Relief sculpture, Séamus Murphy RHA (1907-75), 'John Boyd Dunlop'

28 Sep 2020

Portland stone: 'John Boyd Dunlop', 1959, 75 W, 100 H, signed by Séamus Murphy RHA.

Ref: 1985.001 © University College Cork

Sculptor: Séamus Murphy RHA (1907-75), Irish. 

Murray, Seamus Murphy Catalogue No 231 (p216), with photo p217 and p191: "1959, Portland stone panel, 75 × 100 cm (UCC)."

Inscription: "S. Murphy RHA".

Date: 1959

Provenance: Commissioned by Dunlop Tyres in 1959 and originally placed in the Dunlop premises in Cork. Donated to UCC in 1985 by Dunlop Tyres following closure of the factory in 1983. Conserved and placed on display on 20 November 2007. Official ceremony 20 December 2007 (reverse of invitation card shows Séamus Murphy at work on this sculpture).


John Boyd Dunlop (1840-1921)


John Boyd Dunlop (Scotland 1840-Ireland 1921) 

John Boyd Dunlop (born Dreghorn, North Ayrshire, Scotland 5 February 1840 – died Dublin, Ireland 23 October 1921) was a veterinary surgeon. He trained at the Clyde Street Veterinary College (also known as the Dick Vet after its founder William Dick), now the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh) and set up his own practice, moving to Downpatrick in northern Ireland in 1867 where he practiced with his brother James. The business later moved to Belfast in the 1880s. In 1871 he married Margaret Stevenson (1840-1929) of Ballymena, Co. Antrim, and they had two children, a daughter Jane (Jeannie) Willis Dunlop (1880-1956) and son, John Boyd Dunlop (1877-1920), both of whom had descendants.

In 1887 Dunlop began developing what was to become the first practical pneumatic tyre for his son’s tricycle. On 7 December 1888 he was granted a patent. However, unknown to Dunlop, Robert William Thomson, another Scot, had already patented a pneumatic (inflatable) tyre in France in 1846 and the USA in 1847. Following discovery of this in 1890 and in order to capitalize on the product William Harvey Du Cros, president of the Irish Cyclists’ Association, and Dunlop who had already set up a company together, now created a company called the Pneumatic Tyre and Booth’s Cycle Agency in Dublin. Dunlop retired in 1895 and in the following year Du Cros sold the business to financier Terah Hooley. Du Cros remained in the business but Dunlop had no further connection with it having made very little financially from the product. His name and image, however, are still used by descendant companies today (for example, in an advertisement, Cork Examiner, 10 August 1934, p8, there's a logo displaying Dunlop's head). His own account of The history of the pneumatic tyre was published in 1924.

Dunlop lived at Simmonscourt, Donnybrook Parish, Dublin, with his family. In the 1901 Census his occupation is retired veterinary surgeon and by 1911 his occupation (and his son’s) was company director.

John Boyd Dunlop died on 23 October 1921 at ‘Leighton’, Ailesbury Road, aged 81, and is buried at Deansgrange cemetery, Dublin.


The Dunlop Company in Cork

In 1890 Dunlop opened its first tyre plant at Upper Stephen Street, Dublin, Ireland, followed by others around the world. In 1898 production in Dublin was transferred to Coventry and then to Birmingham in 1902. Plants were established worldwide making the Dunlop Company an early multinational corporation.

The Dunlop Rubber Company (Ireland) Ltd was incorporated in 1924 at Dublin. A distribution depot, Dunlop House, of 9,000 sq ft, was opened in Cork in 1927 [Cork Examiner, 16/11/1927, article and photo, p8]. This building was built by Delaneys of Henry Street, electric fittings by Porte & Co., Marlboro Street, heating and sanitary plumbing by McCarthy & Sons, with furniture and fittings by the Munster Arcade. The building, with extensions, still survives on the Lower Glanmire Road, near Kent Station. In 1934 , a site was chosen for a factory on Centre Park Road, Cork [Cork Examiner, 03/09/1934, p4], and groundworks began in October [Cork Examiner, 16/10/1934, p9; 26/10/1934, p9]. The architect of the factory was Mr Willshaw, the contractors were John Sisk & Son, Cork. The Irish Dunlop Company Ltd commenced manufacturing at a new factory in April 1935 [‘Taking the first tyre from the mould’, photo, Cork Examiner, 03/04/1935, p3], with a civic visitation in September of that year [‘Progress of new Cork factory’, Cork Examiner, 13/09/1935, p12]. The site was leased from Fords but later purchased in 1947 following the issue of £120,000 3½% first mortgage debenture stock [‘New capital issues: Irish Dunlop Company’, Irish Independent, 17/04/1947, p7]. This was the outcome from a deal pushed through by Seán Lemass TD, Minister for Industry, whereby Dunlops were licensed to hold an 80 per cent share of tyre production in the country (thus effectively removing  competition) [see, for example, Seanad Éireann debate, 6 September 1934]. In 1941 the Irish Dunlop Company Ltd had been appointed official agents for the salvage of rubber; disposal elsewhere was made illegal [Irish Press, 21/11/1941, p2].

The factory at Cork produced tyres, golf and tennis balls, footwear and other rubberised goods (including ‘rubber dollies’ as they were known in Cork, aka canvas shoes with rubber soles). The output exceeded local demand and so an export business was created. In 1965 the Dunlop head office was moved from Dublin to the Marina site in Cork thus merging management and production on a single site, with a new sales headquarters erected in Dublin [aerial view of the factory in 1955 and 1956, both National Library of Ireland]. The Dunlop factory at Cork closed on 30 September 1983 with the loss of 680 jobs [coverage, Cork Examiner, 01/10/1983, pp12-13]. In 1985 it was revealed that the Dunlop corporation was suffering estimated losses of £88m [Cork Examiner, 14/03/1985, p6].



Census of Ireland, 1901 and 1911

Dunlop Tire, ‘History’. Online: [accessed 28/09/2020]

Lunney, Linde, ‘Dunlop, John Boyd’ Dictionary of Irish Biography

Murray, Peter (ed.), Seamus Murphy (1907-1975) Sculptor (Kinsale: Produced by Gandon Editions for the Crawford Art Gallery, 2007)

Cork Examiner

Irish Independent

Irish Press


Further reading

Cork City & County Archives, B608 Dunlops Employee Record Cards

Cork City & County Archives, PR6/728, Invitation card from the directors of Dunlops to celebrate the opening of the new factory at a dinner, 29/07/1935

Dunlop, John B. The history of the pneumatic tyre (Dublin: A. Thom & Co., 1924). Available: National Library of Ireland, A27978

Dunlop Rubber Company Limited papers (1901-1965), ACC/2166, London Metropolitan Archives: City of London.

National Library of Ireland, photographs IND_H_3038 (13/09/1935) and IND_H_3039 (13/09/1935), both available on Flickr

United States Army, ‘The March of Time – Ireland’ (1946), Official War Department Reconditioning Rehabilitation Film, EF-257. Including view of the Dunlop tyre plant in Cork. (12:26-13:23)


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