An illustration of the intrepid Ernest Shackleton

An Antarctic Adventure

“Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.” Ernest Shackleton

Born in Athy, Co. Kildare in 1874, Ernest Henry Shackleton couldn’t have imagined the iconic, life-changing and incredibly dangerous Antarctic adventure that lay ahead. An intrepid explorer, Shackleton set himself the challenge of becoming the first man to cross Antarctica by land, following a remote and icy route through the South Pole. 

Carrying a crew of 28, the Endurance set sail on August 8, 1914, beginning what would become known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration’s last major expedition. They reached Argentina in early October, where they picked up 69 large sled dogs. Each four-legged friend was assigned to a member of the team and given an imaginative name. Shakespeare, Chips, Hercules and Steamer were just four of the Endurance’s canine crew members! The team then set their course south, and headed into frozen, unchartered territory. 

Though they were prepared for treacherous conditions, Shackleton and his men didn’t anticipate getting stuck in pack ice for months on end, eventually having to abandon ship and make their way in lifeboats across stormy seas to remote Elephant Island. Knowing they’d perish if they stayed there, six crew members (including Shackleton and Kerry-man Tom Crean) heroically set off again in search of help, sailing an incredible 800 miles to South Georgia on the James Caird lifeboat. 

Man viewing the Ernest Shackleton exhibition at Athy Heritage Centre.

On August 30, 1916 (more than two years after they initially embarked on the expedition), a rescue mission reached the 22 men stranded on Elephant Island. Against all odds, Shackleton’s crew lived up to their ship’s name, surviving this incredible ordeal, and eventually making it home. 

Intrigued? You can find out more about this amazing voyage in Athy Heritage Centre & Museum, home to the only permanent exhibition dedicated to Shackleton. It features a 15-foot model of Endurance, as well as an original sledge and harness from his Antarctic expeditions. An audio-visual display meanwhile features a host of photos, as well as original footage from the crew’s unbelievable adventure.

Find out more and plan your visit to Athy Heritage Centre in Kildare today.

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