Last April the eruptions from the Icelandic 'Eyjafjallajokull' volcano kept European airspaces shut down over a number of weeks affecting travel for millions of people across Europe. It brought a focus on a country which is generally unknown to us. In October the Athy Heritage Centre will host an exhibition of photography by the distinguished Icelandic photographer, Ragnar Axelsson. The exhibition forms part of the events which are being organised for this year’s Ernest Shackleton Autumn School, running from 22nd to 25th October, now in its tenth year. It’s an extraordinary coup for the Shackleton School and the Heritage Centre to host such an exhibition by such a distinguished photographer. Indeed at the same time as the exhibition is being held in Athy a similar exhibition will be held in his home country. It’s a compilation of his work spent over the last 25 years photographing in the Arctic, particularly amongst the hunters of Greenland. For much of the time he has travelled to the small Inuit villages across Greenland’s most remote regions, recording hunting traditions going back many thousands of years. The pictures are draw from his new book 'The Last Days of the Arctic' which deals with the effects of climate change on the Inuit of Greenland and in tandem with his book the BBC are producing a documentary about Axelsson and his work. The book is bound to be very well received as the New York Times described his previous book 'Faces of the North' as 'stunning'. The exhibition it is not to be missed.
The Autumn School events continue to reflect an ever growing international dimension and on the opening night on Friday 22nd October the Shackleton School will host the launch of a book by the American author Chet Ross about the Japanese Antarctic Expedition of 1910 – 1912. This expedition lead by Lieutenant Nobu Shirase is almost unknown on this side of the world, although Shirase is very much a hero in his native Japan. His particular misfortune was to lead his expedition to the Antarctic at the same time that Captain Scott and Roald Amundsen were engaged in their race to the South Pole. Thereafter it was only natural that the press of the day would be consumed with stories of Scott’s heroic death on the march back from the South Pole and Amundsen’s extraordinary achievement in reaching and returning from the South Pole without the loss of any of his men. Chet Ross’s new book deals with the history of the expedition and also some of the publications concerning same. Over the last number of years the Friday night has also hosted the Shackleton memorial lecture which has given an opportunity to hear from someone who has played a prominent role in Irish society.
Over the years we have been treated to lectures from the likes of Senator David Norris, Brian Keenan, Kevin Myers and last year the disability campaigner and young global leader Caroline Casey. This year Fintan O’Toole, the columnist, author and deputy editor of the Irish Times will be delivering the Shackleton memorial lecture and Fintan who is always an engaging and interesting speaker is likely to attract a good crowd.
A feature of previous Shackleton schools has been the diverse nature of the lectures held on the Saturdays and Sundays and both Chet Ross and Ragnar Axelsson will speak about their own work. Further lecturers will include a lecture by Dr. Tim Baughman, the Professor of History at the University of Central Oklahoma who wrote a fine biography of Shackleton. He will speak about Shackleton’s 1914-1916 'Endurance' expedition and his re-telling of Shackleton’s epic quest to save his men after the ship was crushed in the Antarctic ice is bound to go down well. Other lecturers include Meredith Hooper, the award winning Australian author who will speak about lesser known aspect of Scott’s last expedition to the Antarctic in 1910 – 1912 and Mike Tarver from Devon will talk about the polar exploration ships of the heroic age of exploration from 1884 to 1943 focusing on Scott’s iconic ship, the SS Terra Nova. The environmental aspects of the Antarctic will not be neglected and what is bound to be an intriguing talk will be delivered by Professor David Thomas of Bangor University, Wales who is currently working in Helsinki, Finland. He has spent the last 20 years engaged in studies of sea ice and his lecture is titled ‘Life inside drifting Antarctic pack ice'.
As ever the social side of the Shackleton weekend is very important and I know that Athy will give its usual fulsome welcome to those participants and attendees who will be travelling to the event from Iceland, Australia, the United Kingdom, the U.S.A., Finland and from all over Ireland.