Following a peaceful stroll around the deserted harbour,
we walked the ten minutes distance
to our favourite second hand bookshop
for a bit of a root around.
There, in my regular haunt – the shelf of the European
History section, was the incredibly clean-looking spine
of a hardcover volume, whose title I recognised instantly.
Gently sliding it from the shelf, I even imagined that
I heard the slight crack of binding as I opened the cover
and looked at the frontispiece …
there, in the centre of the typescript, two words
that I would never have thought to see in any book
that would interest me, greeted my eyes.
If the book had ever been read, it must
have been read only once. It was pristine.
The author being an American, this particular title
had been the only account of Shackleton
(or, rather, featuring a boyhood hero, Tom Crean)
that I had not read growing up in Northern Ireland.
For me, as a boy in the 1960’s, Shackleton’s escape
from Antarctica was legendary.
from County Kildare, Ernest Shackleton
Moderns can prate on all they care to about
“technological advances” …
in a world where human beings worship machines,
cannot exist for thirty minutes without being
somehow connected to one;
and enthuses about time-wasting, mind-liquefying toys:
we were adamantly assured, in the Royal Navy,
– apart from the exceptional 3500+ nm voyage
forced upon William Bligh as a result of the mutiny
on HMS Bounty –
Shackleton’s voyage in the James Caird rates
as the single greatest exhibition of seamanship
in historical record – not merely as relating to
pure nautical mileage, but for its appallingly
extreme conditions of endurance for human beings.
The perseverance-in-adversity of those men
filled me with admiration.
But it was the Aftermath – the return to ‘daily life’
of Tom Crean, that affected me deeply.
It was a dreadful atrocity, I always thought,
to have realised that – after all his heroic efforts
with Scott, and later, Shackleton;
and upon his retirement in Ireland
as the landlord of his own ‘public house’,
The South Pole Inn, in Annascaul, County Kerry,
Tom Crean could never speak openly about his
life and adventures in the Antarctic.
Tom had, of course – during those adventures,
been with the Royal Navy: any reference
to that would be deemed to be admiration
of Britain by the type of stupid, sectarian mind
that blindly worships My Country and everything
to do with it.
Upon on his return to Ireland, Tom met with
this same brutal, mindless fervour from the low-grade,
scurrilous thugs of the Irish Republican movement.
In April, 1920, Tom’s beloved brother,
a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary,
had been ambushed and killed – shot four times –
by the same type of useless, vicious dregs of humanity
that run in ‘gangs’ because they are, in themselves
incapable of anything noble, heroic, or honourable.
And now, he was forbidden to speak
of his adventures and ‘daring do’,
by the same organisation of cut-throat thugs
who had murdered his brother.
The account of his death read,
“A three man RIC party based at Innishannon,
was ambushed while on patrol at Ballinspittal,
a village mid-way between Kinsale and Bandon,
by members of the Third West Cork Brigade
under the leadership of battalion adjutant Jim O’Mahony.
Sergeant Cornelius Crean
and Constable Patrick McGoldrick were killed outright,
while the other RIC man escaped uninjured.
Forty-eight year old Sergeant Crean, from Annascaul, Co. Kerry,
had twenty eight years police service,
having been a farmer before joining the RIC.
He was a brother of the famous explorer Tom Crean,
who had accompanied Ernest Shackleton
on his voyage to the South Pole in 1909.”
Obliged by sectarian thugs to ‘keep a low profile’,
Tom would outlive his brother by eighteen years.
Tom Crean died in July of 1938.
Tom with Roger, Toby, Nell, and Nelson