His name is still not a household name outside his native Kerry, but this unassuming farmer’s son was an outstandingly brave explorer who was at the heart of some of the most famous Antarctic expeditions, writes David Tucker.
2020 marks the 200th anniversary of the discovery of the vast ice continent of Antarctica.
It also marks the 100th anniversary of the retirement from the Navy of Tom Crean, one of the few Irishmen to set foot on the frozen wastes during the golden age of Polar exploration at the start of the 20th Century, a contemporary of his more famous and much more publicised peers Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton with whom he explored the frozen wastes.
An impoverished farmer’s son from Annascaul, Kerry, Tom Crean spent longer on the ice than either, yet both within and without these shores, his name is still not a household name outside his native Kerry.
And until the publication two decades ago of Michael Smith’s book An Unsung History, the full and published narrative of Crean’s valour and outstanding bravery on the frozen continent had been largely lost to history. Few beyond his native soil were aware of his exploits.
Over the past year that has been somewhat redressed and the record set straight, but for many the outstandingly brave, unassuming, taciturn Kerry man, who spoke little about his extraordinary life in the Polar wastes after returning to Ireland on his retirement, is still an enigma.
Conqueror of Mount Everest Sir Edmund Hillary, who travelled from New Zealand to open a public exhibition about Crean in Tralee following the publication of Smith’s definitive account of Crean’s life and times in 2000, described the Irish explorer as a ‘great man of immense strength and endurance and afraid of very little’.