On the 27th July 1938, we lost one of Ireland’s most extraordinary characters in Tom Crean. Antarctic explorer, hero and latterly a welcoming publican, Tom Crean was an amazing man and if you haven’t heard of him, you really should have.
The Kerryman is perhaps most famous for voyage to the South Pole on the ship Endurance led by his fellow Irishman Ernest Shackleton. Living up to its name it became a gruelling test of endurance and one of the most extraordinary stories of adventure and survival.
This wasn’t Crean’s first time venturing to the inhospitable icescape of the Antarctic. Twice before he set sail under the command of Robert Scott on his Discover and Terra Nova expeditions. During the Terra Nova expedition he undertook one of the most selfless acts in the history of exploration when he went on a 18 hour solo journey through the unforgiving freezing snow to save the lives of his fellow crew.
One of the most endearing aspects of the man was his compassion for his fellow men and his love for animals and it’s apt that one of the most iconic images of Crean is him holding an armful of puppies that were on board the Endurance.
On the Terra Nova Crean smuggled on a furry companion to keep him company through the harsh voyage – it was a rabbit! The ship was already packed with 65 men, 34 dogs and 19 siberian ponies and Crean brought his long-eared friend on board unbeknownst to Scott and his crew.
He found a comfortable spot for his rabbit to nest among the horse fodder. About a month into the journey the inevitable happened and the rabbit gave birth to a litter of 17 baby bunnies!
From Scott journals he wrote of Crean’s rabbit: “An event of Christmas was the production of a family by Crean’s rabbit. She gave birth to 17, it is said, and Crean has given away 22! I don’t know what will become of the parent or family; at present they are warm and snug enough , tucked away in the fodder under the forecastle.”
When his exploration days were done he returned to the Navy where he had served in his younger days. Later in life when he retired, he opened a pub The South Pole in his home town of Annascaul in Kerry with his wife where he lived quietly until he died on 27th July 1938.
The pub is still open so next time you’re down in Kerry pop in and raise a glass to the legendary Tom Crean!