Bill Ford, chairman of Ford Motor Company, said “never say never” as he visited the dynasty’s roots in Ballinascarthy, Co Cork, yesterday.
Villagers turned out in force to welcome the latest member of the family to make the pilgrimage to the place where the legendary Henry Ford’s father, William, was born in 1826.
During the height of the Famine, at the age of 21, William left Ballinascarthy for a new life in America — and the rest, as they say, is history.
Bill, his wife Lisa and their four children received a rapturous welcome when they arrived in the village yesterday.
The affable American’s first act was to sign a plaster cast on the leg of 83-year-old Don Crowley. Don was the chairman of the community association that built a stainless steel replica of the Model T in the village in 2000.
Henry Ford pioneered the Model T in 1908 and it became the world’s first factory-line, mass-produced car.
He had sold 15 million by 1927, and 84 years later, his great-grandson sat into the replica tribute.
But before that, Bill and his family had a private lunch in the house of Hazel Buttimer, the Fords’ closest living relative in Ballinascarthy.
“It was a very pleasant occasion,” said Hazel.
“It’s a great honour that the Ford family continue to come back to their roots.”
Addressing the crowd next to the Model T memorial, Bill said that he had always looked forward to the day he would set foot in Ballinascarthy.
“It’s a living memory for me.
“When William Ford left here in 1847 nobody had any idea that his son Henry would change the world. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
He said the history of the family-run business echoed the ups and downs of life in Ireland.
“A few years ago, Ford was in trouble, but we came through it and our future looks great,” he said, adding that the family’s resilience was due to its Irish heritage.
He maintained that Irish resilience would also ensure this country pulls out of its economic woes.
As he unveiled a plaque next to the monument to commemorate coming to Ballinascarthy, Bill said the visit had “brought a lump to his throat”.
After that his family was treated to Irish music and traditional dancing in the community centre.
Later he visited Ford dealers Bandon Motors, where he met managing director Bob Clarke.
“It was great to meet him. We all know that the Ford family remain very close to their roots here,” Mr Clarke said.