Tom Crean: Not Just ‘Another Man’

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on 28.11.2019

Imagine for a moment, walking for 18 hours, alone, in the freezing cold, in an attempt to save your comrades, with little to no food or shelter. Putting one foot ahead of the other because you know that if you stop, they die. Or sailing through wild seas in a tiny boat, trekking across treacherous mountaintops for 40 miles, with two others who were lauded, while you were referred to as just “another man”.

Kerryman, Tom Crean, made journeys like this more than once on his expeditions to the South Pole and Antarctica during the early 1900’s.

At Skellig Six18, we are inspired by the unsung heroes. By those who push and dare and dream. What does it take to achieve some of the bravest and most impressive explorational feats of all time? It takes an ordinary, modest man from a small corner of Kerry with true grit, determination and muinín.

July 1877

Tom Crean was born to a poor farming family just outside Annascaul in Co. Kerry


Aged 12 Tom leaves school to help out on the farm.


After a fight with his Father, Crean vows to “run away to sea”, which he does lying about his age and joining the British Royal Navy at the age of 15.


Stationed in Littleton New Zealand, Crean volunteers for Robert Scott’s Discovery expedition to Antarctica after a crew member deserted and left them one short.


The ship became trapped in ice until Feb 1904. The temperature was below - 54 degrees. Here, he learned how to survive in the most hostile place in the world.


Crean is reunited with Scott for his Terra Nova expedition. He earned his first major accolade on this trip for trekking 18 hours by himself to rescue his comrade, Lieutenant Evans. During this 35 mile hazardous journey, Crean had two sticks of chocolate, three biscuits and no sleeping bag or tent. He had been on the march already for three months, travelling 1500 miles.

Nov 1912

When Scott’s party did not make it back from the Pole, Crean led the rescue mission to their remains.


Tom joined Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition. The ship became trapped in ice in Jan 1915, sinking in Nov of that same year.

April 1915

The crew abandoned ship on lifeboats and arrived at Elephant island.

Easter Monday 1916

A crew of six left on a rescue mission, sailing the James Caird lifeboat across some of the most treacherous seas in the world for two weeks. Crean was said to have hummed a cheerful tune when steering the boat.

19th May 1916

They landed on the wrong side of the island of South Georgia after a hurricane with a rudderless boat. Only three men of the six, Shackleton, Crean and Worsley were capable of the 37 hours march over unexplored mountainous terrain.

May 1916

They make it to a whaling station and raise the alarm. All 22 stranded men are rescued from Elephant Island.

Sept 1917

Marries Ellen Herlihy after spending most of WW1 serving in the Navy.

March 1920

A serious fall on a ship allows him to retire on medical grounds.

April 1920

A month after Tom’s return home, his brother (RIC officer) is killed in an ambush during the Irish civil war. Crean makes the decision to keep his past achievements to himself.


Crean opens a pub in Annascaul called the South Pole Inn.


He dies from a burst appendix aged 61


Polar historian Michael Smith releases the book “An Unsung Hero – Tom Crean” and Ireland finally acknowledges his achievements

July 2003

A statue of Tom Crean sculpted by Eamon O’Doherty was unveiled in a small memorial garden in the centre of the village over the road from the South Pole Inn.

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