A century on, Ford legend is still motoring

To celebrate 100 years of Ford in Cork, the Fords of Dearborn, the descendants of William Ford, returned to visit the home of their ancestors.

Mr. William Clay Ford Jr., Executive Chairman, Ford Motor Company, with his wife Lisa and their sons Will and Nick.

IT SEEMS some habits run in the family. As William Clay Ford Jr and his wife and two sons sought to clamber onto the silver Model T on the roadside in Ballinascarty, West Cork, the executive chairman of the Ford Motor Company and great-grandson of Henry Ford said: “I’ll drive.”

It made sense to take the wheel. 

What with the large turnout from locals and visitors, and a dozen vintage Ford vehicles parked up nearby, all to mark the first visit by descendants of this famous son of the village back to Ballinascarty for the first time since 2011, and in the year when the company marks a century since Henry established Ford in Cork.

The main event was the unveiling of a new plaque next to the Model T which has become a fixture on the N71 as motorists pass through into West Cork.

Mr. William Clay Ford Jr., Executive Chairman, Ford Motor Company, with his wife Lisa and sons Will and Nick and Ciarán McMahon, chairman & managing director, Henry Ford & Son Ltd., pictured with management and staff during a visit to Henry Ford & Son Ltd., Boreenmanna Road, Cork, during the celebration of the Ford Centenary in Ireland.

Picture: Denis Minihane.

The latest edition reads: “To celebrate 100 years of Ford in Cork, the Fords of Dearborn, the descendants of William Ford, returned to visit the home of their ancestors — William Clay Ford Jr, and Lisa Ford and their sons William III and Nicholas, April 20, 2017.”

The drapes were also pulled back on a wooden bench bearing the quote from Henry Ford: “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”

This, said William, was “very Irish” and he added: “spectacular”. 

He sat down on the new seating, which will surely serve as a nice resting point for many a traveller, alongside Hazel Ford Buttimer, the family’s closest relation still in West Cork and who was hosting the group for lunch in her nearby farmhouse, itself one of the original home places of the Ford family.

“It’s not as comfortable as one of our car seats,” William joked while perched on the bench, “but it’s great”.

The visit of the Dearborn clan was a big deal for local people here, with the committee on which Hazel and her friend Betty Hennessy are involved ensuring that the links between local Fords and their Michigan cousins are maintained.

It was also a day for the Ford vintage enthusiast to show off their wares. 

Albert Harte, chairman of the West Cork Vintage Club, was among them, standing close to the white 1600 Super which used to belong to taoiseach Jack Lynch. 

The ex-Fianna Fáil leader was presented with the vehicle in 1967 at the time of a major extension to the Ford plant in Cork. 

The club acquired the car in 2003 and another member, Stephen Murphy, recalled how the spin-offs from the older cars to other local industry was so pronounced — the paint from Blackpool, the tyres from Dunlop, the glass from Triplex in Nenagh, and so on.

Another vintage motorist present was John O’Neill from Ballinadee, parking up his 1920 postbox green Model TT truck. 

He said the vehicle, which he bought in the UK and then restored, can reach a top speed of 25mph, but added that yesterday, he’d brought it on a trailer. 

“Today I cheated — I didn’t drive it because I was stuck for time,” he said. 

An obvious devotee, he was even wearing a blue Model T tie courtesy of Ireland’s Model T club.

“I would like to see the man,” John said of William Clay Ford Jr. 

“Their roots come from here. He [Henry] was one of the main industrialists in America — Ford is everywhere all over the world.”

It was a theme taken on by William himself as he addressed the crowd which followed him into the local community hall. 

Before he took the mic, the chairman and MD of Ford Ireland, Ciaran McMahon, said: “It is always fantastic to come back here — such a special village where such a unique heritage is in place.”

He spoke of celebrating family ties and how, even at the height of his fame, Henry Ford “never forgot his roots”. 

Henry’s great-grandson picked up that thread, thanking all those who made such an effort, in particular his relative, Hazel.

“I know it’s a big imposition,” he said of the family visits to nearby Crohane, “but it really feels like we are coming home.

“My great-grandfather, Henry Ford, became a legend but long before he was a legend he was just a person with a dream,” he continued.

William recalled how, some years ago, he had bought the first Ford car in existence, a pre-assembly line model and one built at a time when the company was not pre-determined for success. 

It was a gamble, he said, but one which paid off. It meant that now Ford as a company was even more rare in being a family company still being run by the family, more than 100 years later.

“It’s my strong belief that a company should only exist to serve people, to serve society,” he said. 

“If you’re not making people’s lives better then you are not doing your job.” 

It’s a time to look to the future, to look back, “a trip down history lane”, and “also about looking forward”.

By the time he accepted a framed photograph of a vintage Model T and chatted with local medic Dr Jason Van Der Velde, attention had turned from Model T to a different type of tea — as well as sandwiches and cakes — and after some meet-and-greets, the family nipped into the Henry Ford Tavern for a mini-pilgrimage.

“They’re good pints,” a couple of local lads observed as the Ford quartet supped pints of plain in the afternoon sunshine. Watching from a parked car was Hazel Ford Buttimer. 

“It’s a wonderful day and great that they have come back for a second visit,” she said.

The clock was ticking, however. “The dinner is ready above,” she said, with a slight note of concern. What had she laid on? “Just about everything.” No doubt they all enjoyed it.

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