Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Shackleton Autumn School 2018

In late October 1908 the Kildare-born explorer, Ernest Shackleton, was about to commence a long journey from his base camp to the South Pole. As it turned out he would not achieve his objective of being the first man to the South Pole. He would come within 90 miles of it after three months of unrelenting slog in extraordinary challenging conditions. In writing to his wife, Emily Shackleton, afterwards of his decision to turn back from the Pole because the supplies he had were insufficient to feed his men to get them back safely, he reckoned that she would prefer ‘to have a live donkey than a dead lion’. This decision would propel him to worldwide fame and his subsequent heroics in the Antarctic with the loss of his ship ‘Endurance’ in 1915 would ensure a place for him in the pantheon of polar explorers. His is a life we have celebrated in Athy every October over the last 18 years and the measure of the success of the event is that this year Athy will play host to a party of 29 Norwegian visitors from Oslo. Some of these visitors have come to Athy before, but for the vast majority of them this will be their first experience of our town and no doubt they will get a warm and vibrant welcome from the people of Athy. Their primary focus of course will be on the events around the Shackleton Autumn School over the weekend of 26th-29th October, which promises to be as diverse, entertaining and educational as it always is. The day to day events will commence with a master class with sculptor Mark Richards who sculpted the magnificent statue of Shackleton which adorns the back square. Mark will be taking students of Ardscoil na Tríonóide and Athy Community College through the steps in creating a sculpture. Later that evening, in the Athy Heritage-Centre Museum, the Norwegian Ambassador to Ireland will open an exhibition called ‘Exploring Shackleton’ which tells the story of Shackleton’s life from cradle to grave. The Exhibition will be on loan to Athy Museum from the Norwegian Polar Museum, the Fram Museum, in Oslo. Across the weekend there will be a full range of lectures covering a wide variety of topics. For those who have a particular interest in the sea and the environment, Dr. Kelly Hogan of the British Antarctic Survey will talk about the knowledge that people can gain from the study of the sea floor on the polar regions. The American shipwreck hunter David Mearns will be talking about his extraordinary career in locating some of the most iconic ships lost at sea over the last number of centuries, while Dr. Jim McAdam from Queens University Belfast, will speak about the Irish patriot sailor and adventurer, Conor O’Brien, whose boat the Ilen is currently being restored in Baltimore, County Cork. For anybody with an interest in the future development of the Shackleton Museum they can hear more details about this in the Icebreakers segment on Saturday afternoon. Entry to that particular part of the weekend is free. Local interest will also centre on Dr. Sharon Greene, from Kilkea, who will talk about Kathleen Shackleton, Ernest’s younger sister, who had as rich and varied life as an artist all over the world. The German explorer, Arved Fuchs who was the first person to reach both the North and South Pole on foot in the same year, will also be lecturing on the morning of Sunday, 28th October. He has had quite an extraordinary adventuring life and his is a lecture not to be missed. One of the highlights of the weekend will be undoubtedly the performance of the play, ‘Shackleton’s carpenter’ written by the playwright Gail Louw, being performed in Athy’s Arts Centre. This one man show, performed by the English actor Malcolm Rennie, tells the story of Harry McNish, the carpenter and shipwright whose work on the lifeboat the James Caird was fundamental to the survival of Shackleton’s men after their ship Endurance was lost. Reviews of the play from the UK have been extraordinarily positive and it is particularly pleasing that the Arts Centre has an opportunity to host such a prestigious production. While it is very welcome to see so many visitors from abroad coming to our town over the October Bank Holiday weekend, it is also important that people of the town take the opportunity of participating in some of the events over the four days.

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