Many people played a role in Henry Ford setting up the plant in his ancestral home in Cork, and one of the unsung heroes may well have been the Lord Mayor of Cork when the factory began production in 1919, William F. O’Connor.
His daughter, Rose Mary O’Connor O’Regan O’Brien, says her father was an acquaintance of the motor magnate and explains: “He went to America and that’s how he got involved with the Fords. He was friendly with Henry.”
A photograph in her possession shows her father sitting atop the first Fordson tractor produced on the Marina on July 4, 1919 — American Independence Day.
This tractor went on to be gifted to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George by Henry.
Henry originally didn’t receive universal support when he wanted to produce his tractor.
“But he had the backing of a lot of British people, a lot of politicians,” says Rose Mary, who was an accomplished sportswoman in her younger days, playing for Munster in both hockey and tennis. “All the games a woman can play,” she laughed.
Rose Mary, the youngest of O’Connor’s five children, says her father was also an esteemed solicitor in Cork city and employed Martin A Harvey, who went on to become State Solicitor and found a Cork legal practice that is still going.
William F. O’Connor was the Lord Mayor who preceded Cork’s two martyr Lords Mayor in 1920 — Tomás Mac Curtain, who was shot dead by members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, and Terence MacSwiney, who died on hunger strike in Brixton Prison.
“We were Fine Gael out and out,” Rose Mary says of her family.
William’s law practice was based in Highfield Avenue, off College Road.
There is an insight into the troubled times in which he lived in a newspaper report in January, 1920, which details how Lord Mayor O’Connor was attacked by a party of men while returning from a meeting of demobilized soldiers.
“The mayor was knocked down and assaulted. A couple of former soldiers rescued him from his assailants.” stated the report.
The attack was attributed to the Lord Mayor’s opposition to the election policy of the Sinn Féin organisation.
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