Monthly Archives: April 2013

Heroes of Antarctic Exploration from Kinsale

The early part of the 20th century was a time of great adventure in the frozen Antarctic wastes, a time when explorers sought to test their endurance and document the uncharted wilderness of the South Pole. This ‘Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration‘ had its own superstars, with two in particular becoming household names.

Probably the most famous is Robert Falcon Scott, later known as ‘Scott of the Antarctic’. Scott  led two expeditions to the South Pole. His first was on board the ‘Discovery‘ in 1901. The second trip in 1910, on the ill-fated ‘Terra Nova‘, was a race to be the first to reach the South Pole. However, when Scott and his men reached their destination, imagine their bitter disappointment  to find a Norwegian  flag already planted there several weeks earlier by members  of Roald Amundsen’s expedition. Tragically, Scott and 4 of his companions  perished on the ice on the return journey to their base camp.

The other memorable name from that era was Ernest Shackleton from County Kildare, Ireland. Shackleton was with Scott on the 1901 ‘Discovery’ expedition but had to return early due to health problems.  In 1907, Shackleton himself led the ‘Nimrod‘ expedition and set a record for a march in the southernmost latitudes. From 1914 – 1917  he led the ‘Endurance‘ expedition to the South Pole, with the aim of crossing the entire continent of Antarctica. The names of  these two explorers, Scott and Shackleton, are synonymous with great polar expeditions and are instantly recognized.

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Tom Crean aboard the Endurance, 1914. image Wikimedia-commons

In recent years the truly remarkable courage of  yet another Irishman, Tom Crean from Annascaul, County  Kerry has been recognized and acknowledged for the extraordinary part he played as a great Polar explorer. Not only did he serve on Scott’s ‘ Discovery‘  and  the ‘Terra Nova‘ expeditions, he was also second officer on Shackleton’s ‘Endurance’ expedition. Tom Crean’s  truly inspiring  story  is now well documented. However he was not the only Irishman who ventured into the Antarctic wastes.

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Memorial to the McCarthy Brothers, Kinsale, Co Cork

On a recent visit to Kinsale, County Cork, I came across a very attractive memorial to local brothers Tim and Mortimer McCarthy, both of whom had  also participated in ‘the Heroic Age of Arctic Exploration’. The McCarthy boys were brought up overlooking the river estuary in Kinsale and as boys learned how to handle small boats. 

Mortimer (known as Mort or Murt) was born about 1882 and went to sea at a young age  – it is thought that he may only have been aged 12!- and ended up living in New Zealand where he honed his skills as a seaman. Scott’s ‘Terra Nova’  had departed England but stopped off in New Zealand for repairs and to stock up on supplies. Mort was recruited there on the day before she sailed for the Southern Ocean in 1910. Perhaps his reputation as an excellent seaman had gone before him as  Captain Pennell recruited him as helmsman, the only additional crew member taken on in New Zealand.

Soon after setting sail from New Zealand in November 1910, the ‘Terra Nova‘ was hit by a hurricane. The ferocious wind and waves caused havoc on board, with animals and supplies being hurled about the place. ‘Often the waves swept over the stern, almost carrying the helmsman off his feet and he was frequently knee high and sometimes waist deep in water‘ wrote  a  member of the expedition. Having landed the members of the expeditions – a small one led by Campbell  and the major  Scott expedition -the ‘Terra Nova‘ turned for home and once again met with treacherous conditions. She arrived back in New Zealand in April 1911.

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The Terra Nova in the pack ice December 1910 . Image from Wikimedia Commons (Herbert Ponting negative)

In December 2011,the ‘Terra Nova‘ again sailed south with McCarthy at the helm. The plan was to return to New Zealand with all the Antarctic expedition members  on board. They made contact with  Campbell  and his men, relocated them further down the coast as planned, and left them enough food for 6 days. They were to be picked up again on the return voyage to New Zealand. The ‘Terra Nova‘ sailed on to pick up the other expedition party, but they learned that Scott and 7 of the 16 men who went to the South Pole had not yet returned. In addition, one of their number Lt.Evans, was seriously ill. Pennel decided that they could not risk getting stuck in the pack ice and decided to  pick up Campbell’s party. The pack ice was very  thick, there were high seas, strong winds and blizzards. McCarthy battled at the helm for 13 days before they were forced to retreat to pick up Lt.Evans. Once again they attempted to pick up Campbell but were beaten by the appalling conditions. They had to abandon the attempt and again headed for New Zealand. This time they encountered the very worst storm while surrounded by icebergs. It was so ferocious that the crew was unable to sit down to eat and had to survive on cold food.  It was reported by Taylor a geologist on board that, when they were swamped by a mountainous wave’ It broke down the canvas screen protecting, but didn’t dismay the jaunty McCarthy’. Later McCarthy spotted a huge iceberg looming out of the mountainous seas and managed to save the ship from a potentially catastrophic collision. They eventually reached New Zealand in April 1912.

