Driving south on the N71 through Ballinascarty in County Cork, you’ll be slowed in your tracks by a bright, silvery sculpture of a Ford Model T near a hostelry named the Henry Ford Tavern.
Ballinascarty (aka Ballinascarthy) was the birthplace of William Ford, farmer and carpenter. His family had a leasehold on a farm in the area, but two of his uncles, Samuel and George, set out for America in 1832 in the hopes of finding land they could own outright. They succeeded, and in 1847 (the year before JFK’s great grandfather emigrated) 21-year-old William and the rest of his family left their leasehold farm and moved to Michigan. William married a neighbour’s foster daughter, a girl named Mary Litogot and inherited a farm next door to his family. It was on this farm that Henry Ford was born, on July 30 1863. Young Henry never took to life as a farmer and in 1879 he left for Detroit to take up work as a machinist. He worked his way up to Chief Engineer of the Edison Illuminating Company, at which point he started spending his time experimenting with gasoline engines, designing and building a number of automobiles. By 1903 the Ford Motor Company was in business and the Model T was introduced on October 1, 1908.
In 1912, at the height of his success, Henry returned to Ballinascarty and made an offer on the farm his family had once leased. The owners, three unmarried brothers, asked the advice of their local parish priests, who told them to hold out for more money. Henry was clearly unimpressed, for he declined to put in a higher offer. He returned to the US leaving the three brothers and those greedy parish priests to stew in their own juices. Local lore has it that he took the hearthstone from the old house with him.