Saint Patrick’s Day gave us here at the exhibition an appropriate opportunity to ponder on the men aboard the Endurance who were born in Ireland. Below is a short word on the four the crew members born on the island of Ireland, as it was at the time of their births, in political entity of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
Though their Irish and/ or British identities were important to the men, their life experiences, time at sea, service in the Merchant Navy and Royal Navy, and companionship built up over the years in the world’s waters were also significant in their sense of self. It is important to understand the men’s backgrounds, but it is not to claim their memories for one nation or another. It is in trying to comprehend their lives that we seek for their roots and search for their early years and self-definitions.
Sir Ernest Shackleton was born at Kilkea House, Kilkea, Co. Kildare on 15 February, 1874. Although his family moved to London when he was ten years old, Ernest’s early years were spent in the surroundings of rural Ireland and then later in their Dublin residence on Marlborough Road, Donnybrook, near the city.
Shackleton was nicknamed ‘Mick’ in his English school on account of his Anglo-Irish rearing. His was of a composite identity, loyal to the crown as a British subject, but also self-defined as Irish. Though he had a refined voice, his midlands upbringing often broke forth in his speech illustrating his formative years in Ireland.
Tom Crean was born in the Anascaul district of the Dingle peninsula, Co. Kerry on 25 February 1877. He had much experience of the Antarctic continent, especially of the challenges and hardships of the ice, before travelling on the Endurance having served under Captain Scott on his Discovery and Terra Nova expeditions.
Tom’s physical and mental strength was called upon many times in the Antarctic. He commanded the Stancomb-Wills lifeboat after Hudson collapsed after seventy-two hours at the helm. He begged Shackleton to be taken in the James Caird and proved himself a solid choice in the epic boat journey. He was known for his good humour, his singing, his ability to joke and to ease strain in moments of even the greatest peril. Perhaps his Irish mentality contributed to this positive disposition.
He returned to his home in Anascaul, married and opened the now famous ‘South Pole Inn’ pub.
James McIlroy, a lightly-built restless soul, was born 3 November 1879. It is uncertain where in the province of Ulster he was born, but his father originated from Ballyclare, Co. Antrim. Early in life, his family moved to Kings Norton, south of Birmingham. He studied medicine in Birmingham and travelled widely, practicing in Japan and Egypt.
McIlroy was the surgeon on board the Endurance and was chosen, perhaps, as his Irish roots appealed to Shackleton. Greenstreet said he was a ‘sardonic, sarcastic blighter’. He was among the twenty-two men who remained on Elephant Island for over four months awaiting the rescue mission. McIlroy and Macklin amputated Perce Blackborow’s left toes in their makeshift hut in June 1916.
Tim McCarthy, born 15 July 1888, came from Kinsale, Co. Cork. He was an experienced and talented seaman and was chosen by Shackleton for the James Caird rescue mission. On reaching South Georgia he remained behind, to care for the invalided Vincent and McNish, as Shackleton, Crean and Worsley trekked across the island to complete the search for help.
Worsley later wrote of Tim: ‘A big brave, smiling, golden-hearted Merchant Service Jack- we, his shipmates who truly learned his worth in that boat journey, are proud of his memory.’
McCarthy was the first of the Endurance crew to die. On 16 March 1917, Tim died at his gun as his ship, S.S. Narragansett, was torpedoed and sank. He is commemorated with a bust in his native Kinsale.