Humble pencils transformed Ireland’s post-war economy
Co Cork played a significant — but neglected role — in transforming Ireland’s economic destiny according to a new book which argues that German industrial investment was a critical catalyst to this country’s later success.
Although these days, great emphasis is placed on the importance of ongoing investment by US firms in Ireland, the new book, to be launched at UCC tomorrow by the German Ambassador Deike Potzel, argues that it was actually the establishment of a pencil and biro manufacturer in Fermoy several decades ago, which kickstarted the turnaround in Irish fortunes and Ireland’s move to join Europe.
“W Faber-Castell Ltd from Stein, Nuremberg, worked with the Fermoy Progressive Association to set up its first overseas plan after 1952.
“The lessons learned by the Irish authorities in this first major post-war industrial investment were transformative,” said author and Dunmanway-born historian Dr Mervyn O’Driscoll.
He is an Associate Dean of Graduate Studies at the College College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences and Coordinator for the MA in International Relations and in History at the UCC School of History.
“In the 1950s Ireland was in the throes of economic depression and 400,000 emigrated over the decade.
“Who would guess that it was the establishment of a by this German pencil and biro manufacturer in Fermoy which set the tone for the turnaround in Irish fortunes and Ireland’s move to join Europe?”
The authorities learned much from this major postwar industrial investment: “Faber-Castell was able to access the British Commonwealth markets ensuring the branch was profitable. The pioneering of financial and corporation tax incentives began.”
The West German economic miracle and German industrial investment now came to be seen as Ireland’s lifejacket as the British economy stagnated in the late 1950s and 1960s, Dr O’Driscoll noted.
“Access to the EEC to guarantee links with the German investment and markets was a more attractive prospect. The government of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer began to view Ireland as an investment location for firms seeking to expand.
“It offered a businessfriendly environment, plentiful labour and lower costs to cool the overheating German economy. By the late 1950s, German investment frequently outpaced American investment in Ireland and the trend continued in the 1960’s.
“German firms sprung up in towns and villages all over the country supported by the IDA.
“This vital contribution to Ireland’s modernisation is now perversely forgotten, but the German opportunity birthed contemporary Ireplant land’s economy and society, and opened up the European pathway for Ireland changing its identity.”
Ironically, US investment did not predominate in Ireland until after 1990 and with the development of the Single European Market, Dr O’Driscoll said: “As late as the 1980s, Charles J Haughey was pinning Ireland’s economic future on German investment and business opportunities.
“Ironically, it was the humble pencils manufactured in Fermoy after 1955 and 1956 by Faber-Castell that transformed modern Ireland.”