Tom Crean, the Kerry-born explorer and national icon, received official recognition with the launch of the Marine Institute of Ireland’s new research vessel, RV Tom Crean, writes Michael Smith


The chiselled good looks, fashionable designer stubble and the jaunty woolly hat are instantly familiar. The penetrating stare and determination in the firmly fixed eyes radiate self-confidence and belief. Even the pipe, an antiquated reminder of a bygone age, seems somehow ok.

The easily recognisable portrait, which is now over 100 years old, shows Tom Crean, the farmer’s son from Kerry and Antarctic explorer, who in recent years has emerged from near total obscurity to become a national icon in Ireland.
But step back 25 years and you will discover that Tom Crean was a half-forgotten figure on the margins of history. Few outside the family and a devoted band of Polar enthusiasts even knew of his existence.

Tom Crean died in 1938 and he was a largely neglected figure for the next half century. A plaque was raised outside his home – the South Pole Inn pub, Annascaul – in a quiet ceremony the 1980s and the most notable recognition came in the mid-90s when a team of Irish seafarers and mountaineers launched the South Aris expedition to replicate his memorable journey with Shackleton. In his honour their small boat was named Tom Crean.

But the biggest breakthrough came in 2000 with publication of An Unsung Hero – Tom Crean, the only comprehensive biography of the Kerryman which created a new hero in Irish history.

The seminal book, which introduced audiences to Crean and Antarctic exploration for the first time, has since gone onto to sell well over 150,000 copies around the world. It has also been translated Chinese, German, Italian and Korean languages.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own