Seven man Irish team out on Polar expedition

 

A MITE bleary eyed, perhaps from late night rucksack packing, members of the South Aris Irish Antarctic Adventure left Dublin Airport yesterday in the bootsteps of three great Irish polar explorers.

Well, not quite the same bootsteps. When Kildare born Ernest Shackleton, Kerry man Tom Crean and Cork man Tim MacCarthy set out in 1914 to attempt the first crossing of the Antarctic ice and landmass, they did so with 25 Britons by sea from the Thames estuary.

Eighty two years later, the group of Irish mountaineers and sailors who wish to pay tribute to their achievement are travelling to Tierra del Fuego, on the southern tip of Argentina, by air.

Back then, it took Shackleton - veteran of Scott's first attempt on the South Pole - over a year to reach the ice.

In just over a fortnight, the South Aris sailors take to the inhospitable Southern Ocean in a 23 foot lifeboat. Their course some 800 miles from Elephant Island to South Georgia, in a recreation of the famous rescue undertaken by six of Shackleton's transantarctic crew - including the three Irishmen - after their ship, Endurance, was crushed in pack ice in the Weddell Sea. Luckily no lives were lost.

This time, there will be constant communication through the main sponsor, Esat Digifone. There will be a standby rescue boat for the team on Tom Crean, the 23 foot replica of the original craft, now named after the Kerry man.

The joint skippers, Mr Paddy Barry, Cork sailor and engineer, and Mr Frank Nugent, FAS manager and deputy leader of the successful 1993 Irish Everest expedition, have vast experience.

And a strong team: Mike Barry, Kerry restaurateur and Everest mountaineer, Jamie Young, a sailor and adventure school manager who has canoed around Cape Horn, and Jarlath Cunnane, sailor and construction manager. Also in the group are John Bourke, business manager of the Irish Everest expedition, mountaineer and sailor, and Mick O'Rourke, a film maker and photographer.

At a send off lunch in Shackleton Mills on the Liffey in Lucan, west Dublin, the family historian said that the prospect was "just as exciting now as it was 80 years ago".

Also at the lunch were the Hon Mrs Alexandra Bergel, granddaughter of Shackleton, Mrs Mary Crean O'Brien, daughter of Tom Crean, other members of both families and Mr Harding Dunnett, author of Shackleton's Boat: The Story of the James Caird.

. Two documentaries, entitled Ireland's Polar Stars: Crean and Shackleton, are due to be broadcast on RTE Radio One at 1.30 p.m. today and tomorrow at the same time. The programmes have been compiled, and will be presented, by Joe Duffy.