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Working in Cork: Everyday life in Irish Steel, Sunbeam Wolsey and the Ford Marina Plant, 1917-2001
    ISBN: Hardcover 9781782054139
    Author: Liam Cullinane
    Publisher: Cork University Press

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    This book deals with the history of the working class in twentieth-century Ireland through a close examination of three Cork factories (Irish Steel, Sunbeam Wolsey and the Ford Marina Plant) and the men and men who worked therein. Departing from previous labour history in Ireland, this book uses a comparative factory study approach - combined with extensive oral testimony - to break new ground in Irish labour history. The book includes fresh research on the business histories of each firm through extensive archival research, expanding our knowledge of three significant Irish firms. It also draws on a vast pool of oral interviews to explore working-class community life and associational culture, trade-unionism, class awareness and the gendered aspects of working-class life in modern Ireland.
   
Liam Cullinane received his doctorate in history from University College Cork in 2016 and has previously been published in Saothar: The Journal of the Irish Labour History Society, Oral History and the Irish Examiner.

In the twentieth century, three iconic factories dominated the industrial landscape of Cork; Sunbeam Wolsey, Irish Steel, and the Ford Marina Plant. Though all are now closed, their legacy lives on in the memories of the thousands of men and women who worked within their walls. Working in Cork: Everyday Life in Irish Steel, Sunbeam Wolsey and the Ford Marina Plant, 1917-2001 tells the story of these factories and their workers. Based on dozens of interviews with former employees, as well as extensive archival research, the book examines the history of industrial Cork from the perspective of ordinary people.

There will undoubtedly be a great deal of interest in the stories of these workers. In a city that was often blighted by unemployment, Ford, Sunbeam and Irish Steel were industrial giants that provided secure and (relatively) well-paid work for innumerable people across the city and county. At a time when the average Irish manufacturer employed fewer than twenty people, these factories possessed workforces measured in the hundreds and thousands. The Marina Plant, for a brief moment in the late 1920s, employed nearly 7,000 workers, making it (for a while at least) the largest Ford facility outside of the United States.

Given their economic importance, it is no surprise that the loss of these companies had a devastating impact on Cork. Ford ended its assembly operations in 1984, Sunbeam Wolsey collapsed in 1990 after a decade of decline, and Irish Steel shut its doors in 2001. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s the city became an unemployment blackspot.

But the factories had a meaning that went beyond work. They were also places where friendships were built, romances blossomed and common interests were pursued. Each factory had a rich associational culture. Whether angling, golf, chess, basketball, singing, the Irish language, football or hurling, there was a club or society for it. A multitude of nicknames also echoed across the factory floor: ‘Beat the World’, ‘Jerry the Cock’, ‘Baths of Iron’, ‘Kill the Rabbit’, ‘Stab the Rashers’ and one man known simply as ‘The Handsome Welder’. In the words of one former Ford worker, ‘twas a little community and I’d run back there in the morning if I could’.

Working in Cork is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the social history of Cork and modern Ireland.

Liam Cullinane received his doctorate in history from University College Cork in 2016 and has previously been published in Saothar: The Journal of the Irish Labour History Society, Oral History and the Irish Examiner.