There was great fanfare in Athy on Tuesday, August 30, for the unveiling of the Ernest Shackleton statue in Emily Square.
The Mayor Ivan Keatley unveiled the statue to the iconic polar explorer in front of a large crowd, with a guard of honour drawn from the Irish Naval Service. Also in attendance were Shackleton family members including his grand daughter Alexandra Shackleton and second cousins Jonathan and Arthur Shackleton and local singer Jack L who sang the 'Wearing of the Green'.
Kildare Arts Officer Lucina Russell paid tribute to Shackleton in her address to the crowd and in particular to his proud Kildare roots.
Kildare County Council CEO Peter Carey said that the unveiling coincided with the 100th anniversary of the rescue of the crew of the Endurance — the ship used by Shackleton and his crew on the Imperial trans-antartic expedition. The sculpture which was sculpted by Mark Richards is only the second in the world to be erected in Shackleton’s honour. The other statue is located in the UK.
Shackleton's granddaughter Alexandra noted the fact in her address to the crowd. Describing the event as a “grand occasion” she added that “this is also an acknowledgement and the only other statue in the world” of her great grandfather.
“The statue manages to combine his several sides - his adventurous side, his romantic side as he wrote poetry and his pragmatic side. Certainly the rescue on Elephant Island is one of the greatest rescues in history and that took place 100 years ago today after three unsuccessful attempts.”
Speaking to the Leader after the unveiling, family historian and fellow explorer Jonathan Shackleton, described the event as a “great tribute” to a man who was admired and respected the world over.
“It is so appropriate for the statue to be so close to where he was born,” said Jonathan.
“His cabin, in which he died, is coming to Athy soon so it is almost poetic in the way in which it has come full circle. I travel every year with a group to the Antartic and I have done so for the past 40 years. I can't stop going which is similar to him - he said he was going to keep going too.”
Town Manager Joe Boland told the Leader that the new statue coincides with plans to upgrade Emily Square.
“The statue might be moved in line with the upgrade and we are open minded on that,” he said.
Meanwhile Athy native Clifford T Reid took part in an expedition in Shackleton's footsteps ten years ago for a documentary made for RTE.
“I thought a man from Athy should be represented on the trip so I put myself forward,” said Clifford.
“We were put through training first and a team of 28 were selected to follow in his progress. I visited his grave in South Georgia and presented a plaque from the Kilmead national school which is now hanging on the wall.”
Committee member Joe O'Farrell accompanied the cabin, in which Shackleton died, home from Norway last September, where it had served as a garden shed for the past 90 years.
“It took about a week to get it home and down to Letterfrack where is now being curated,” he explained speaking to the Leader.
“We drove for three days down the spine of Sweden and into Gothenburg where the cabin was loaded onto a ship for 26 hours on the North sea before reaching the UK then finally onto Dublin.”
Ready to receive the cabin in Letterfrack was historic furniture curator Sven Haberman.
“It is currently in our workshop and we have finished the first stage which involved investigating, a paint analysis of what was original and what was not. Surprisingly after 90 years as a garden shed more than 85 per cent was original. We aim to have it ready in two months time.”
Meanwhile the statue was commissioned as part of its Decade of Commemorations programme, Kildare Co. Council.
The sculpture of Ernest Shackleton, the world famous explorer also marked the 100th anniversary of the rescue of the crew of the ‘Endurance.’
The sculpture commemorates the life and exploits of Ernest Shackleton and particularly the rescuing of the crew of the ‘Endurance’ in 1916 after the ship became trapped and crushed in the ice.
Ernest Shackleton was born in Kilkea, near Athy, in 1874, but moved to England when he was just 10 years old.
In 1914, Shackleton made his third trip to Antarctica with the 'Endurance,' planning to cross the continent via the South Pole. The ship became trapped in the ice, and subsequently sank. Shackleton's crew reached Elephant Island and on Easter Monday 1916, taking five crew members, including fellow Irishmen Tom Crean and Tim McCarthy, Shackleton set sail for the island of South Georgia. In a small lifeboat, the 'James Caird', the six men crossed 1,300 km of ocean in 16 days to reach land. All survived.