A RTÉ radio documentary is set to capture the bravery of the granddaughter of lrish polar hero Tom Crean as she battled katabatic winds, sheer cliffs and some of the roughest seas in the world to follow in his intrepid footsteps.
Kerry explorer Tom Crean is famous for surviving against all the odds during his three trips to the Antarctic, but his granddaughter has her own story of survival after following in his footsteps to mark the 100th anniversary of his role in Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition to the Antarctic.
Late last year, on the 100th anniversary, Tom’s granddaughter Aileen, her two sons, Morgan and Cian, and her partner Bill Sheppard sailed for Antarctica to follow the men’s journey across South Georgia.
“I’m very proud of him, I’m in awe of him really. I’m fascinated by what brought him back to the Artic three times,” she told Documentary on One.
Aileen, Bill, Morgan, and Cian trained for the expedition for two years by dragging tires up and down the Kerry hills in preparation for pulling the heavy sleds called pulks around deep cracks in the ice and across glaciers.
However, halfway through their expedition, she hurtled down a glacier bearing her grandfather’s name and shattered her knee and ankle when she put her leg out to try and stop her speeding sled.
“I pushed the toboggan off me and sat up and there was blood on the snow next to me and I was praying it wasn’t blood from my knee,” she said.
“I cried and sobbed and cried and sobbed. Me of all people.”
The documentary, In Tom Crean’s Footsteps, captures how the 55-year-old Kerry woman had her own close call as her guides, her partner Bill and her sons battled to get her to safety as a storm brewed in one of the remotest part of the world.
She tells of her terrifying, disorientating journey being dragging by her skiing guide, Stephen Venables, to the Pelagic boat waiting for her 10km away.
At one stage, he was skiing down a mountain while pulling Aileen behind when the sled overturned as he was turning a corner.
“The whole pulk went on the side. I was terrified and trying to get my hands out,” she said. “I had visions of my face stuck in the snow and he was dragging me along face down. I said: ‘Stephen what are you doing? The pulk is on its side!’
“He said: ‘Oh I’m just turning’. I said: ‘Oh God will you ever tell me if you are doing wheelies again.’ ”
Aileen insisted Bill, Morgan, and Cian carry out her dream by finishing the traverse while she sailed off for treatment.
Today, the Kerrywoman, who runs the Tom Crean Fish & Wine Restaurant in Kenmare, Co Kerry, is still emotional as she contemplates what her grandfather would have made of her attempt to retrace his footsteps.
She tells the documentary: “I’m the one who took the baton from the family so in a way I feel I left him down and them down. I give it my best shot. In my opinion, I feel I didn’t succeed but I did my best.”
In Tom Crean’s Footsteps will be aired on RTÉ Radio 1 today at 1.05pm
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