The history of Ford in Ireland

Ford in Ireland
Henry Ford
Over 160 years ago, Henry Ford’s grandfather, John, and father, William, left their Irish homeland in search of prosperity in the ‘New World.’
Never in their wildest dreams could they have imagined that William’s eldest son would grow up to establish one of the greatest business empires in the world. Henry Ford’s inventions and production methods were to change the lives of millions and the effects of his genius would be felt all over the world –not least in the land of his ancestors, Ireland.
Where’s where you can find out about our unique and long history in Ireland, both as a company and of the origins of the Ford family.

Ford family history

Irish roots of the Ford family

Henry Ford’s father William Ford (1826–1905), was born in County Cork. Henry was particularly proud of the fact that both his father and his maternal foster grandfather were men from Cork.
The family initially settled in Co. Cork during the latter half of the sixteenth century. At the time, Queen Elizabeth I granted some 600,000 acres of confiscated land to English gentlemen, prompting the Ford family to leave Somerset, England and join other Protestant settlers in the Irish province of Munster.
John Ford, Henry’s grandfather, lived in the family home on the Madame Estate in Crohane, Ballinascarthy. But in 1847, at the height of the Famine, John was forced to uproot his family and make the gruelling voyage from Queenstown (Cobh) to Quebec. William, then 21 years old, also joined the family on the trip, which his mother, Tomasine Smith Ford – Henry Ford’s grandmother – did not survive.

Cork connections help build a new life

From there, the Fords travelled to America, where John’s three brothers emigrated in the 1830s. The arduous journey finally ended in Dearborn, Michigan, where in 1848, John bought an eight-acre farm from a fellow Cork man called Henry Maybury.
William worked both on his father’s farm and as a hired farm hand and carpenter for several years. One of his occasional employers was another Cork man named Patrick Ahern who originally hailed from Fair Lane, Cork city. William met and fell in love with Ahern’s foster daughter, Mary Litogot (1839-1876).
The two married on April 21, 1861, and it was agreed that the newlyweds would live at Fair Lane with Patrick and his wife, Margaret Ahern. On July 30, 1863, Mary gave birth to the Ford’s first son, Henry.
The Ford family continued to live with Henry’s grandparents and by all accounts, this arrangement was a happy one during the future automaker’s early years. As a result, Henry grew up in the typically hard-working, agricultural environment of the area.
Life dramatically changed however, when his grandmother Ahern died in 1870 and then only six years later, on March 29, Henry’s mother Mary died following childbirth.
Henry’s father William was a quiet-speaking, hard-working man and expected his eldest son to take an interest in the farm. But Henry did not like farm work; he was a boy with a vision of his own. So, at 16 years of age and just three years after his mother’s death, Henry left the farm for the city.
Grandfather Ahern remained on the farm for another three years until his death in 1882. Henry’s grandfather clearly had a huge impact on him and Henry would later famously name his Dearborn home Fair Lane.

Ford in Ireland

Henry Ford journeys back to Irish shores

In the summer of 1912, Henry Ford made an important trip to reconnect with his Irish roots. Escorted most of the time by European Ford officials, Henry and his travelling party also visited France and England.
While in Ireland they spent time in Cork, Bandon, and Clonakilty. And on August 8, 1912, 65 years after John and William had departed for America; the Fords arrived back in Queenstown.
This trip is thought to have inspired Henry and his wife, Clara Bryant Ford, to trace their ancestors. It also seems Henry attempted to buy the old Ford homestead, which he wanted to transport to America and rebuild near his home. Unfortunately, the asking price was too high. But Henry did eventually manage to acquire the hearthstones, which were incorporated in his home at Fair Lane.
On another trip to Ireland in 1917, Henry Ford established Henry Ford & Son Ltd. It began as a private venture and later became a division of Ford Motor Company.
As Ford historian Bob Kreipke explains: “Henry Ford’s family roots drew him to Ireland. He knew what he was able to do socially and economically in the United States, and he figured he could apply that model to the depressed area of Cork.”
For many of the Ford family descendents the interest in their Irish roots remains strong. Edsel Ford II and his family visited the old homestead in Cork in 2004.

1900 to World War II

The first Ford cars in Ireland

In 1907, the first Ford cars ever to be seen in Ireland went on display at the Irish Motor Show, held in the grounds of the Royal Dublin Society. The Ford exhibit consisted of three examples of the Model N.
The very first Irish sales contract for Ford at the show was signed by a Mr. R.W. Archer. However, because the Ford car was still widely unknown in Ireland, Archer initially found it difficult to make sales.
But proof of the Ford’s worth was forthcoming; the Model N won a gold medal in the 1907 and 1908 Irish Reliability Trials.
When the Model T was launched, the new car was an immediate success; sales doubled and redoubled. By 1913, some 600 Fords were sold throughout Ireland.

