Irish team reaches South Pole

Wed, Jan 9, 2008, 00:00

A four-strong team made history last night becoming the first Irish expedition to reach the South Pole.

The team - leader Pat Falvey (50), Dr Clare O'Leary (35), Jonathan Bradshaw (36) and Shaun Menzies (42) - arrived at their destination after covering the final 23 kilometres yesterday.

Pat Falvey (50), Dr Clare O'Leary (35), Jonathan Bradshaw (36) and Shaun Menzies (42)
Pat Falvey (50), Dr Clare O'Leary (35), Jonathan Bradshaw (36) and Shaun Menzies (42)
They have been trekking since November through some of the harshest known conditions, battling icy winds, sub-zero temperatures and snowstorms.

The squad, who make up the Beyond Endurance expedition, have travelled around 1,100km, with each member hauling a sledge weighing over 150kg.

"We're so happy to be here, we can't believe it," said Mr Falvey. "We're ecstatic but totally exhausted, shattered, and worn away.

"It's now -32.5 degrees Celsius and I'm chattering from the cold but so excited.

"All of the meridians and all of the longitudes passed through the point where my hand was.

"By walking around the South Pole I could go back in time to yesterday or go a day ahead to tomorrow."

A spokesman for the team confirmed late last night that they had arrived at their destination at around 7.30pm Irish time.

Deputy team leader Dr O'Leary is the first Irish woman to make it to the South Pole. Before today she was the first Irish woman to climb Mount Everest and also the first to complete the Seven Summits Challenge.

A specialist in gastroenterology and general internal medicine, she is currently based in South Tipperary General Hospital, Clonmel, where she works as a consultant.

Mr Menzies and Mr Bradshaw are relatively inexperienced high-altitude trekkers who were invited to join the expedition.

"This a very historic occasion. It is very exciting. It shows that Ireland can play its part in polar exploration," spokesman Niall Foley said from the team's base in Killarney, Co Kerry.

The team were in good spirits and were resting at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, he added.

"They're well and being taken care of by the researchers there. They're having a cup of cocoa I think".

The team will fly from the Pole back to Ireland, via Chile, in the coming days. They are expected home on January 16th. The Beyond Endurance Expedition began in 2006 with an ambitious adventure with a group of "ordinary" people aged from 21 to 61 travelling across South Georgia, landing on Elephant Island, a mountainous ice-covered island off the Antarctic coast.

The purpose of the expidition was to give budding explorers the chance to see Antarctica. From this group Mr Menzies, a Dublin IT consultant, was selected for rigorous training in Greenland for the South Pole expedition.

There they met up with Mr Bradshaw, a budding adventurer who has explored remote parts of the Himalayas, Africa and New Zealand, who was on a separate trek.

The four adventurers have retraced the steps of some of the best-known Irish Antarctic explorers, including Ernest Shackleton and Tom Crean. In 2004 Co Kerry native Mike Barry became the first Irish man to trek to the South Pole as part of an international expedition.

But Mr Falvey's squad have now become the first Irish-led team to perform the feat. The squad have travelled more than 1,100km (680 miles) since they set out on their trek in early November, with each member hauling a sledge weighing in excess of 150kg (330lb).

President Mary McAleese said the achievement which coincided with the hundredth anniversary of Ernest Shackleton's first attempt on the South Pole was "particularly poignant".

"I congratulate Pat Falvey, Clare O'Leary, Jonathon Bradshaw and Shaun Menzies on their remarkable accomplishment, and send my very best wishes to their many supporters in this mammoth undertaking."

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said he had been following the team's expedition since the team set out.

"Total admiration is perhaps the best way to sum up my thoughts on what you have achieved," Mr Ahern said. "You are continuing a proud tradition of Irish adventurers and you should be very proud of your wonderful achievement."

Additional reporting PA