In December 1912, they embarked on the third voyage to the Antarctic  arriving in McMurdo sound on 18 January 1912. Here they learned that Scott and his 4 companions had died on the return trek from the South Pole. Campbell and his men had managed to join up with the main expedition  With all survivors safely on board,  they turned for home on 26 January 1913. Again McCarthy stood solidly at the helm as the ‘Terra Nova‘ was battered by the cruel sea and ‘tossed about like a cork’ in yet another hurricane. On 10 February they reached New Zealand and the  tragic news of the fate of Scott and his party was telegraphed across the world.

Mortimer McCarthy remained with the ‘Terra Nova‘ for her return to Britain in June, and shortly afterwards he and the other expedition survivors were decorated by King George V- Mortimer received a Silver Polar Medal in recognition of his valiant work as helmsman on the  three 5,000 mile voyages during which he lost 2 fingers to frostbite. Mount McCarthy in the Barker Range in the Antarctic, is named after Mortimer.

Timothy McCarthy (also known as Tadhgh, the Irish form of Timothy) was born in 1888 and was  6 years younger than Mortimer. As a member of the Royal Navy Reserve he served on a guard ship in Cobh (then Queenstown). Like Mortimer, he was credited with a good sense of humour and was very popular with his fellow crew members. 

Timothy joined Shackleton as an able-seaman on the ‘Endurance’, sailing from London in August 1914, the purpose of the expedition being  to cross the icy Antarctic continent from coast to coast – via the South Pole -a distance of some 1,800 miles. Also on board was fellow Irishman, Tom Crean. Little did they know that they were about to take part in one of the most celebrated tests of human endurance every undertaken in the Southern Ocean.

They sailed from Buenos Aires to the island of South Georgia where they took on supplies and learned much from Norwegian whalers about the often ice bound Weddell Sea. They left there on 15 December 1914  and forged through a thousand miles of pack ice. However a sudden drop in temperature caused the pack ice to freeze solid and the Endurance was trapped 100 miles short of the continent of Antartica.

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Endurance in the ice – Image Wikimedia Commons

For months the ‘Endurance’ drifted in the ice, until finally in October Shackleton gave the order to abandon ship. On 21 November, the ice finally crushed her and the  ‘Endurance’ sank into the icy sea, leaving the 28 men on the icefloe with lifeboats and some supplies.

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Endurance Final Sinking – Royal Geographic Society via Wikimedia Commons

About a month later, they decided to march west, hauling the lifeboats laden with their supplies behind them. For 5 months they wandered on the moving ice floe until finally they sighted Elephant Island. In April 1915, they set out in their lifeboats and safely made landfall on Elephant Island – at least they were off the ice floes.

Map of the routes of the ships Endurance and Aurora, the support team route, and the planned trans-Antarctic route of the British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition led by Ernest Shackleton in 1914–15. Image Wikimedia Commons.

Colour key to map:

Red:Voyage of Endurance  Yellow: Drift of Endurance in pack ice; Green: Sea-ice drift after Endurance sinks;  Blue: Voyage of the lifeboat James Caird;  Turquoise: Planned trans-Antarctic route;  Orange:Voyage of Aurora to Antarctica;  Pink: Retreat of Aurora;  Brown: Supply depot route

AllSafeAllWell

Ernest Shackleton leaves Elephant Island on the James Caird with five other members of the expedition, setting out to reach South Georgia Island 800 miles away. Twenty two men remain on Elephant Island, hopefully waiting. Image Frank Hurley via Wikimedia Commons

