Henry Ford paid an emotional visit to Cork in 1912 and here, Denis McSweeney imagines the scenario that unfolded.
Fr O’Connor was interrupted from his morning routine at the North Cathedral presbytery by his housekeeper announcing that an American gentleman was in the lobby and would like a word.
It was a warm day, August 8, 1912, and the stranger was standing in the doorway, gazing at the cathedral across the road.
“My name is Henry Ford,” he told the priest, “I am looking for information on my grandfather who was born in this area over 100 years ago.”
The priest, accustomed to such queries from Yanks, did not register the name. The visitor wanted to know about a Patrick Ahern, who was born shortly after 1800.
“And what part of America are you from yourself?” Fr O’Connor asked.
“Detroit,” the stranger replied.
“Did you say your name is Henry Ford?”, said the priest, twigging the importance of the man on his doorstep.
Henry had docked in Queenstown from New York the previous day, with his wife Clara and son Edsel, along with personnel from Ford, on a business trip to pursue European investments.
They stayed at the Metropole Hotel on MacCurtain Street.
That morning, the party, minus Henry, went to Blarney to kiss the castle’s Stone. He wandered Cork’s northside, a places with which his childhood stories had been filled.
Fr O’Connor found a baptismal record for Patrick Ahern, born on St Patrick’s Day, 1804, at Fair Lane — now Wolfe Tone Street. He and a brother, Con, were butchers in the flourishing cattle market near Shandon Street.
Patrick joined the British Army and his regiment went to Canada in 1831. By 1834, he had absconded with a number of comrades across the border, ending up in Dearborn, Michigan, and was working at an arsenal.
Patrick saved enough to buy an 80-acre farm and married Mary McGinn. They adopted a three-year-old girl, Mary
Litogot, who went on to marry William Ford — and their son was Henry.
Henry, in his formative years, was close to his grandfather Patrick, and no doubt heard tales of Patrick’s life in Cork.
On that August day in 1912, Henry would have walked up Fair Lane, after which he later named his US house. His grandson was also to name a car the Ford Fairlane.
Is it possible that the seed of the idea for a factory in Cork was planted right there and then, that warm August day in 1912?
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