Irish explorer who discovered Antarctica honoured in home village

Defence Forces chief relates how Edward Bransfield press-ganged into navy in 1803

Edward Bransfield, the pioneering Irish polar explorer and the first person to officially record discovering Antarctica, has been honoured with the unveiling of a monument in his home village of Ballinacurra in East Cork.

More than 400 people gathered in the small village near Midleton to see Elisa Gallo from Boston, a descendant of Bransfield's brother William, unveil the limestone monument recording his feat in discovering Antarctica in 1820.

Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett, recalled how Bransfield was press-ganged into the Royal Navy in 1803 while out fishing with his father, before proving himself an expert navigator and rising through the ranks.

He noted how, after fighting with the Royal Navy in the Napoleonic Wars, Bransfield was sent to Valparaíso, Chile, in 1817. Two years later, he embarked from there on the voyage that would lead to the discovery of Antarctica.


"In 1819, William Smith on the Merchant Vessel MV Williams, while in search of better wind as he carried a cargo of tobacco, cloth and medicine, south of Cape Horn, sighted some land, most probably the South Shetland Islands.

Expert navigator

"Captain William Sheriff ordered Edward Bransfield, who was an expert navigator, to accompany William Smith on MV Williams to investigate and they left Valparaíso in December 1819 and sailed south."

Vice Admiral Mellett noted how Bransfield landed on an island on January 22nd, 1820, which he named after King George, before sailing a further 60km south where they sighted Trinity Peninsula, Antarctica.

"At 3pm on 30th January, 1820, Midshipman Charles Poynter logged "Immense mountains and crude crags, barren ridges with snow". The Antarctic continent was no longer in dispute – he had discovered the slopes of Trinity Peninsula."

He recalled how Bransfield went on to explore the region, crossing the Weddell Sea before sailing by Elephant Island, where Ernest Shackleton’s crew were marooned on the Endurance, almost 100 years later.

Describing Bransfield as "an extraordinary man", Vice Admiral Mellett paid tribute to the Remembering Edward Bransfield Committee who had spent since 2016 campaigning and fundraising to erect a monument to him.

Deputy County Mayor, Cllr Susan McCarthy, said it was important to recognise Ireland's rich polar heritage, and paid tribute to the committee for its tenacity in working to have Bransfield recognised in his home village.

The committee chair, Jim Wilson, paid tribute to sculptor Matthew Thompson for his work in capturing the nautical theme when carving a block of Ballinacurra Limestone into the shape of a marker beacon.

He said the limestone beacon, bearing an account of Bransfield's exploits in discovering Antarctica, was set on a limestone plinth bearing the names of Ireland's other great polar explorers who followed in his wake. Among those recorded were Francis Crozier, Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean and fellow Corkmen Robert Forde from Bandon, Patrick Keohane from Courtmacsherry and brothers Tim and Mortimer McCarthy from Kinsale.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times