On April 24 1916, Shackleton chose a party of 5 men to go with him on the perilous 800 mile voyage to get help back at the whaling station. Among them were the Kerryman Tom Crean and the ever cheerful and reliable Timothy McCarthy. They endured appalling conditions – often frozen and soaked to the skin, the boat often iced up, often battling fierce gales in  the treacherous seas of the South Atlantic.  This voyage of the James Caird remains one of the most astonishing and challenging voyages ever undertaken in an open boat. Miraculously they reached South Georgia on May 10 1916.   Timothy was the first to spot land and the McCarthy Islands of South Georgia were subsequently named after him.
Timothy McCarty was asked to stay behind with two members of the crew who were too ill to undertake the challenging trek across South Georgia to the whaling station. Without compass or navigation equipment and without any mountaineering equipment Shackleton and Crean and Worsley headed off on the arduous march  through the interior. Timothy and his companions were rescued just days later but it took four attempts and some more months to rescue the 22 men on Elephant Island.
In 1917, about 6 months after his adventures in the Southern Ocean,  Timothy McCarthy rejoined the merchant navy. In March of that year his oil tanker, the Narragansett,  was torpedoed by a German U-boat  some 350 miles off the south-west coast of Ireland. All hands were lost. Timothy McCarthy was 28 years of age. Mortimer collected Timothy’s  Bronze Polar Medal. Mortimer lived out his life in New Zealand and made a nostalgic return trip to the Antarctic in 1963 with some comrades from the ‘Terra Nova’.  He died in 1967.
Both he and Timothy who played such pivotal roles in the heyday of Antarctic exploration are remembered by the monument at the harbour in Kinsale that they knew and loved. 
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The McCarthy busts at the harbour at Kinsale. (Image Sara Smith, Creative Commons.)
Timothy McCarthy   1888 – 1917
Mortimer McCarthy 1882 – 1967

References:

Great Endeavour – Ireland’s Antarctic Explorers, by Michael Smith,   Collins Press.

http://www.jamescairdsociety.com

http://www.athyheritagecentre-museum.ie

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Diaspora, Irish History

Spring…in her yellow dress

Here in Ireland, chilly easterly winds  have prolonged Winter and Spring has been reluctant to appear. Grass is not growing as a minimum temperature is required for growth. Animals  – cattle mainly – are collapsing due to starvation as fodder supplies have run out and farmers report that animals are ‘crying’ with hunger. Because of the wet summer  of 2012, the fodder has been less plentiful and less nutritious than normal.  There is indeed a  food crisis in the farming sector and the farming community has suffered greatly due to the high cost of importing fodder and the expensive substitutes  that have to be fed to farm animals – if their owners can afford it!  Hopefully this animal food crisis will come to an end within the next couple of weeks as temperatures finally begin to climb and Spring finally takes hold.

A few warm days with temperatures in the mid teens have already produced great signs of hope. Native plants, shrubs and trees are finally beginning to stir. Today as I travelled from Cork, I took a detour to see if I could find Spring in the bleak fields.  I am delighted to report that it IS there!

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Blackthorn bears delicate flowers on bare stems

Here we have Blackthorn. Blackthorn is,for me, the real  harbinger of Spring with her beautiful white flowers borne on bare branches. Blackthorn has delicate blossom, and is a precursor to the more feisty Hawthorn (or Whitethorn) whose boughs will bend under the weight of fabulously profuse blossoms that will adorn the hedgerows and whose scent will fill the air for weeks. The Hawthorn bloom is one of the most beautiful spectacles of Nature occurring in Ireland…and I just LOVE it!

In the past few days, the ubiquitous and often unloved Gorse has begun to put on a spectacular display. The sulphur yellow flowers of this otherwise unattractive and spiny shrub are cascading down sheer embankments on new roadways,often distracting this driver! The Suplhur Yellow Gorse  -a promise of  summer sunshine to come?Gorse, otherwise known as Furze, or as Whin in my native Donegal, thrives on disturbed ground and is very much at home along our motorways and major roads.

Gorse (also known as Whin or Furze) lines the roadways and hedgesGorse often flowers almost all year when conditions are mild, but has been less obvious so far in this this cool year.

B0000636Now it is shouting  from rusty gates down country lanes, if only we will look!

To me, Spring is yellow. Apart from the white Blackthorn (!),  many of our wild early Spring flowers are yellow. This has always fascinated me as our cultured yellow daffodils, yellow crocus, yellow Forsythia are also among the first to awaken after winter. If we look at ground level in country lanes and along road verges, there are carpets of yellow there too.

