Explorer spirit lives on at South Pole Inn

A COSY little pub in the Dingle Peninsula might be a long, long way from the South Pole but the achievements of the first Irish team to reach the southernmost point on earth were celebrated there, last night.

Customers raised their glasses in the South Pole Inn, Annascaul, which was once owned by the renowned explorer, Tom Crean.

Crean, a local man who took part in three Antarctic expeditions in the first two decades of the 20th century, opened the premises in 1927. Though it has changed hands a number of times in the past 80 years, the unmistakable name still stands out on the blue and white-painted public house at the bottom of the village.

All of Crean’s relatives have left Annascaul, but his memory, and that of other legendary explorers such as Scott and Shackleton, are still spoken of with pride — in the same way as Kerry football heroes such as Paddy Bawn Brosnan, or Paddy Kennedy, another great son of Annascaul.

The pub is a shrine to Crean, with dozens of monochrome pictures of him and his fellow explorers adorning the walls.

Carved on a grey, stone plaque over the front door is the inscription: Tom Crean Antarctic Explorer 1877-1938. Across the road stands a life-size bronze statue of the unassuming Kerryman, two dogs cradled in his arms.

The South Pole Inn is now owned by Tom Kennedy and has been run by Eileen Percival for the past nine years.

Pat Falvey and other members of the team which made history by reaching the Pole last night, are well-known in the pub and are sure of a hearty reception when they next visit.

“Some people think Pat’s daft, but I think he’s great,” said a delighted Eileen Percival.

The pub, sitting on the banks of a fast-flowing river, Abhainn an Scail, which gave its name to the village, is a tourist attraction. People from all over the world have penned hundreds of entries in the visitors’ books.

Eileen enthusiastically leafed through the entries and eventually came across a brief note from Edmund Hillary, the first man to conquer Everest, who dropped in for a pint in 2002.

He wrote: “A fascinating part of the world and a great story about local man, Tom Crean.”

Among the Crean admirers in the pub yesterday were a New Zealand-born couple, Brian Bary, former professor of oceanography at UCG, and his wife, Valerie.

The couple first visited the South Pole Inn, in 1953, and now have a home in Callinafercy, Co Kerry.

Mr Bary, who went to the Antarctic in the research vessel, Discovery Two, in 1951, said it was only in recent years that Crean began to get the credit he deserved.

“I think his role in the expeditions was underrated. He was a very strong man, both mentally and physically, and really came into his own with Shackleton on Endurance One,” he said.

“In those days, they tended to give too much credit to naval officers in expeditions and not enough to the ordinary crew members such as Crean. I’ve read everything there is to be read about Crean and he truly was a wonderful man.”

As the wind howled outside, locals sat around a blazing fire in the South Pole Inn, keeping on eye on momentous happenings in the extreme southern hemisphere.

And they also recalled the feats of one of their own — a man who was known affectionately in Annascaul as Tom the Pole.

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