Hometown honour for Polar explorer

THE first Irishman to reach the South Pole was given the highest honour in his hometown at the weekend.

Adventurer and mountaineer Mike Barry, 51, was accorded a civic reception by Tralee Town Council. He had the rare distinction of being accorded the accolade for the second time, as he had previously been honoured for being a member of the first Irish Everest expedition in 1993.

He described his 1,200km walk through the frozen Antarctic as a long, hard slog with biting winds and sub-zero temperatures.

"I wouldn't be in a hurry to go back again," he admitted.

He said he fully appreciated what another Kerryman, Tom Crean, and the explorer, Ernest Shackleton, went through in the same, inhospitable territory almost a century ago.

"Tom Crean had to turn around and walk back again, but at least we had a plane to take us on the return journey," Mr Barry said.

Also at the reception were his wife, Mags, and children, Michelle, 13, Aron, 11, and Kay, two2, and his mother, Betty.

There, too, was Mrs Eileen Crean-O'Brien, a daughter of Tom Crean.

Tralee mayor Terry O'Brien paid tribute to Mr Barry for his "considerable achievement" and urged him to continue with his adventures.

"If you're going back again in a year's time, I'll make you an offer - you can push me to the Pole," joked the mayor. Mr Barry was presented with a barometer/clock set.

He lost a stone in weight during his 51-day trek, during which he and his team relied on dried food and endured temperatures that sometimes fell to as low as -45 degrees. He enjoyed a belated family Christmas dinner on January 31.

Mr Barry and his outdoors-loving family left at the weekend for a skiing holiday in Italy. "We need a bit of snow now and again," he quipped.

He hopes to raise for Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, Dublin, through a forthcoming lecture tour.

Mags Barry, meanwhile, said they had been inundated with congratulatory messages since he returned.

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