Great linear drifts of Celandine

Lesser Celandine flourish along the roadside

Driving along sheltered country roads at this time of year is a real ‘joy-ride’! The banks are covered with the pretty multi-petalled Lesser Celandine (nothing ‘Lesser ‘ about her! ). They  also grow right down on to the road, facing up into every spare ray of sunshine!

Profusions of Primroses and Celandine on a sunny bank

Pale Primroses and bright yellow Celandine

Driving these minor roads is an enormous voyage of discovery as the yellow linear meadows follow the road, changing and adapting to the micro-climate  around every corner.They are all the more beautiful as the trees are still bare and leafless, even in these closing days of April.

Ribbons of yellow line the lanewaysProfusions of yellow edge the narrow country roads  and sit at the foot of the barren trees.  Yet there are signs of bud burst – delicate green buds are swelling, and some delicate lime green leaves are already opening in sunny sheltered positions.

Yellow furry  Catkins  from which will emerge the willow leavesYellow -green catkins are in great profusion on the stems of willows, ready to burst forth with a few more days of warmth.

Crowds of yellow dandelion open their faces to the sunAlmost most spectacular of all is the  much maligned  Dandelion,  scattered in great drifts  in the verges of motorways,  (where drivers may not stop to take photographs !) and carpeting  entire fields  colonizing bits of ground where nothing else would think of growing. Yet it delights us at this time of year, with its sunshine colour, defying the cold bleak days of winter and giving us a promise of hopefully yellow-sunny and yellow- warm days ahead!

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Filed under Ireland, Living in Ireland, My Oral History

Exciting discovery of historic childhood texts

Today, and on every day in many locations across the world, drawers that have down the years become  convenient filing places for all sorts of everything that can be labelled ‘Important’, are being tidied. In one such drawer there has been an  exciting discovery of childhood texts  that are important social and historic documents.

There are two texts, each set upon double pull-out centre pages of  lined  20th (?) Century school copy books. The dimension of each manuscript is identical – 16 centimetres by 20 centimetres, in a double fold.  It is clear however that one of these manuscripts pre-dates the other by as much as 1 or 2  or possibly even 3 years. Both are on lined paper – designed to enable scholars to keep ‘straight’ when learning to write – a skill no longer  required as texts and  emails auto select to straight lines.  The writing implement appears to be of similar origin in both cases –  HB or 2 H lead pencil, popular in the late 20th Century, when ink pens were considered messy and those of a certain age were dissuaded from using the high-tech ‘biro’ which made for slovenly script.

Terrible warning
One of the documents, has interesting script on the reverse. Note the embellished lettering in ‘SANTA’  and the more austere style of the warnings, each bounded by lines.  A thorough search of all online resources – digitized newspapers and magazines and pension records  – did not reveal that an individual named ‘NOT SANTA’  suffered any great peril for having accessed private correspondence. It can be deduced therefore that ‘ONLY SANTA’ opened this document and that privacy was maintained. (It is also earnestly hoped that the warning was time-bound and has now expired) 
Text of request to the mythological figure, Santa

Text of request to the mythological figure, Santa

The main body of the text is headed by another highlighted form of SANTA, but with less embellishment than the former. Intriguingly, the words ‘Dear’ and ‘Santa’ are on separate lines. The request for  Crossbows and Catapults indicates a possible interest in conflict.( One wonders if this was an enduring interest.) Research shows that this was a game popular in the mid 1980’s. Item number 3 is of  some interest as it is not specified and the reader is left to guess the writer’s intention. Santa would of course have had ‘inside knowledge’ and would have been able to ‘fill the gap’

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The second letter.

The other letter is of a much more basic form –  no embellishment  of the word ‘SANTA ‘,  although it stands out clearly from the other script.  Once again the words ‘Dear’ and ‘Santa’ are on different lines. The list has grown and indicates an expanded list of requests. It is clear that the writer is of high status with access to a television and magazines, given the requests for no fewer than  6 items of Celtic ‘livery’. Subbeto ( Subbuteo?) normally came with a fabric pitch –  it is to be hoped that the request for a plastic pitch was met.We will never know.

One of these letters has a full name and address, regrettably no longer legible which is just as well as the ‘peril’ warning may still be in effect. These documents are a wonderful record of childhood as well as of social history. It is a matter of great regret that the year has not been recorded and it is to be hoped that this post will serve as a reminder to people who put things away in drawers that the date should be added to any such documents so that when they are rediscovered decades later, there are properly contextualized.

