As a student at UCC in the late 1950’s, I had to earn my fees and my keep and often got a bus across the city without a breakfast.
After I obtained a BA hons in Irish and English there, my Professor, B.G. McCarthy, urged me to do a masters, as I had spent many years as Auditor of the English Literature Society.
But I had to earn my living now. Where to go? What to do?
In 1960, when I graduated, Ireland was a changing place and Taoiseach Sean Lemass was modernising the Irish economy. The notice board at UCC read that Ford Motor Company in Cork was recruiting for graduate trainees.
At the time, Ford was a major employer in Cork. It is incredible to think what Henry Ford did for the city in 1917, when he established the factory there. It was a big turning point in the lives of so many in Cork.
Before long, I had arranged an interview with Tommy Brennan, Managing Director at Henry Ford & Son, and shortly afterwards I was informed that I would be employed in the accounts department on a salary of £10 per week. The company secretary, Jim Butler, invited me to his office.
There were no trade unions when I began in 1960 and the workers poured out of the gates onto the crowded quays from Ford and Dunlop every evening.
Yes, Henry Ford gave back to Cork much more than his ancestors had taken with them from Ballinascarthy.
When I started on the Marina, Paudie Sheedy, the Kerry footballer, and his assistant, Finbarr Ambrose, were my mentors. They were in the Internal Audit Department and from there I roamed far and wide in my pursuit of information.
I was well received generally, although I know that some suspected I was a ‘management plant’!
The offices faced out onto the riverside and across the Lee to the heights of Montenotte. In those early autumn days, I loved watching the ships from Dagenham berthing at the quayside and unloading car parts, which were securely held in large wooden containers. These were known far and wide as ‘Ford Boxes’ and could be bought very cheaply for use as household items such as hen houses or dog kennels.
My journeys about the factory were wide and varied and introduced me to famous Cork hurlers like Paddy ‘Fox’ Collins and Josie Hartnett of Glen Rovers.
I remember, too, a neighbour in Sunday’s Well, named Teddy Hanley, who worked at Ford on his very first day with Sir Patrick Hennessy, who later became the main man in Dagenham. I must say, from my point of view, that kindness and friendship abounded in the factory.
After I had completed my first training course, I joined a class of graduate trainees in Dagenham in England. The first question surprised me — “Where do you dine in Cork? Exec’, I suppose?”
My fellow trainees were graduates from a range of universities, including Oxford and London University, and also came from countries as far afield as Portugal and Pakistan. Ford cast their net wide in search of the best young talent.
I then joined the purchasing department and among my tasks was to assist with the annual audit of steel, which took place each year at Springs Ltd in Wexford. The audit included a spot check and also a count of the bars of steel.
The assistant purchasing manager, Tom O’Keeffe, Mr Hurley and I set off in a company car for Wexford. We stayed in the Talbot Hotel in Wexford town and briefly set aside the formalities of office life.
At Cork, I remember the romance of the motor trade and the pride everyone took in the shiny assembled vehicles all around us. It was fantastic to see car after finished car drop off the line and then being driven away for testing.
In fact, I bought my first car, a lovely two-tone Anglia, and followed its progress along the line. It was a long way from the Model T owned by my uncle in East Cork, which had been a follow up to his pony and trap. My uncle later bought a lovely Ford car which he kept in his barn in the Bally- shane townland of East Cork.
He said to me one day: “We’re thinking of driving to the Munster Hurling Championship match between Cork and Tipperary at the Limerick Gaelic Ground on Saturday. On the way on Saturday we’ll drive to your mother’s place in Charleville. Will you come?”
I replied: “Is the Pope a Catholic?!”
So, we headed out and met a crowd from East Cork in a pub in Croom. Great, great times. With us being from Cloyne parish we talked of our hero Christy Ring. We all knew him.
We had a lovely day, with a great drive in the Ford, and the match ended a draw. There were no losers that day.