For anyone whizzing by Ballinascarthy on the N71, it’s hard to miss the gleaming stainless steel statue of an iconic Model T Ford.
Some days, you might even spot the occasional bride perched in its front seat, posing for a wedding day photo.
“I tell you, there isn’t a day that there isn’t someone stopped here, getting photographs at that car,” laughs local woman Betty Hennessy.
“Every time we pass down there, some car is parked and the photographs are being taken and they’re sitting up on the Model T.”
“Bus tours, weddings... they’ll all get their photos taken there,” adds Hazel Forde Buttimer, a direct descendant of Henry.
Ballinascarthy was the birthplace of Henry Ford’s father, William, and the village is incredibly proud of its connection to the motoring empire.
At 21, William emigrated to Dearborn, Michigan, and Betty and Hazel are among the many local people who have enshrined that link in Ballinascarthy.
Hazel lives on the ancestral land in Crohane, between Bandon and Clonakilty.
“I’d be four generations out in relationship from Henry,” she says.
“That would be the same for all the different families in Ireland, which are all around County Cork.
“It was Henry’s father that left, and the grandparents and great-grandmother and seven children and all, including William.”
The family undertook a name change once they arrived in America, explains Hazel.
“At that time, when you were spelling their name in Ireland, it was F-O-R-D-E. When they went to America, they discovered that when you pronounced the word Ford, it ended with a D. It would be Ford-ey if you pronounced the E!”
Henry’s father left during the great famine in 1847 to join other members of his family in America.
“They were encouraging them at first because at that time they were able to own land of their own in America, and it was only rented here,” says Hazel.
“It was much smaller acreage here as well. The minimum was 80 acres in America. That was a big difference from 23 here. The famine got worse, so they decided to go.
“So the remainder of that family went to America and that was all that family gone from Ireland.
“We were the cousins that were left! And still living in the same farm yard and farm,” adds Hazel, who still has the original land lease that was signed by the family in 1818.
“There were two houses side by side and we’re in one of them and the other one was turned into outhouses for their animals when the various families went away from here.
“It was a marvellous adventure, really, wasn’t it, going out to those places in the type of ships they had in those days?”
It was 17 years ago that the villagers of Ballinascarthy got together to produce a Model T statue as a tribute to Henry and the Fords.
The sculptured stainless steel replica of the iconic vehicle was the work of locals — the memorial stone base was designed by Quentin Keohan and sculptor Kevin Holland crafted the life-sized model. The stone-cut memorial site was constructed by local builder Tom Harte.
The project, organised by Ballinascarthy Community Council, cost around £40,000.
“We always wanted a Model T in Ballinascarthy, the thing was where would we put it?” recalls Betty of their plans at the time. “The original idea was to put it where the old creamery was, but that didn’t work out.
“So there was a nice little site, just opposite the hall, perfect for seating and a green area.
“There isn’t a scratch on it, and it’s been here since 1999, there’s never been a flower pulled.”
Henry is said to have gone to Ballinascarthy on his visit to Ireland in 1912, and wanted to buy the empty tenant cottage and 30 acres of land where his father had lived.
The story goes that there were three single brothers who wouldn’t sell, and the parish priests advised them to hold on because “there was more in him”!
Henry stonewalled and took away the hearthstone from the old house as a keepsake instead.
His descendants from America have visited the Ballinascarthy monument down the years.
In 2004, his great-grandson, Edsel, called with his wife Cynthia and sons Henry III, Calvin, Stewart, and Albert.
Seven years later, another great-grandson of Henry, William Clay Ford Jr, visited the statue with his wife Lisa and their children Eleanor, Alexandra, William III, and Nicholas.
“They thought it was a fantastic project,” Betty says.
“They were very nice,” Hazel adds. “They really appreciate their Irish ancestors here, all American people do, don’t they? They were really pleased to see where their ancestors came from in Ireland.”
“It’s fantastic, a fantastic story,” Betty says.
“It’s a great part of history, I’m so proud of it, I can tell you.”
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