Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Athy's Shackleton Autumn School

The 19th annual Shackleton School opens on Friday evening, 25th October in the aptly named Shackleton Museum Athy. The museum originally opened in 1983 in a school room in Mount St. Marys and known as Athy Museum was later rebranded as Athy’s Heritage Centre. This name change came about when Bord Failte granted heritage town status to our town and partially funded the design and refitting of the ground floor of the early 18th century Town Hall, part of which had previously been used as a fire station. The latest name change is in recognition of the Centre’s development over the years as the only permanent exhibition space anywhere in the world devoted to the polar explorer who was born in nearby Kilkea. An important part of that development was the first Shackleton Autumn School which opened in October 2001 with a number of lectures dealing with various aspects of Shackleton’s life and his polar explorations. That first autumn school attracted visitors to Athy over the October bank holiday weekend who might not otherwise have had an opportunity or indeed a reason to come to Athy. In the intervening years the organisers of the autumn school have built up a valuable working relationship with polar experts throughout the world including the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, the Fram Museum in Oslo and the South Australian Museum, Melbourne. The relationships with these institutions have encouraged and promoted contacts with polar experts and scholars throughout the world. As a result the small county Kildare town has become known over the last 19 years as the centre of the world’s most important annual polar seminar. Since the first autumn school we have welcomed as lecturers, polar experts and explorers from Australia, Norway, America, Great Britain, Canada, Spain, Germany, France, Belgium and New Zealand. While our October audiences have included visitors not only from those countries but also Japan, India, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Italy. This year the autumn school will be officially opened on Friday 25th October at 7.30p.m., followed by the launch of the book ‘Shackleton and his stowaway’ published by Methuen and written by Andy Dickinson. Earlier in the day the internationally acclaimed sculptor, Mark Richards, who created the Shackleton statue located in Emily Square will conduct a workshop for Leaving Certificate students from schools in the south of the county. Throughout the weekend the museum will host an exhibition on Shackleton’s last expedition aboard the ‘Quest’. It was while on that expedition that Shackleton died and the ship’s cabin in which he drew his last breadth was acquired by the museum some time ago and will be one of the many Shackleton related exhibits on display when the planned re-design and re-fitting of the Shackleton Museum is completed. The lectures start at 10.00am on Saturday morning with a lecture from the well-known ornithologist Jim Bransfield from Cobh, County Cork who will talk about the discovery of Antarctica 200 years ago by the Cork born sailor, Edward Bransfield. Thereafter Paul Davies of the Devon Cornwall Polar Society will lecture on the diverse range of books published about the Polar regions. A significant lecture that same morning will be from Dr. Dirk Notz in relation to climate change, an issue which is to the forefront of most news reports these days. As a climate researcher Dirk has led numerous expeditions to the Antarctic and focusses on understanding the past and future evolution of sea ice in the Polar regions. Former BBC science correspondent, David Whitehouse will lecture about the Apollo 11 Moon Landings in this the 50th anniversary year of that landing. This will be followed by perhaps one of the highlights of the weekend, the ‘Endurance diary inquiry’. For those fans of the Antiques Roadshow they will recall a broadcast from Belfast last Summer where a diary belonging to one of the members of Shackleton’s Endurance crew was unearthed. The authenticity of this diary will be scrutinised by a panel of experts with the support of Nicky Jeffreys, the owner of the diary. The diary itself will be on display in the Shackleton Museum over the weekend for those anxious to see this unique document. The lectures will continue into Sunday where a variety of different topics will be explored including the life and voyages of the Dundalk born explorer, Sir Leopold McClintock and the rescue of Shackleton’s men from Elephant Island after the Endurance expedition. The Sunday afternoons sessions will end with the showing of the ‘Flight of the Eagle’, an Oscar nominated film telling the story of a doomed balloon expedition to the North Pole in 1897. The events over the weekend will include what we believe to be the premiere in Ireland of the two man play ‘Shackleton and his Stowaway’, which will be performed in Athy’s Arts Centre on Sunday the 27th October 8pm. The play played to packed audiences in London and it will be well worth seeing. The Autumn School would not be possible without the continuing sponsorship of Kildare County Council, Athy International Concentrates, Athy Lions Club and Bradburys restaurant.

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