Tom Crean

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In a small village in County Kerry called Annascaul, there is a pub called "The South Pole Inn". It is an unusual name for a pub found in a small village in Ireland, thousands of miles away from the Antarctic. But the pub has direct links to Tom Crean, the man who originally owned it.

Tom Crean

An unsung hero, Tom Crean - Antarctic survivor by Michael Smith

Tom Crean was born on 20th July 1877, near Annascaul. He was one of ten children. Times would have been hard on the farm and Tom Crean officially enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1893. He had not yet celebrated his sixteenth birthday.

While Tom Crean was serving in international waters he encountered Robert Scott and he was introduced to Polar Exhibition. Despite not having any formal training in arctic exploration, Tom Crean was to play a pivotal role in Antarctic exploration in the 1900's. Crean sailed on three of the four major expeditions of Britain's heroic ice exploration age. He was one of the few men who served under both Scott and Shackleton.

In 1901, Tom Crean joined the ship called "Discovery" in the first major undertaking in exploring the interior of the Antarctic under the command of Scott. In January 1902 Crean saw his first sight of Antarctica. Early on in the voyage, Crean proved himself an able seaman. Upon arriving at the Antarctic he and five others were selected by Scott for a brief sledging expedition across the ice. They spent the night on the ice before returning to the ship.

Ice Man

Tom Crean Ice man, the adventures of an Irish Antarctic hero, Michael Smith, illustrations by Annie Brady

In 1904, Crean arrived back in England after completing his first Antarctic voyage. He was now part of a very small exclusive team of men who had been in Antarctica. After leaving the ship "Discovery", Crean was sent to a naval base at Chatham, Kent where he was posted to HMS Pembroke. Crean settled into naval life but this did not last long.

Scott had earmarked Tom Crean for his return journey to the South Pole. This time Scott used the ship called "Terra Nova" which had been one the 1904 relief exhibition. In 1910, Crean ventured on his second journey to the Antarctic. This time Crean would be gone for three years. The aim of this journey was to reach the south pole.

Crean was one of thirteen men to set out walking on the ice in January 1911. They used ponies and dogs as part of the depot-laying party. But Crean was not in the group of five men who were selected by Scott to travel to the South Pole. Having come within one hundred and fifty miles miles of the Pole, Crean was ordered by Scott to return to base with two other men. I am sure that as Crean, Lashley and Evans began the journey back to camp their hearts must have been very heavy. When Evans became ill on the return journey, it was Crean who made the thirty-five mile solo journey to get help. This journey took eighteen hours. This brave deed led to Crean receiving the Albert Medal, the highest recognition for gallantry for saving the life of Teddy Evans. When Scott realised that he had been beaten in the race to the south pole by the Norwegian Amundsen Scott and his party started to make the return journey to civilisation. They never made it and Crean was on the the search party to look for and find the bodies of Scott and his party.

Crean was thirty six years of age and a veteran of two famous voyages to Antarctica. After returning from Scot's last exhibition in 1913, he returned to Kerry and bought a public house in his hometown of Annascaul. Unknown to Crean plans were afoot that would delay the Irishman's proposed move to the licensed trade. A new ambitious exhibition was being planned by his old colleague Sir Ernest Shackleton. He aimed to walk one thousand miles across the Antarctic continent from coast to coast. For Crean the opportunity to return again to the south pole was too enticing to resist. Crean joined Shackleton's expedition on 25th May 1914. But when the ship became trapped by ice they had to abandon it and land on the deserted Elephant Island. Nobody knew they were there.

Crean was part of the crew who made the dangerous journey to seek help. Tom Crean, Shackleton and Worsley conquered the unexplored island called South Georgia and brought help for the men on Elephant Island.

After his third trip Crean was to remain in the navy until he retired in 1920. Three years earlier he married Eileen Herlihy. The couple were to have three children. His wife, Eileen had been born and raised in a pub in Annascaul and the liquor licence that Tom Crean had bought in 1913 came in very handy.

Tom Crean kept a very low profile and did not talk publicly about his South Pole voyages. Crean did not join Shackleton when he journeyed to the Antarctic again. Crean died tragically in 1938 due to complications after an appendicitis operation. He is buried in the local graveyard near Annascaul.

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