When Ford’s new foundry opened on the Marina in Cork nearly 100 years ago, Jimmy O’Sullivan was among the managers.
It was hot and hard work, producing metal castings for the vehicles in the furnace of the factory, but Jimmy’s grandson, Kieran McElhinney, says his grandfather loved the job and the motor company.
“He was born in the Drimoleague area of West Cork in 1892,” says Kieran. “The family later ran a shop in the town and that was where he lived till he moved to Ford in Cork. He was working in McCarthy’s foundry in Skibbereen. It seems a lot of people from there found employment in Ford.
“Jimmy was in Ford from the very start and was a senior manager in the foundry. He was living in Myrtle Hill Terrace in Cork at the time.”
Among the memorabilia in Kieran’s possession is a postcard from 1919 showing all the new managers at the Cork factory, including his grandfather.
Kieran says one family anecdote reveals the tensions in Cork city in the early years of the Ford factory, during the War of Independence.
“Jimmy came from a very staunch Republican family and there is a story he told where he was on the tram to work one day when it stopped at a bridge — near City Hall, I think. There was a shoot-out going on between soldiers and the IRA, and the tram driver and most of the passengers ran, but Jimmy had to get to work as something important was going on!
“He was told by a British officer he could not cross the bridge. After explaining his urgency, the officer proposed they walk across the bridge together — on the basis that soldiers will stop firing when they see him and the IRA will not shoot a civilian.”
“The scheme worked and Jimmy got to work. By all accounts he changed his view of the British after that, believing that not all the army were monsters after all.”
When the Dagenham factory opened in 1931, Jimmy got a transfer there and Kieran says: “He lived a prosperous life there, with his wife Catherine and their four children, in Ballards Road in Dagenham. He drove a Ford himself and wrote of the great conditions in the factory for the workers — showers and other unheard of facilities.”
However, when World War II broke out in 1939, Jimmy decided to go home. “The coming of the war changed everything,” says Kieran. “Children were being evacuated out of London to the rural north of England and Jimmy had heard reports that families were being divided and would face a life of near slave labour with strangers.
“He decided to keep the family together above the job in Ford. He quit in 1939 and returned to Cork.
“He bought a farm at the Hermitage, Glanmire, which is still in the family. He was a successful farmer and had a herd of pedigree Friesian cattle.”
Jimmy died in 1966 and Kieran says: “Without doubt, his time in Ford was the making of him.”
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