“It’s a workhorse. It’s not fancy — to me, it’s a basic, common Irish van. You can quote me there!”
Pádraig Ó Duinnín is telling me about the beauty of the Ford vehicles which he relies upon in his horticultural community outreach service on the outskirts of Cork city.
He and his colleague, Micheál O’Connor, are community gardeners who offer occupational skills training, helping with The Garden Café in Blackpool and in a community woodwork shop.
Their two Ford Transits, a 2004 van and a 2005 ‘high top’, help them get from A to B, transporting their tools, friends and fertiliser.
For Micheál and Pádraig, the vans are just the latest in a long line of connections they have with the Ford name.
Pádraig’s aunt Síle was a Ford employee on the Marina, working in the canteen. “We’d have always heard about Ford this and Ford that,” he laughs.
Micheál has a few connections of his own.
“I would have grown up in a Ford environment,” he says. “My father would have worked for them in Clonmel on trucks and tractors, as a store manager. I would have been in the garage with all Ford stuff, the whole lot!
“There’s something about the ethic of Ford as well, that I think I got. The Ford work ethic. It’s a big thing.”
Micheál has another connection to the motor company. During his time in college in Cork, he rented a room in a house in Wolfe Tone Street, formerly Fair Lane — where Henry Ford’s maternal grandfather, Patrick Ahern, once lived.
Indeed, it was reputed that the house had an even closer link to Henry.
“In my final year in the college, I heard that Henry Ford himself came to stay at the house where I was when he visited Cork in 1912.”
The makers of a TV documentary contacted the landlord about the link, and Micheál adds: “The landlord told me they had come to interview him when they made the documentary.”
Although there is no evidence that Henry stayed in Fair Lane in 1912 — he and his family rented a room in the Imperial Hotel in the city — he certainly visited the street and walked its footpaths, so perhaps there is a grain of truth to the story. For now, Pádraig and Micheál are happy to have use of the famous Ford vans.
“We’d be on the road five days a week, I would give lifts in the van to at least five different people every day,” says Micheál.
“You’d have between 12 and 15 guys a week that would be using the van with various hours, with different things that would be going on.
“This van was converted. It was just a regular ‘high top’. They had it converted for the guys so we could use it as a work van.”
Pádraig adds: “I’m constantly on the move. I’m in Kinsale, I’m here in Blackpool, I have other work in the city and then my original home is in Macroom.
“So on any given week, I’m moving between the three. A lot of time spent in the Transit.”
Pádraig, who is a fluent Irish speaker, likes to listen to Raidio na Gaeltachta to pass the time while driving.
Micheál explains their roles. “We provide an outreach service, where people can come in and do some work on a few different projects. It might be some stone work, some gardening or some woodwork. I’m on the horticulture side of things.
“We just completed a pilot programme with Cork University Hospital in growing food for the hospital,” adds Micheál of the HSE-backed project. “We’re specifically salad orientated. We do a lovely mixed salad bag! It’s great to get the support with the HSE.
“We’d do little bits of landscaping as well so we’d have lawnmowers in the back, and tools. We’d have three or four lads with us and we’d have two support workers, horticulturists and we’d be collecting cardboard for mulch, it’s all organic the gardening that we do.
“We’d be going from here to the house, or to the woodwork shop to collect timber if we’re doing window boxes or something like that.
“We’d go to get manure, we cut grass on a few different sites — day to day landscaping and gardening.”
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