The conquering of the South Pole by the first Irish expedition will inspire budding explorers to learn more about Antarctica and the environmental dangers posed to it, it was claimed today.
The four-person team – Pat Falvey, 50, Dr Clare O’Leary, 35, Shaun Menzies, 42, and Jonathon Bradshaw, 36 – will meet President Mary McAleese this afternoon for a special reception to honour their accomplishment.
The squad, which arrived at the pole on January 8, flew into Cork last night after their gruelling 58-day trek through some of the harshest conditions known to man.
Team leader Mr Falvey, who is planning an educational trip to Antarctica in November to monitor the effects of global warming, said the interest in Ireland to their adventure was phenomenal.
“When we were doing what we were doing we never realised it would make it into the imagination of the people of Ireland,” he said.
“To come back last night to what felt like a heroes’ welcome was just incredible. It was emotional. In a way it was traumatic to the system. I’ve never seen anything like it before.
“It [the trip] gained the imagination of the people of Ireland because of our heritage with polar exploration.
“As a nation we are very unsung in the polar aspect of things. But now with global warming and the history of Antarctica being so much to the fore, it has really taken on here big time,” he said.
The expedition set out on November 8 to honour some of the world’s best known Antarctic explorers, including Irish men Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean and Patrick Keohane.
The squad battled biting snowstorms, icy winds, injuries and constant sub-zero temperatures while hauling sleds weighing more than 150kg.
Mr Falvey said they not only wanted to conquer the pole but highlight the significant role Ireland played in both the 19th century and early 20th century towards polar exploration.
“I think at that time people wanted to see what was on the other side of the hill and to go and explore. And for Irish people and the gregarious nature that we were known for, we blended very well as a team under hardship.
“For me, I must say Antarctica is such a fascinating place that once you touch it, it attracts you back again and again and again,” he said.
Tributes were paid to the adventurers last week by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and President McAleese, whom Mr Falvey said it will be an honour to meet at Aras an Uachtarain.
“She’s followed my adventures on all occasions. She has been one of the greatest supporters of adventure and exploration that the country has had.
“It stimulates your adrenaline to say that the President of Ireland is supporting what you’re doing,” he said.
The veteran adventurer, who has 62 expeditions under his belt including conquering Mount Everest twice, is now looking for volunteers to take part in an expedition to South Georgia and the Antarctic in November.
“We’re looking for people, ordinary people to go down and see for themselves what is happening in Antarctica... to see the effects of global warming.
“Basically there’s eight billion tonnes of ice being lost a year whereas ten years ago it was only four billion. For that to happen in 10 years is phenomenal,” he said.
For now though the crew are looking forward to some quiet time and the opportunity to relax and catch up on much needed sleep.
“When you go away and you do something like this, it feels like it never happened,” Mr Falvey said.
“It’s a surreal world that we live in. You just fit [back into things] very fast.”