The Ford Mustang first appeared in 1964 and proved extremely popular, but it was the 1968 GT Fastback which achieved iconic status after it featured in one of cinema’s greatest car chases in Bullitt starring Steve McQueen. 

1986 LTD Crown Victoria 

The 1986 Crown Victoria appeared in the 1997 science fiction action comedy Men in Black. The car is referred to as a ‘Ford P.O.S.’ by Will Smith’s character J. Unlike the real vehicle, the movie version could reconfigure to display large twin rear-exhaust thrusters for extremely high speeds. 

1976 Gran Torino 
There may be a 2008 Clint Eastwood film named after it, but the most iconic Gran Tornio on screen was in the 1970s American cop show Starsky and Hutch, where the heroes sped after bad guys in their distinctive red and white speed machine. 

1980 Ford Capri s (Lime Green) 
The yellow three-wheel Reliant Regal may be the car most synonymous with Del Boy Trotter on the hit BBC comedy Only Fools and Horses, but when he switched to four wheels he went for an even more eye-catching vehicle with this lime green Ford Capri S, which Rodney later dubbed “the Pratmobile”. 

1974 Granada Consul 
From January 1975 the Ford Granada would forever be associated with flare-wearing cops speeding through the mean streets of London with ‘the Guv’nor’ in the ITV series The Sweeney. 

1962 Ford Anglia 105E Deluxe
The Ford Anglia in Harry Potter was no ordinary vehicle, as it was modified by Arthur Weasley to be able to fly and become invisible – not to mention fit eight people, six trunks, two owls and a rat comfortably.