Journey to the South Pole

On a recent trip to Kerry, we decided to visit the village of Annascaul.

The main reason was to visit the pub once owned and run by the famous Irish Antarctic explorer, Tom Crean and to visit his grave site.

I think I first became aware of Tom Crean, from the iconic Guinness Ad from 2002 and the newspaper reports about Tom’s life.

A few months ago, we went to the Hawks well theatre in Sligo to see the one man play about Tom Crean, written and performed by Aiden Dooley, it was really enjoyable and I learnt a lot about the life of Tom Crean, the Kerry man, who went on three expeditions to the Antarctica with Captain Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton. If you get the opportunity to go to this play, go see it.  As we had a trip planned to Kerry a few weeks later we decided to put Tom Crean’s pub on our road trip itinerary.

We saw another play related to the Antarctic voyages last year, in the Factory Performance theatre space on Lower Quay street, Sligo.  The Blue Raincoat theatre company produced an audio visual performance more than a play, four silent actors recreated the scenes and atmosphere of the Antarctic and Shackleton’s Endurance expedition, using old photographs, ship puppetry, sounds, lighting and shadows.

Tom Crean

In 1893, at the age of 16, Tom Crean from Annascaul in Kerry, enlisted in the Royal Navy. He travelled the world with the Navy and in 1901 while docked at a port in New Zealand, by chance he got the opportunity to join Captain Robert Scott’s Discovery expedition.  He later rejoined Captain Scott on the Terra Nova expedition, this is the expedition where Scott lost his life and Crean saved the life of his comrade Edgar Evans, he was awarded the Albert Medal by King George on his return.

Kerry Antarctic explorer Tom Crean
Famous photograph of Tom Crean on the wall of the South Pole Inn

Crean’s third expedition was with Sir Ernest Shackleton on the Endurance expedition.  The ship became trapped in ice and was crushed, the men had to escape onto the ice and drifted for 492 days before the ice melted and they had to row their small boats to Elephant island.  After reaching Elephant island, deserted except for Elephant seals, Crean was part of a small crew lead by Shackleton which volunteered to row a further 800 nautical miles (1,500 km) from Elephant Island to South Georgia, to seek aid for the stranded party.  Crean and the crew miraculously survived and managed to get help and all of the 22 men were saved.

Crean retired from the Navy in 1920 and returned to Kerry.  He married Ellen Herlihy and had three children, opening a pub that he decided to call the South Pole, in recognition of his time in the Antarctic. He sadly died in 1938 from a burst appendix, he was only 61 years old.  Crean rarely talked of his achievements, he was quite modest and gave no interviews.

This sculpture in the village, depicts Tom Crean holding the sled dog puppies in the Antarctic and was erected in 2003 across from his pub.

Statue of Tom Crean in Annascaul, county Kerry, Ireland
Sculpture of Tom Crean with his sled dog puppies

About 5 kilometres from the village, we visited Tom’s grave, its located in Ballynacourty cemetery.  Many of the graves in this cemetery,  are above ground in crypts.  People have left coins and piled small stones on his grave.

Antarctic explorer Tom Crean's grave
The grave of Tom Crean and his wife Ellen and their daughter Kate.

Crean bought the pub in Annascaul in 1927 from a bursary received from Captain Scott’s widow in gratitude.  The pub itself is a warm and rustic place and serves nice food and has lots of old photographs on the walls about Tom and the Antarctic voyages.

Endurance voyage
Photos of Sir Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance voyage hanging on the wall of the South Pole Inn

Annascaul is a quaint small Irish village, the day we visited it was lashing rain but we walked up the street for a look round and we passed another well known Irish pub by chance, as I didn’t realise it was located in Annascaul. Dan Foley’s pub was once featured on an Irish pub postcard series and also on a pubs of Ireland poster.

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