Kildare museum to bid for medal awarded for Antarctic rescue

Tim McCarthy survived Shackleton journey but died off southwest coast in first World War

A Co Kildare museum focused on explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton intends to make a bid for a polar medal awarded to one of his Irish colleagues, Able Seaman Timothy McCarthy.

The bronze medal awarded to McCarthy for his participation in what is regarded as the greatest open-boat journey of all time with Shackleton in 1916 is due to be auctioned in London.

The medal, which McCarthy never lived to see, is expected to fetch £15,000-£20,000 at a sale by international coin specialists Dix Noonan Webb in London.

The Athy Heritage Centre Museum has the only permanent exhibition dedicated to Shackleton and has limited funding, but a spokesman said it would make an attempt in the absence of the Government acquiring the medal.


Last year, medals awarded to Shackleton fetched £585,000 at auction.

Cork resident Eugene Furlong, a Shackleton enthusiast, said the medal was of great significance to the State.

“It could and should be displayed in the several museums we have here which commemorate that Antarctic expedition,” he said.

"A big grave, smiling, golden-hearted Merchant Service Jack" and "one of nature's gentlemen" was how fellow expedition member Frank Worsley described McCarthy in his book, Shackleton's Boat Journey.

McCarthy and his brother Mortimer, also an Antarctic explorer, were born in Kinsale, Co Cork. He was an able seaman in the British Royal Naval Reserve when he applied to join Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition in 1914.

After the Endurance sank in pack ice, Shackleton selected McCarthy and four others, including Kerryman Tom Crean, and set off from Elephant Island on April 24th, 1916, on the 800-mile sea journey to South Georgia.

After they reached South Georgia on May 10th, McCarthy stayed behind to look after two of the crew who were weak while Shackleton and company sought help.

McCarthy went back to Britain and was sent into service on the armed oil tanker SS Narragansett. The ship was torpedoed and sunk off the Irish southwest coast in March 1917. He was one of 46 sailors who died.

The Athy Heritage Centre Museum exhibits include an original sledge and harness from Shackleton's Antarctic expeditions, and photos and film footage, including original material taken by Frank Hurley of the Endurance expedition.

It is hoping to exhibit the ship’s cabin in which Shackleton died, and which Mr Furlong traced to Norway. It is also co-operating in a project to erect a statue to Shackleton in Athy later this summer.

It runs the annual Shackleton Autumn School, established to commemorate the explorer in the county of his birth.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times