Henry Ford & Son Ltd. hits the ground running

The company of Henry Ford & Son Ltd. was officially incorporated on April 17, 1917, starting its life on the site of an old Cork racecourse. Its first registered office was at 36 South Mall, Cork.
By September that year, the company had its first full board of directors: Henry Ford, his wife Clara and son Edsel, Percival Perry (head of Ford of Britain) and R.J. White, a solicitor. Ford’s Irish operations continued to grow quickly and work on the first Ford foundry outside of North America was soon under way. The registered office of the company became the famous address, Marina, Cork.
By May of 1930, the population of Cork was approximately 80,000, and over 7,000 were Ford employees.

Te Fordson: a groundbreaking tractor

As the son of a farmer, Henry Ford believed that tractors – or ‘automobile plows’ as they were initially called – were essential for improving the human condition; helping farmers to radically increase food production and boost their standard of living. Ford tractors were the first to be produced on a massive scale and the first farm tractors to be affordable for the average farmer.
The very first Fordson tractor left the assembly line on July 3, 1919. By the end of that year, 303 tractors had been built in Cork. Before the summer was out in August 1921, the Cork foundry was also producing all of the Manchester Ford plant’s cast-iron requirements, including engines.
However, the economic effects of the establishment of the Irish Free State meant that the manufacture of components for England could not continue. Tractor production ceased on December 29, 1922. As a result, assembly of vehicles became the plant’s primary focus until late into the 1920s.
It would be 1929 before tractor production returned to Cork. Almost 32,000 Fordsons would be manufactured before the task was again moved on, this time to the new Ford location at Dagenham in England.
In 1938, Ford Ireland hit an important milestone, producing its 25,000th vehicle since becoming an assembly plant in 1932. In all, 73,000 cars, trucks and tractors had been built at Cork up to that time.

World War II to 1970

Ireland’s most popular car: the Ford Prefect
On July 18, 1950, the 75,000th vehicle built at Cork since 1932 was driven off the assembly line by the Company’s longest-serving employee. He was cheered on by 150 long service employees who, between them, could boast a combined total of 4,000 years of continuous employment with Henry Ford & Son Limited.
Appropriately the car driven on this occasion was a Prefect. In February 1946, a 10 horse power – quite powerful at the time – Prefect had been the first post-war car to be assembled at Cork.
Known as ‘Ireland’s most popular car,’ the Prefect was a Ford model which on its own outsold all other makes of car that were available on the Irish market.


The Marina celebrates its 50th birthday with expansion
Cork celebrated the 50 year anniversary in 1967. As part of that landmark event, a £2 million investment program was announced to re-build re-equip and modernise the assembly plant. As a result, the plant was to become the largest and most modern factory of its kind in Ireland.
In the same year Ford of Europe was formed with Henry Ford & Son Limited. It was as an important partnership from the start. Another £2 million was spent on assembly facilities and operations to ensure that Cork production equalled the highest European standards of quality. By 1977, the total area of the plant was well over 450,000 square feet.
The rationalisation plan put in place meant that in 1972, the Cork plant became a two-car plant that was producing the two best selling cars in Ireland: the Escort and Cortina. Between them, these two models were accounting for 75% of Ford sales in Ireland at the time. The Irish company was also exporting around 4,000 cars (mostly Escorts) to Britain.

1970 to today

Difficult times

Although the Cork plant battled bravely, the unfortunate but inevitable closure came in July 1984. At that point, one chapter in the history of Ford in Ireland had come to an end.

A continued commitment to Ireland

The company’s links to Ireland remain strong. Henry Ford & Son Ltd. operates in the Republic of Ireland as a sales organization with 60 Ford Dealerships.
We are proud to coordinate distribution, customer service, sales and marketing for the Ford brand name in Ireland. We feel a great commitment to Cork and continue to operate out of the city that has shown an unquestionable loyalty to Ford for generations.
In addition, Ford has been a top selling marque in Ireland for over a decade. The Ford Focus was the best selling car for nine out of ten years from 1998 to 2009. In 2008 the Ford Mondeo was voted the ‘Semperit Irish Car of the Year.’
In 2008, we became the first volume manufacturer in Ireland to standardise Electronic Stability Program (ESP) is in the compact family class.
Our ongoing efforts to lower CO2 emissions also show our commitment to both the environment and our customers in Ireland and throughout the world. From the 1 July 2008, a change in VRT rules and the adoption of a CO2 based taxation system meant that two thirds of all Ford models fell in price, some by as much as €3,600.

Ford Ireland remains dedicated to selling desirable, reliable and ecologically friendlier modern vehicles. Ford have maintained a close relationship in Ireland throughout the Ford history and this relationship will continue to grow well into the future.

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