In just a few months, it will be exactly 100 years since Henry Ford established the Ford factory on the Marina in Cork City, and Ford Ireland plans to mark the centenary through a number of initiatives in 2017, writes Trish Whelan.
Starting immediately, Ford will launch an extensive new marketing campaign based around the company’s Irish centenary and encouraging consumers to think about the brand differently.
Among the year-long promotions will be a Gala Dinner Event at Cork City Hall on 21 April to mark the actual centenary.
Commenting on the centenary, Ciaran McMahon, Chairman and Managing Director of Ford Ireland says “Ford has a unique heritage in Ireland, not only through the company’s close family links with Cork, but also through the Cork Ford factory and of course many decades of much-loved Ford cars and vans on Irish roads. And we are still to the forefront in the automotive sector in Ireland with the widest network of dealers (at 52), providing employment, directly and indirectly, to some 1,000 people across the country.”
Ciaran McMahon is pictured above at the Ford family memorial in Henry Ford’s ancestral village of Ballinascarty in Co Cork with the ‘old and new’ of Ford; an original Model T and the new Ford Mustang which was launched for the first time in right-hand drive in Ireland during 2016.
Just 14 years after he set up The Ford Motor Company in Michigan in 1903, Henry Ford opened the first purpose-built Ford factory to be located outside of North America at the Cork Marina. There is no doubt that Henry’s Cork roots played a big part in his decision to open a plant in Cork.
His father, William Ford, had emigrated from Ballinascarty with his parents and siblings in 1847 during the Famine and Henry was born in Michigan in 1863. Growing up on the family farm, he developed a strong interest in mechanics concentrating his efforts initially on making work easier for farmers. But Henry soon came to realise the potential of the motor car as a force for good for the development of societies across the globe.
While he can't be credited for inventing the motor car, Henry brought motoring to the masses with his affordable, yet rugged, vehicles, that he produced through his newly-invented production-line manufacturing technique which has since been copied by almost every car and machinery manufacturer across the globe.
He had hoped the Cork Ford plant would ‘start Ireland along the road to industry’. The company was entitled Henry Ford & Son Ltd, and it was the only Ford entity in the world to include the full name of the company’s founder in its title.
When the plant became fully operational, Europe was just emerging from a catastrophic World War and Communist Russia was in the midst of a huge modernisation programme so tractors were the vehicles that were most urgently needed. The Fordson tractor was the main product produced by the Cork plant, which in 1929 became the larges tractor factory in the world. The plant also produced passenger models, including the iconic Model T. The last Model T ever produced by Ford, anywhere, rolled off the Cork factory production line in December 1928.
The Cork factory also produced all the other main Ford vehicles that were sold in Europe from the 30s right up to the 70s and 80s including the Model A, Model BF and Model Y; Prefect; Anglia; Escort; Cortina; and Sierra.
With Ireland’s accession to the EEC in 1973, Ireland had to comply with new rules that lifted the previous restrictions on imports of fully built motor vehicles into the country and this, combined with a depressed car market in the late 1970s and early 1980s, meant that the plant became no longer viable and closed its doors in 1984.
In August 2011, William Clay (Bill) Ford Jnr, great-grandson of Henry Ford, paid a personal visit to Ireland with his family and unveiled a plaque at Ballinascarthy commemorating the Ford family’s connection with the village.