The day Coca-Cola came to Cork

The arrival of Coca-Cola in the city in 1952 was a sweet success for Cork industry, says KIERAN McCARTHY
The day Coca-Cola came to Cork

The production line at the new Coca Cola bottling plant at Carrigrohane Road, Cork in 1952.

FOR 17 years in a row, Coca-Cola has nailed down the position of No.1 brand in Ireland, ahead of a slew of big-name rivals such as Tayto, Dairy Milk, Lucozade, Avonmore, and Brennans.

Invented in 1886 by a chemist, and touted “as a tonic for most common ailments”, it went on to become a household name. Its advertising slogans have become legendary, and one from 1905, ‘Coca-Cola Revives and Sustains’, has special significance in Cork.

That’s because, in 1952, the city hosted the first Coca-Coca bottling plant in the Republic, in a huge coup for the city’s industrial landscape.

For half a century, Coca-Cola did indeed play a key role in reviving and sustaining Cork’s economy.

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The opening of the Coca-Cola bottling plant on the Carrigrohane Road in Cork on May 9, 1952, was a success story both for the Irish government, and the directors of the Munster Bottlers Ltd, which had only been founded 11 months earlier.

An aerial view of Cork County Hall under construction in 1967. The Coca Cola bottling plant is on bottom right 
An aerial view of Cork County Hall under construction in 1967. The Coca Cola bottling plant is on bottom right 

Company chairman Mr P. Fitzgerald, of Rushbrooke, greeted the guests at the opening of the plant, where Jack Lynch, Fianna Fáil TD and Parliamentary Secretary to the Government at the time, was the main guest.

He told the gathering: “Not alone will the new plant create employment within itself, but it will give employment to kindred industries in bottle manufacture and in other things material to the wealth of the nation.

“It will also add to the wealth of the local authority and of the central authority in rates and taxes and duties on vehicles.”

At the new plant, all the necessary commodities that went into the manufacture of the drink were native products, with the sole exception of the concentrated syrup, which was imported from England.

The Coca Cola Export Corporation was the largest single consumer of sugar in the world. The creation of bottles, crates and the use of vehicles meant business for local industries. In addition, starting off, the Cork plant had a dozen staff.

Also at the opening in Cork was James A. Farley, Chairman of the American Coca Cola Export Corporation and former Postmaster General of the U.S, whose grandfather had come from Co. Meath.

The official opening of Coca Cola bottling plant at Carrigrohane Road, in 1952.
The official opening of Coca Cola bottling plant at Carrigrohane Road, in 1952.

The Cork Examiner on the day of the opening said: “The factory itself is very modern and was designed by Mr H. Fitzgerald-Smith to conform with the high standards required by up-to-date bottling factories. A single-storey building in the factory proper, there are large windows which will allow the maximum of light necessary for the work on complicated machines. At the eastern end there is an overhead syrup room, from which the main ingredients flow to the factory below to be processed.”

Coca-Cola insisted on a uniform water quality, so it was necessary to install a water treating plant.

Another unique feature was a washing machine, capable of washing and treating 30 bottles per minute. Company regulations required every bottle had to be thoroughly sterilised before it was passed for use. Temperature, too, had to be kept at a certain degree, and a special refrigeration plant was in operation.

Jack Lynch, at the time Parliamentary Secretary, opening up the first Coca-Cola bottling plant in Cork in 1952.
Jack Lynch, at the time Parliamentary Secretary, opening up the first Coca-Cola bottling plant in Cork in 1952.

The bottling machine was described as a “mechanical marvel, which performs several operations. As the bottles pass along a conveyer, they are filled, crowned then go through a very minute inspection before being finally adjudged as suitable for dispatch to the retailer.”

The firm had a special department for training salesmen. The crown corks were made in Cobh, and the bottles were supplied from Dublin as well as wooden containers, transported by a fleet of Ford trucks. The Cork factory, which followed on from the first Coca-Cola plant in Northern Ireland in 1934, was erected by Daniel T. O’Connor and Sons.

By 1963, there were four bottling plants in Ireland of Coca-Cola, part of a wider family of 650 bottling plants in 118 countries.

The plant in Cork ceased operations in 2007, and plans are in place for a huge, 623-bed student accommodation development on the site.

Since the Coca-Cola company was founded in 1889, it had seen rapid growth. In 1900 there were two bottlers of the drink; by 1920, there were about 1,000.

Mrs. Maureeen Lynch looking at a section of the new plant for Coca-Cola Bottlers (Munster) ltd during a tour of the premises at Carrigrohane Road, Cork.
Mrs. Maureeen Lynch looking at a section of the new plant for Coca-Cola Bottlers (Munster) ltd during a tour of the premises at Carrigrohane Road, Cork.

In 1941, when America entered World War II and thousands of men and women were sent overseas, Coca-Cola rallied behind them and its President Robert Woodruff ordered that every “man in uniform get a bottle of Coca-Cola from five cents wherever he is and whatever it costs the company”.

In 1943, General Dwight D. Eisenhower sent an urgent cable to Coca-Cola, requesting shipment of materials for 10 bottling plants. During the war, many people tasted their first Coca-Cola, which laid the foundations for the company to do business overseas afterwards.

Hence, from the mid-1940s until 1960, the number of countries with bottling operations nearly doubled.

Post-war America was deemed to be alive with optimism and prosperity, and Coca-Cola was seen as part of a fun, carefree American lifestyle. In a small way, Cork enjoyed a taste of that in 1952.

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