Nostalgia: A look back on Cork's Ford factory

Nostalgia: A look back on Cork's Ford factory

Workers outside the Ford factory in Cork in 1926.

THERE was much excitement at the Marina Commercial Park yesterday evening during Culture Night as people were treated to a tour of the former Ford factory, now a distillery. 

Rebel City Distillery and CAB Motors joined forces to bring the legacy of Ford in Cork alive during Culture Night. 

On display was the first affordable automobile and one of the most influential cars of the 20th century, the original Ford T built in 1923 in Cork.

Shift workers leaving the Ford factory in 1929.
Shift workers leaving the Ford factory in 1929.

Over the last year, Rebel City Distillery has renovated the old Ford Building and transformed it into a fully functional distillery where they create, distil and bottle a unique range of spirits on-site.

The business is the first distillery in Cork city for almost 50 years.

Speaking to The Echo, co-founder of Rebel City Distillery and head distiller Robert Barrett said it is a privilege to work in an important cultural landmark. 

"The building is fantastic to work in and now that it is painted and restored is a pleasure to behold each morning," he said.

President Eamon de Valera visits the Ford factory at the Marina in 1936.
President Eamon de Valera visits the Ford factory at the Marina in 1936.

From 1917 to 1984, the factory of Henry Ford & Sons was the industrial hub of Cork city, manufacturing motor vehicles on the banks of the River Lee as one of Cork’s largest employers.

The site, formerly the location of the city park and racecourse situated on the southbanks of the River Lee, was purchased at a cost of approximately £21,000.

The factory originally began manufacturing tractors, but from 1921 cars were built as well.

In 2017 to mark the centenary of the establishment of the factory, the executive chairman of Ford, and the great-grandson of Henry Ford, William Clay Ford Jr attended a Civic Reception at City Hall. 

Ford Anglias and Populars on the assembly line at the Ford factory, 1954.
Ford Anglias and Populars on the assembly line at the Ford factory, 1954.

After spending the day at his ancestral home in Ballinascarthy Mr Ford Jr spoke at the reception, to thank the employees for their hard work and dedication through the years.

"We’re not a nameless faceless corporation. We are a family. It’s my family and it’s all of your families. 

"I couldn’t be more proud of the contribution Ford Ireland has made, and we’ve heard just a few tonight, to Ireland and to Cork," he said.

Mr Ford Jr spoke about his great-grandfather’s decision to set up his manufacturing plant in Cork in 1917.

"He did it against advice, by the way, from all of his advisors that said 'Wait, you want to go to Cork, Ireland?’ and he said 'Yes, that’s exactly where I want to go!' 

"He left us a great company, but more importantly he left us a set of values and a set of ethics that guide us today," Mr Ford Jr added.

Students from Kenmare Technical School visit the Ford factory in Cork, 1930. 
Students from Kenmare Technical School visit the Ford factory in Cork, 1930. 

The Lord Mayor at the time, Cllr Des Cahill, also spoke at the event, thanking Ford for its contribution to Cork.

"Cork was such a different time in 1917. 

"What really pulled at my heart was the reason why Henry Ford chose to set up in Cork," he said.

"It was to address the dreadful poverty and the tenement and the unemployment that was in Cork at the time. 

"Fifty percent of our fellow people were on or below the poverty line when Ford set up in Cork," he said.

Henry Ford & Son Limited would remain at the Marina until 1984 when a slump in the car market forced them to close their doors.

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