From holiday homes to garden sheds Ford shipping crates remain part of Irish landscape

Elaine Duggan explores the social phenomenon of the Ford crates which have remained part of the country’s landscape.

For three decades, the crates that shipped supplies to Ford in Cork enjoyed a second life in a host of guises, from holiday homes to dancing platforms. 

When Joseph Buckley was left £100 after the death of his mother in 1955, he used it to create joy for four generations of his family.

Joseph spent the legacy on crates sold by the Ford plant on the Marina, and used them to build his dream holiday bungalow in Graball Bay, Crosshaven — which is still standing and being used by his family to this day.

The crates were a boon for both Ford and for Cork people for generations, and became a part of the built landscape. Their uses ranged from holiday homes to garden sheds, chicken coops to dog kennels, even dancing platforms and pigeon lofts.

The boxes, some as large as 16ft x 5ft, were made to hold car parts, body panels, gear boxes, shafts, and chassis frames. They were made of marine plywood, which is a fine timber and water resistant.

The crates were shipped from the Ford plant in Dagenham to Cork and when they had been unpacked, were sold on to the public.

The trade went on from the 1950s to the 1980s and summer bungalows made from Ford boxes shot up in Crosshaven, Graball, Church Bay, Myrtleville, Roberts Cove and Fountainstown, as well as out in east Cork in resorts like Youghal.

Read more: Here are some of Henry Ford's most famous quotes

Many have now been lost, but Joseph Buckley’s is still standing. His daughter, Dolores O’Keeffe, of Barrett’s Terrace in Gurranabraher, said her father built sections of a bungalow in his back garden in Barrett’s Terrace with the boxes and brought it bit by bit to Crosshaven, where he created the family bungalow. He did this with two friends, who had also bought Ford boxes.

Joseph and wife Maura had six children, Ann, Mar, Dolores, John, the late Alex and Michael.

Some of the children have continued the tradition of having a home in Crosshaven and Joseph’s great- grandchildren love to spend time holidaying in Graball, where his bungalow is still used by the extended family to this day.

Dolores recalls their first trip to Graball Bay to stay in their new bungalow. Her brother Michael, who now lives in the US, was just six weeks old at the time, and he recently turned 60.

Even now when he comes home to visit, he wants nothing more than to visit Crosshaven. Dolores remembers them bringing the moses basket carrying Michael down to the beach.

The bungalow was called St Gerard’s. It had three bedrooms, a little kitchen with a table and chairs, a radio, there was a bottle gas cooker and even a train seat — Dolores said every time they sat on it the dust used to rise! The water was outside for years, as was the toilet.

The family would travel down to Crosshaven from the city every June. Joseph, who owned a motorbike, would organise a lorry, and they would travel back home again at the end of the summer.

Dolores recalls one summer when the family ended up staying until October, as the schools were closed due to the polio outbreak.

She said life was simple, and they were happy times. They got milk and vegetables from the local farm.

They used to travel to Camden Fort on a Sunday morning, through the fields from Graball, to mass. Dolores said they used to get a quarter of a communion host, so hard were the times, and fondly remembers her dad whipping them up a fry when they got back from church.

She also recalls her mum Maura making banana sandwiches — she’d turn around and they would be gone, gobbled up by her six children.

The family’s life in Crosshaven revolved around the seaside. By day they would sit on the beach with neighbouring families. Her mum would bring a primus to cook up some rice.

They also bought tractor tyres to use as tubes and went swimming with them, often late at night, as well as exploring the rock pools and catching crabs.

“They were really great memories,” said Dolores. “And when it was raining we’d sit in the bungalow and count the black cars going up and down the boreen.”

She said Crosshaven was a regular haunt for the Ford and Dunlop workers, who would have two weeks off in August and flock to the seaside town.

“I remember when we were young, on Sunday morning we’d go down and sit on the wall, I remember the buses pulling into Crosshaven, they were full.”

When Joseph Buckley’s children grew up he rented the bungalow out. But it remains in the family today, an heirloom from bygone times, bequeathed by Joseph’s mother.

Dolores said: “Out of £100, the joy that he gave us all and the love for Crosshaven, it was worth millions.”

The Ford box phenomenon came to an end in 1980 when shipping containers were introduced and they vanished from the quayside, but their legacy lives on.

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