In pole position

These days and months are full of commemorations of seismic events one hundred years ago. A smaller piece of history, about bravery and the human spirit between 1914 and 1917, began one hundred years ago last week with departure by one man from Britain, initially bound for Buenos Aires.

Britain was not Ernest Shackleton’s first home. In 1884, the Irishman sailed from Dún Laoghaire for England, where he went to secondary school, then joined the British navy, before becoming one of the world’s most famous explorers. Now the ferry terminal in the maritime town he once sailed from is where you’ll find the Shackleton Exhibition.

After two expeditions to the Antarctic in the early 20th century, Shackleton organised an expedition for what he saw as the one remaining Antarctic challenge: to cross the continent, sea to sea, via the pole. It began in 1914 and entailed two 28-man ships on either side of the Antarctic. Endurance, with Shackleton, contained a crew for crossing the continent from the north side. Aurora contained 28 men tasked with laying supply depots along the southern end so Shackleton and his crew could complete their journey.

By mid-1916, Shackleton and his crew, which included the legendary Tom Crean, had endured a year of entrapment (in icy seas and on floes), temporary refuge on Elephant Island, as well as two incredible journeys to find help. In late 1916, he then turned his focus to rescuing his men – first, the 22 still on Elephant Island, then the stranded men of Aurora. All but three survived.

The exhibition starts with an introductory talk on Shackleton’s life and adventures. In John O’Reilly, the exhibition director, you’ll get clarity, knowledge and interaction. Visitors then view an exhibition of the photos taken by Frank Hurley, Endurance’s photographer, sprinkled with videos and explanatory text about the crew’s adversity and the treacherous world of ice floes and bergs they faced. One gets a real sense of Shackleton’s character and his strategic and charismatic skills. The exhibition also contains a replica of the 20-foot, open boat on which Shackleton and five others made an incredible 800 nautical mile journey through stormy seas to find help.

Visitors can enjoy this exhibition any day of the week. It will stay in Dún Laoghaire until next Easter at the earliest, after which it begins touring the world for the centenary anniversary. Then it will come ‘home’ to Dún Laoghaire for good. The exhibition shows the town at its best, combining its heritage with a novel activity. And there’s those ever-present reminders, in sight and in sound, of the town’s DNA – the vast, heaving sea.

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