The granddaughter of legendary Antarctic explorer Tom Crean believes he would probably wonder what all the fuss is about after Norwegian airlines named him their first Irish ‘tailfin hero’.
The low-fares giant, which is set to launch its first transatlantic routes from Ireland to the US east coast this summer, confirmed yesterday that the iconic portrait of Kerry-born Crean with his trademark pipe, will appear in giant form on the tailfins of its new 737MAX aircraft which will serve the new routes from Cork, Shannon, and Dublin airports to New England and New York from July.
Kenmare-based Aileen Crean O’Brien said her family is delighted at the honour, which they hope will raise awareness both here in Ireland and in the US of Crean’s heroic polar exploits.
She said: “Norwegian has always sought to honour iconic figures who embody a pioneering, innovative and inspiration spirit, and Tom certainly had all those qualities.
“But I can’t help thinking what would Tom make of it all. He’d probably just walk up the field and wonder what all the fuss was about. He was such a modest man.
“We are the caretakers of his memory and his legacy and we do all we can to preserve and honour his name and memory. It’s sad that it was an airline from another country that was first to do this, but we’re delighted.”
Norwegian has always honoured iconic figures on the tails of its aircraft. Many are Scandinavian, including legendary polar explorer Roald Amundsen. But to reflect its rapid growth in other markets, it has launched a series of new tailfin heroes featuring figures from the UK, Spain, and now Ireland.
Manchester-based Tim Foley, whose father was born near Crean’s homeplace in Annascaul, and who is spearheading the ‘Ireland Should Honour Tom Crean’ Facebook campaign, also welcomed the accolade.
“The more I researched Tom Crean, the more he became a hero for me, but there is little formal recognition of his greatness in Ireland,” said Tim.
“This honour from Norwegian puts Irish decision makers to shame. But this is fantastic news. It suits Tom Crean’s story to a tee. I’m very proud.”
Born in Kerry in 1877, Crean joined the Royal Navy at 15, and went go on to become one of the greatest polar explorers, spending more time on the ice than either Robert Scott or Ernest Shackleton.
He was on Scott’s first expedition, Discovery, from 1901-04, on Scott’s tragic Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole from 1910-13, and finally on Shackleton’s disastrous Endurance expedition from 1914-16.
His legendary status was cemented during the Terra Nova expedition when he marched 18 hours, without a sleeping bag or tent, across treacherous terrain to get help for a stricken colleague.
It earned him the Albert Medal — the highest award for gallantry — and is still regarded as one of the greatest single-handed acts of bravery in the history of Antarctic exploration.
In 1916, Crean played a central role in Shackleton’s Endurance expedition when he helped sail the tiny James Caird boat across the treacherous Southern Ocean, before walking 65km across the mountains and glaciers of South Georgia to bring rescuers to his 22 comrades left stranded on Elephant Island.
He returned to Kerry in 1920 but rarely spoke of his exploits.
Norwegian CEO Bjorn Kjos said Crean’s strength, stature and leadership qualities perfectly capture the essence of Norwegian’s tailfin heroes. “Tom Crean is an unsung hero and a truly inspirational figure so it is a great honour to have him adorn our aircraft and become our first ever Irish tailfin hero,” said Mr Kjos.
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