Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Con Costello - 6th Shackleton Weekend

The death of Con Costello, historian, author and columnist for the Leinster Leader has deprived his adopted county of it's foremost historical researcher and it's most prolific writer on historical topics. I was privileged to have served as a member of the County Kildare Historical Monuments Committee for the last eight years or so under the chairmanship of Con. He brought to his role a wealth of knowledge pertaining to the places and buildings of the county unrivalled by anyone I know. From his first book “Ireland and the Holy Land'”published in 1974 to his last “A Class Apart – the Gentry Families of County Kildare” published last year he maintained a scholarly rigour and precision in all his historical writings.

His written legacy is to be found in the twelve books that he wrote and the twelve hundred or so articles written  for his Leinster Leader column “Looking Back”. Con Costello was a truly exceptional local historian, local in the sense that his research tended to concentrate on the localised historical picture and not in the disparaging sense in which academic historians tend to regard those whose research and writing operate outside the hallowed halls of academia. His research undoubtedly helped to extend and conserve the history of the short grass county while his weekly newspaper articles helped to bring the fruits of his research to a much wider audience than could ever expect to be reached by book publishers. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam

The October Bank Holiday weekend will see the sixth Ernest Shackleton Autumn School taking place in the Town Hall Athy. Commencing on Friday the 27th of October the weekends events will be opened by Senator David Norris who will give the Shackleton memorial lecture. Norris, who is a distinguished Joycean Scholar, is also one of the most significant figures in Irish political and cultural life today. Incidentally, the proceedings on Friday evening are open without charge to everyone and if you would like to hear in person one of the most engaging and interesting public speakers you are likely to meet in a long time do come along to the Heritage Centre. That same evening a musical performance devised by Cliff Wedgbury will be given in the Castle Inn commencing at 9pm. Wedgbury, London born but now living in Cork is a singer and poet who has previously performed in the National Museum in Dublin during last years Shackleton exhibition which exhibition was on loan from the New York Museum. Admission to the Wedgbury show “The Boss – A Life told in Story and Song” is €5.

The weekend lecture series starts on Saturday morning at 10.30am in the Town Hall with Dr. Seamus McCann's talk on “South Georgia” followed by Joe O'Farrell's talk on the “Ross Sea Party”. McCann is an experienced Antarctic scientist while O'Farrell, a lifelong student of polar history, will reprise the lecture he gave the National Museum in Dublin last year.

On Saturday afternoon at 2.30pm we welcome New Yorker Margot Morrell who is travelling from the Big Apple to talk on her book “Shackleton's Way”. The book examines the success of Shackleton's leadership skills and draws on it to give insights into the nature of man management and leadership. The final lecture that day will be given by Jarlath Cunnane who received the prestigious Blue Water Medal from the Cruising Club of America earlier this year in recognition of his achievement as skipper and builder of the Irish yacht Northabout which completed the first east to west Polar circumnavigation in October 2002. His talk entitled “Northabout – A Polar Circumnavigation” will deal with that epic journey.

Whites Castle will be the venue for a special performance for children by Cliff Wedgway of his show to take place on Saturday at 3pm. On Saturday night the inaugural Shackleton Autumn School Dinner will be held in the Clanard Court Hotel and not the Carlton Abbey Hotel as stated in the programme of events. Tickets at €30 each are limited and early booking with the Heritage Centre is advised.

On Sunday the 29th of October the lectures resume at 10.30am with Robert Stephenson co-ordinator of the acclaimed Antarctic Circle website dealing with the topic “Antarctic Sites Outside The Antarctic – Memorials, Statues, Houses, Graves and the Occasional Pub”. Twelve noon brings on stage the inimical Dr Bob Headland of the Scott Polar Institute who will deliver his lecture “Attainment of the North Pole – A Historical Account”.

The film on Sunday afternoon will be “With Byrd at the South Pole”. Released in 1936 this is an Oscar winning documentary of the Americans journey to the Antarctic together with his famous first flight over the North Pole. Following the film there will be an open forum with an opportunity for questions to be asked of the participating speakers.

Later on Sunday evening a one woman play “A Father for My Son” based on the life of Captain Robert Scott's wife is to be performed for the first time in Ireland by Jenny Coverack. Jenny trained as an actress at the world famous Bristol Old Vic and the play written by herself and Robert Edwards has been performed to acclaim all over the world.

The field trip which has been an outstanding feature of the Autumn School in recent years will again take place on Monday the  30th of October starting from the Heritage Centre at 10am. During the trip a visit will be made to Ballytore for the formal launching of the Folk Archive of County Kildare.

The Antarctic Adventures a group of re-enactors who specialise in recreating the world of Shackleton, Scott and Amundsen will recreate over the course of the weekend a three man sledging party of the 1901-1930 period with clothing, sledges and equipment of the period.

Books and memorabilia relating to Shackleton and the Antarctic will be on sale during the weekend and this year a specialist book dealer will be in attendance with books of interest to those attending for the weekend lectures.

It promises to be an interesting weekend and one deserving of support by the local people of Athy. Programmes for the Shackleton Autumn School can be collected at the Heritage Centre where bookings can also be made for all or any of the events. A weekend ticket to include the dinner on Saturday night and all lectures and events costs €65 and may be obtained by contacting the Heritage Centre on 059 863 3075. The individual lectures cost €5 each.

A special thanks this year goes to local employers Tegral Building Products who are the principal sponsors of the sixth Shackleton Autumn School.

On Wednesday 1st November at  8pm Zoltan Zinn Collis, whose book “Final Witness – My Journey from the Holocaust to Ireland” was recently launched, will give a talk in the Town Hall. Zoltan's experiences as a young boy in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II is a tragic story and part of those horrifying events which were a defining episode in the history not only of the twentieth century but in the history of mankind. Admission to the lecture is free but because of the limited seating available those wishing to attend should arrive as early as possible.

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