A trip down memory lane for the women of Cork's Ford factory

Although the assembly line at the Marina was a male zone, plenty of women worked in the factory and three of them tell Jessica Casey how they even met the love of their life while working there.

Blanche Mulconry and Jo Quinlan at the the former Ford site in Centre Park Road, Cork. Photo: Larry Cummins

She worked on the telephone switchboard at the Marina for years, but former Ford employee Blanche Mulconry ended up with a ring on her finger too.

Blanche met Michael, the man who would become her husband at the plant, and said: “I have very happy memories of my time there anyway, there’s no doubt about that, and getting the husband was an extra bonus.

“A few of us girls married ‘in-house’, I suppose you could say.”

Blanche took a trip down memory lane when she visited the old Ford site for our photographer, with her friend, Jo Quinlan — who also worked there and met her husband, also Michael, there.

“I suppose the men way outnumbered the women,” Jo laughs. “There were a lot of men there.”

The two women, along with Carole Kearney — who met her husband, Barry at Ford — were among a group of women who worked in the typing pool and on switchboard for the company in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s.

Blanche, from Blackrock, started work as a telephonist for Ford in the 1960s. The place was a hive of activity.

Read more: Cork's connection to the opening of Ford plant in Dagenham

“We hadn’t a minute to ourselves,” she recalled. “At that time when you had to make a call, or if you had to ring the dealers all over the country, we had to book the calls and we had to get them for everybody. We had to time them as well and then we had to charge every department. We were very busy. You wouldn’t feel the day going, which was a good thing really.”

Jo, from Ballinhassig, started working at Ford in 1971.

“One of my favourite things was working on the switchboard,” she said.

“I absolutely loved the eight or nine years that I was on that job. You spoke to so many people from all over the country, even from different countries. It was great fun. There was chit-chat with so many people.”

Carole, originally from London, also started working at Ford in 1971, in the reception area.

“You had to work hard, everyone put in a good day’s work, put it that way, but there was still a lot of fun, everyone knew each other,” recalls Carole.

“You wouldn’t just be friendly with the girls you worked with, you’d be friendly with the girls in the next department too.

“I met some very nice people there. Lovely memories, it was a very nice place to work.”

Blanche adds: “I found the thing about reception, come five o’clock, that was it, you were done. You didn’t have to worry, whereas if I you were in admin’, you could be bringing that home with you.

“We had a great social life, and we had all sorts of clubs. We had swimming clubs, we had running clubs, we used to go to Dublin for running with different companies.

“There was great camaraderie there. We used to have a sports day every year, with kids and all the rest of it.”

All the women remember that the company was strict about punctuality in particular.

“Getting to the Marina could be a little bit difficult because I lived in the country, but you just had to be there on time,” said Jo.

“But, you know, you could still have a laugh. And they were good to work for, they paid well. It was much better than, say, a job in the centre of town in Cork.”

Carole says the company was also humane.

“My father died suddenly a few years after I joined Ford and they were absolutely wonderful. They gave out a car for me to bring me to Nenagh because it was a long drive, because it was a sudden death. They were just marvellous like that, very good, (there was) very much a humane side to them, and still is.”

The women who worked at Ford were all very competent in their field, Carole said. “But very much in the minority,” she added.

Under Irish law at the time, women had to leave employment once they were married, a practice that continued until the 1970s.

“It’s unbelievable, isn’t it?” said Carole. “In that day and age!”

Blanche had the distinction of being last woman in the company who had to leave when she got married in 1971.

“A few months later the other girl on the switchboard, Betty, got married and she didn’t have to leave, the law had changed.”

There were some terrific characters in the factory, recalled Blanche.

The production line workers began at 8am and the office staff at 8.45am.

“You’d have to walk through the factory and it was good fun going through in the mornings.

“I used to play camogie and if there were any matches on at the weekend they’d all be shouting at me ‘Oh, you weren’t good’ or ‘Oh, you were great’ or ‘You were this or that’. It was great. I used to have a good rapport with them really, they were all great.

“Ford were very good employers, there was no doubt about that.”

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