In 1977, when Henry Ford II, grandson of Henry Ford, visited the Cork factory, he must have felt like Santa Claus.
He presented a prize of an all-expenses paid holiday for two in Detroit to Edward Colgan, of Portalington, Co Laois, after he won a competition to find the oldest Cork-built Fordson tractor in the Republic.
His machine, built in the spring of 1920, was still being used to sow potatoes.
The day of the visit, June 14, 1977, was also a happy one for two factory workers, Peter Doolin, from Togher, and Joe Hegarty, from Summerstown Drive, Glasheen, who both won new cars in a lottery drawn by Henry Ford II.
A former Cork and St Finbarr’s All-Ireland hurler, the prize of an Escort GL was an early 38th birthday present for Mr Doolin, who did not own a car. Colleagues of the father-of-three, who worked in the paint division, quipped “there would be no more lifts to work”
Mr Hegarty, a father-of-two, won a new Cortina and said he would put his existing 1973 Escort up for sale.
A Cork schoolboy, Anthony Byrne, whose father, Liam, worked at Ford at the time, also remembers the VIP visit in 1977.
“I was 11 years old at the time, I was brought up a car fanatic and I am still today,” said Anthony. “So I was very keen, if not to meet Henry Ford II, at least to see him in the flesh.
“I begged my parents to let me take a half day from school to go to the airport to see him board the plane after his visit. This, I felt, was my only chance. I finally wore them down, and they gave in.
“I lived three miles down the road from the airport, and, boy, was it going to be hard going up that airport road, but I was determined and nothing was going to stop me from seeing him. So off on my trusty Triumph Seven bicycle I went, with one eye on the road and the other on my side mirror to see if they were on their way to the airport.
“Pedalling away as if I was in the Tour De France, I make good ground and the sweat was running off me. I was about a mile and a half from the airport when I spotted a line of black cars in my mirror. Could this be him? I stopped to watch them go by and within seconds they had passed, then disappeared around the bend and over the hill.
“All I got was a fleeting glimpse of Henry sitting in the back seat, but it was enough, and besides, there was no way I was going to keep up with them no matter how fast I pedalled! With a big smile and a fond memory on board, I headed home to tell everyone who wanted to listen about my big adventure and the day I saw Henry Ford II.”
Anthony’s father, Liam, was a Ford employee for more than 20 years until the plant in Cork closed in 1984. Anthony’s grandfather and uncles also worked at the Ford plants in Dagenham.
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