Fords – Memories of the Line
Firkin Crane Theatre, Wednesday August 1st 2018 at 7.30pm.
A Documentary by Frameworks Films and Ford Ex-Workers’ Group.
The Fords factory became synonymous with Cork in the sixty seven years in which production was carried on in the Marina plant.
Henry Ford – photo via US Library of Congress
Henry Ford’s father William had left from Ballinascarthy, in West Cork in “Black 1847”, the worst year of the Irish Great Famine, while his mother Mary Litigot (of Belgian extraction?) was the adopted daughter of Patrick Ahern who was born in 1804 at Fair Lane (now Wolfe Tone Street, on the north side of Cork city). Patrick Ahern had worked as a butcher before joining the British Army and eventually wound up in Michigan, USA. Henry was born in 1863, and he was raised by William and Mary in the Ahern household.
Henry Ford returned to Cork in August 1912 and visited Fair Lane. Later in 1917 he announced the construction of his first factory outside America. The old Cork racecourse on the Marina on the south bank of the River Lee was purchased for £21,000 and was levelled and piled. The new 330,000 sq. foot factory was constructed and began the production of the Fordson tractors on 1st July 1919.
Lord Mayor of Cork, Tomás MacCurtain, driving a Fordson tractor at the Marina in early 1920. (Photo via Fair Lane / Ford)
By 1922, some 1600 men were employed. Later as Motel Ts were manufactured along with tractors and the final Model T in the world was completed there in December 1928. The payroll quadrupled to 6700 until the impact of the Great Depression in the early 30s when there were mass layoffs. Thousands of former Cork production workers headed for the new Ford truck plant
in Dagenham, Essex in the UK.
The factory worked on through the Second World War, unions were finally fully recognised by Ford’s in Cork in the early 50s, and wages were higher than most other employments. The Cork factory produced all the other main Ford vehicles including the Model A, Model BF and Model Y; Prefect; Anglia; Escort; Cortina; and Sierra.
Ford workers at the Cork plant. (Photo courtesy of Bill Daly)
By then, the production/assembly line originally invented by Ransom E Olds and first implemented by Henry Ford in 1913 used in Cork from the start. “This “brave new world” of automation was inviolable, the throbbing heart of a never ending machine, the smells of different processes, the sounds of industry, yet it had to keep moving, it must never stop, the vehicles, slowly taking shape and shuffling forward in a never ending line until each new vehicle rolled off the production line”
Another car rolling off the Cork production line early 1950s
The daily working lives of thousands of men were dictated by the constant movement of the line, repetitive jobs, the systematic deskilling of many men, the daily deadening grind, the original time and motion study. Time was measured by passed hours and the number of jobs completed on the vehicles as they passed through the various work stations in slow motion or with alarming pace depending on one’s job and mind. Work was constant, hum drum, tough, and some jobs on the line were particularly difficult.
However many memories of working relate to the comradeship, the craic, the chat, the banter, the ongoing and never ending Cork slagging. Tea-breaks, lunches, the endless sports discussions, soccer, hurling and the pints with colleagues at week-ends. Ford paid well and the community of workers and work had its own distinctive rhythm.
Checking the engine of a new Ford Cortina at the Marina Plant
Fordsons soccer team, (the “Tractor Boys”) popularised association football in Cork in the early 1920s, the team was the first club from Cork to play in the League of Ireland in 1924 and won the Free State Cup in 1926. The club’s pitch was located at Pic Du Jer Park in Ballinlough which was owned by Ford.
Thousands of Corkonians passed through the Marina plant, in its blue and white colours, many families had several members working and the thronged mass of workers walking up and down Centre Park Road at clocking on/off times bore testament to the world of assembly work.
But time caught up with Fords and sentiment, the final impact of closure in 1984 left a deep wound on the people of Cork. Now former workers have come together to tell their own story of working in Fords.
Fords – Memories of the Line provides a fascinating insight into a Cork institution by those who worked on the line and is a must see for those who worked at Ford’s or have family members who worked on the Marina.