Tuesday, 30 August, 2016: The unveiling of a statue of Sir Ernest Shackleton at Athy Heritage Centre-Museum, Emily Square, Athy, Co. Kildare, Republic of Ireland.
Yesterday afternoon, on the centenary anniversary of the successful rescue of twenty-two men on Elephant Island, a statue of Sir Ernest Shackleton was unveiled in Athy, Co. Kildare. The statue was created by Mark Richards. Another piece of his work is displayed in Wexford town—a statue of Nicky Rackard, the renowned hurler.
At 1pm in Emily Square, Athy, the formalities began. Lucina Russell, Co Arts Officer for Kildare County Council since 2000, was Master of Ceremonies and kept everything well-paced and cheerful. The Mayor of Kildare, Cllr. Ivan Keatley, spoke of leadership—a quality that he and many others see as paramount to Shackleton’s legacy. The Mayor gave local examples and praised leadership as seen in Co. Kildare, particularly the Shackleton leadership enterprise in schools. He emphasised the prestige associated with the commission to create the statue and congratulated Mark Richards on his work.
The Chief Executive of Kildare County Council, Peter Carey, then addressed those gathered. He reminded the crowd of the long Shackleton links to Co. Kildare, beginning with Abraham Shackleton who founded the Ballitore school. The Shackleton story, and the Quest cabin, in which Sir Ernest Shackleton died in 1922, would be embedded into the tourist strategy for the local region, said Mr Carey. He told of projects in the Athy area, such as the relocation of Athy library and the development of the Athy Heritage Centre-Museum.
Alexandra Shackleton then said a few words. She said that it was ‘a great occasion’ and that the statue to be unveiled was the only other statue to Sir Ernest Shackleton—her grandfather—apart from that at the Royal Geographical Society in London. She gave a brief and entertaining history around the rescue from Elephant Island one hundred years ago that day and recognised the courage of Captain Pardo to take the Yelcho as far as the island.
Jack L, a local and international celebrity, then added a musical element to the day: He sang ‘The Wearing of the Green’ with his guitar to accompany him. Shackleton wrote of Tom Crean’s often incomprehensible singing keeping spirits high throughout the ill-fated Endurance expedition and mentioned Crean singing that particular song at times. The song features Napper Tandy, the revolutionary United Irishman. Napper Tandy attended the Ballitore school, affording the performance another Shackleton link. Jack L’s voice was more appreciated than, perhaps, Crean’s was in tonal quality!
The proceedings of the day were honoured by the presence of an Honour Guard and Colour Party from the Irish Naval Service. All speakers offered their gratitude to these men and women and the assembled crowd applauded to show their agreement.
As a piper played ‘The Curragh of Kildare’, the Mayor of Kildare, Cllr. Ivan Keatley, and The Hon. Alexandra Shackleton officially unveiled the statue of Sir Ernest Shackleton. Although we had been given sneak previews of the statue over the last few days (authorised or not!), the moment of revelation was exciting and dramatic. The attending crowd showed their appreciation of the statue, the artist, the event and of Shackleton by a loud round of applause. Cameras flashed, the Irish Naval Service banner fluttered in the breeze as the Honour Guard stood to attention, people gazed and cheered.
Following a time of hand-shaking and congratulations at the statue, refreshments were served in the Athy Heritage Centre-Museum. Alexandra Shackleton officially opened the exhibition, By Endurance We Conquer: Shackleton and His Men, a Centenary Exhibition Commemorating Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Very graciously, she then presented a medal (more details on this later, when I confirm them!) to the exhibition at Athy. Alexandra has been thus frequently generous to the Athy Heritage Centre-Museum, the Shackleton Endurance Exhibition and other exhibitions.
Back outside at the statue, it was no time at all before children were scrambling under the legs of the freshly unveiled statue, dogs looked on indifferently and family portraits began to include Sir Ernest Shackleton at an alarming rate.
Athy now has a wonderful new statue and a new focus point for its pride of Shackleton. It is fitting with the heritage of the town. The statue stands between the busy market area in front of the heritage centre and the courthouse across Emily Square. The Shackleton statue faces south, always looking south, and the river Barrow is only a stone’s throw away. On the Barrow that day was the art installation of the James Caird 100, remembering the boat journey—made by Shackleton, Crean, Worsley, McCarthy, McNish and Vincent—from Elephant Island to South Georgia, on the first leg of the rescue mission in 1916.
We offer our hearty congratulations to Mark Richards, the Athy Heritage Centre-Museum, Kildare County Council and all those involved for the creation of a wonderful statue and for hosting such a wonderful and successful event in Athy. It was a fitting tribute to ‘the Boss’ Sir Ernest Shackleton, the crew of the Endurance and to all those who have been inspired by the exploits of these men. Many thanks and all the best for the future.