The intrepid Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton will be remembered and commemorated during the 3rd Shackleton Autumn School scheduled to take place in the Town Hall, Athy over the October Bank Holiday weekend. Shackleton was, without doubt, one of the great heroes of the 20th century which he amply demonstrated by his leadership qualities and his ability to motivate and inspire confidence in the men whom he led on his various Antarctic expeditions.
He was born in Kilkea House a few miles outside Athy where he lived during his formative early years before the Shackleton family moved to Dublin and then to London. Shackleton lived through the great age of exploration and his involvement in four Antarctic expeditions starting with the British National Antarctic Expedition of 1901 and ending with his final and fatal expedition of 1921 demonstrated the depth of his ambition to conquer the remote and inhospitable Antarctic. Of course his most famous expedition was the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition which set out on 8th August 1914 just days after the start of World War I. The expedition ended in May 1917 and despite the fact that it was a failure, following the early icing in and subsequent break up of Shackleton’s ship “Endurance” the trials and tribulations endured by Shackleton and his men ensured that this expedition would be remembered for all time.
Shackleton’s courage in bringing his entire expedition team to safety against all the odds was, and still is an inspiring story and one which was recently translated into film by Kenneth Brannagh. Indeed the showing of Brannagh’s film will be one of the many events to take place during the Shackleton October weekend. Another film on show will be Frank Hurley’s documentary film of Shackleton’s Endurance expedition to the Antarctic which Hurley, as a member of the Shackleton team, shot while on that expedition. It is an 80 minute long film which was recently restored by the National Film and Television Archive of the British Film Institute and is one of the most remarkable exploration films ever made. It will be introduced by Luke McKernan, Film Historian and head of information at the British Film and Video Council.
Lecturers this year include Frank Nugent, Mountaineer and Explorer, whose subject will be “Irish Arctic Exploration”. Hurley was one of the team of Irish men who unsuccessfully tried to replicate Shackleton’s awe inspiring 800 mile boat trip across the Weddell Sea from Elephant Island to South Georgia. Shackleton was accompanied by five men including County Kerry born Tom Crean on that trip, with Frank Worsley navigating the small rowing boat which they called “James Caird”. They reached their destination after 16 days and after a further overland trip arrived at an occupied whaling station from where they were able to make arrangements to rescue the 22 men who had been left behind on Elephant Island. The Antarctic sea trip in a small boat was a most extraordinary achievement and one which adventurers with modern day aids were not able to emulate nearly 100 years later.
Michael Smith of London who wrote the well received biographies of Tom Crean and Captain Oates will give a talk on “The Story of Captain Oates”. Oates was the army captain, a member of the Royal Inniskillen Fusiliers, who when returning injured from the Antarctic with Robert Scott in 1913 walked out to die in a blizzard so as not to hold back his colleagues, having told them as he left the snow bound tent, “I am going outside ….. I may be a little while”.
Myles Dungan of RTE will give a talk on Frank Shackleton, brother of the explorer, whose claim to fame rests solely on his alleged involvement in the stealing of the Irish crown jewels. Dungan who has previously written a book on the Irish in World War I will shortly have a book on Frank Shackleton and the Irish crown jewels in the book shops.
Sara Wheeler, another author, will speak on “The Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard”. She is the author of best sellers, “Terra Incognito”, the story of her travels in the Antarctic as well as a book of her travels in Chile, “Travels in a Thin Country”. Apsley Cherry-Garrard was a member of Captain Robert Scott’s Antarctic team and Sara Wheeler has written the definitive biography of Gerrard.
Ann Savours, who is one of Britain’s leading experts on polar exploration and history, has written a number of books including “The Voyages of the Discovery” and “The Search for the North West Passage”. During the Shackleton weekend she will give a talk on “The History of Scott’s Ship Discovery”. Jonathan Shackleton, a cousin of the explorer and co-author of the recently published “Shackleton - an Irishman in Antarctica” will speak on “The Importance of Being Ernest in a Changing Antarctic - an illustrated review of places that Shackleton visited”.
The weekend will include two drama presentations. Aidan Dooley comes from the New York International Fringe Festival with his one man play “Endurance” while the Meeting Lane Theatre Company puts on the premier of John Mac Kenna’s play, “The Woman at the Window”. Featuring Paula Dempsey, Mac Kenna’s new play is based on the life of the Ballitore writer Mary Leadbeater who is best known for her “Annals of Ballitore”.
On the Bank Holiday Monday two field trips are planned and full details are given in the Programme, copies of which can be picked up in the Heritage Centre. In addition to the lectures, drama and films there will also be two exhibitions. As you might expect an exhibition recalling the life and adventures of Ernest Shackleton will be held in the Heritage Centre and in addition Vincent Sheridan, Artist will also have an exhibition of prints in the centre. The prints inspired by Sheridan’s travel in the Antarctic will be for sale.
The Shackleton weekend runs from Thursday, 23rd October until Monday, 27th October and starts with readings from a series of creative writing workshops which are to be held in libraries throughout County Kildare facilitated by writers Mary O’Donnell, Ann Egan and Martin Malone. The official opening of the weekend will take place in the Heritage Centre on Friday evening, 24th October at 7.00pm. This promises to be a wonderful weekend and the hope is that the visitors who attended in great numbers last year will be joined this year by local people.