Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Sir Ranulph Fiennes to visit Athy's Heritage Centre

Although the statue of Shackleton in Emily Square was only unveiled as recently as 30th August 2016 it has quickly become an accepted part of the streetscape of Athy. This fine piece of art, commissioned by Kildare County Council, and executed by the eminent sculptor Mark Richards has drawn numerous international visitors to the town over the last 2½ years. On Friday 22nd March Athy will welcome a real live explorer to the town. County Kildare Chamber of Commerce are hosting a Health and Wellbeing symposium at the Clanard Court Hotel where the keynote speaker will be Sir Ranulph Fiennes who the Guinness Book Records describes as the world’s greatest living explorer. Fiennes has an extraordinary record of achievement behind him. He was the first person to reach both the North and South poles, cross the Antarctic and the Antarctic oceans and to circumnavigate the world along its polar axis. His 50 years of adventure and exploration will be a feature of his talk at the symposium in Athy. Demand for tickets for the event have been so high that the event has been booked out for a number of weeks. I understand that the event was originally planned to take place elsewhere in the county but Fiennes asked that it should take place in Athy, close to the birth place of Ernest Shackleton. He wanted to pay homage to Shackleton, the world’s greatest explorer by visiting the Shackleton Museum in Athy’s Town Hall and the nearby statue of the Kilkea-born explorer. Fiennes own life encapsulates much of what we know about Shackleton in terms of leadership, team work, determination and most of all self-belief. His book ‘Beyond the Limits – the lessons learned from a lifetime of adventure’ published in 2000 gives an overview of the extraordinary expeditions Fiennes has been involved in since the late 1960s. What is clear from this publication is his willingness to adapt and learn from every new experience and incorporate those into his subsequent expeditions. One of his most challenging experiences was his crossing of the Antarctic by foot with his fellow explorer, Dr. Mike Stroud in 1992-1993 when they together completed the first unsupportive crossing of the Antarctic continent. This is now viewed as the longest unsupported polar journey in history. In summing up the experience he wrote: ‘we had walked over the highest, coldest, most inhospitable continent in earth, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, with only the supplies that we carried. Somebody might one day complete the journey faster than we but like Hilary and Tenzing on Everest, we will always retain the rights to priority.’ Many expeditions would follow this experience including a successful summiting of Everest in May 2009 and the completion of the marathon Des Sables regarded as the toughest foot race on earth. But there is something about the crossing of Antarctica which resonates with us here in Athy. It was Shackleton’s own failure to cross the Antarctic in 1914-1916 that led to the epic adventure story centred on the loss of his ship Endurance, and his charismatic leadership which facilitated the escape of Shackleton and his men from icy graves in the Antarctic. In tandem with Fiennes expeditions he has raised millions for charities all over the world and is a prolific and skilled writer. His most recent publication is titled Cold - ‘Extreme adventures at the lowest temperatures on earth’ where he celebrated his life dedicated to researching and exploring some of the most hostile and intensely cold places on earth. No doubt those fortunate enough to have secured tickets for the talk on Friday will enjoy listening to the stories of the adventures of a man very much cast in Shackleton’s mould. The death of Peadar Dooley in London a few days ago marks the loss of a man who graced the county football scene playing for his native county of Kildare and who for many years played with the local Castlemitchell club. The story of the once intense rivalry which marked the relationship between the Athy and the Castlemitchell clubs is a story which has yet to be written, but next week I will return to the story of Peadar Dooley, footballer.

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