 

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Filed under My Oral History, Social Change, Social History Ireland

How We Teach Our Sons To Rape

Very powerful, insightful and shocking blog post about why men rape – WHY do we teach our girl children not to be raped, yet we don’t teach our boy children NOT TO RAPE girls? Why?

 

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Filed under Healthy Living, Social Justice, Social Policy

April 14 1912: Iceberg Ahead! Good Bye all!

As RMS Titanic steamed towards New York, several iceberg warnings had been issued during the day of April 14 ,1912.

At 11.40 pm, with many passengers already in bed for the night, the lookout shouted ‘Iceberg Ahead’! Despite frantic attempts to manoeuvre the huge vessel, she hit the iceberg, ripping plates from her hull and leaving a huge gash in her side. Within minutes there were 14 feet of water in parts of the ship and the flooding continued relentlessly into each ‘watertight’ compartment.

25 minutes later, on April 15 1912 at 5 minutes past midnight an order is given to prepare the lifeboats. If all are filled to capacity over 1,000 people would have to stay on board as there are not enough of them.

At 00.45 am the first lifeboat is lowered, with only 28 people on board – it had space for  65.

At 2. 05 am there are 1,500 still on board the liner but there is only one lifeboat  left to be launched. The water is now just below the promenade deck.

The huge ship is now listing and people on board rush about in panic, trying to escape the freezing waters. At 2.17  Titanic’s bow plunges underwater and as all the heavy machinery slips forward, the lights flicker and go out.  The ship breaks in two and the bow disappears into the icy water. Three minutes later, at 2.20 am the stern section which had risen up into the air, plunges  into the icy depths.

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Jeremiah Burke from Cork, Ireland scribbled a message and put it in a bottle as the Titanic went down. He was lost. The bottle washed up some years later and the note was given to his family. His family has donated it to Cobh Heritage Centre. Image thejournal.ie

At 2.20 am in the village of Lahardane in County Mayo in the west of Ireland a bell will peal 11 mournful peals, followed by 3 joyful peals in memory of the 14 people from this small community who were passengers on the Titanic. 11 of them were lost and 3 survived. It is probably the only location in the world where the last moment of the great Titanic is remembered ever year at the exact time of the sinking.  Of the approximate 2,227 on board, about 713 survived. Lahardane’s commemorative bells peal across the land to remember all of those lost and saved.

References:

History on the Net

BBC History

Addergoole-Titanic.com

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Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Irish Diaspora, Irish History, Irish_American, Mayo Emigrants, Titanic

April 13 1912: Titanic sails in calm waters

On this night 101 years ago, the RMS Titanic is sailing through calm waters. Just over 48 hours earlier she had departed Queenstown, County Cork. Passengers on board expect  to dock in New York on April 17, four days from now.

Among them are wealthy Americans who, having completed their tour of Europe are returning home in the most luxurious and fastest liner on the Atlantic route. Here too are hundreds of emigrants who have bidden farewell to mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and friends all across Europe, and are now looking forward to a new life in a new land.

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Members of the Orchestra on board Titanic. Image Wikimedia.Commons

As they steam towards their meeting with destiny in just 24 hours from now, many 1st class passengers may be enjoying and dancing to the music of the on-board orchestra, while many others begin to settle down for the night. The calm conditions  make for a comfortable night’s sleep. The 128 children on board are probably already settled. For many of them –  for most of them – this is to be their last night alive.

References

Wikipedia.org

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April 11 1912,Titanic sails from Ireland

On the afternoon of April 11 1912, the Titanic picks up her last 123 passengers at Queenstown County Cork, Ireland. Joining the 2,105 already on board are 113 who will travel in 3rd class, 7 for 2nd class, and 3 as 1st class passengers.

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Waiting on the Queenstown quayside to join the RMS Titanic
Published with permission of artist.

For some on board, this was a great adventure, crossing the Atlantic on board a luxurious new ship. Many may have been excited by the prospect of a new life in the New World, while many more would be feeling great sorrow at leaving loved ones behind, not knowing when or where they will meet again.

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The last known image of Titanic as she departs Queenstown.Image Wiki.Commons

And so the RMS Titanic steams out of Cork Harbour for a meeting with destiny no one on board could envisage.

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Filed under Emigrants from other countries, Emigration from Ireland, Ireland, Irish American, Irish Diaspora, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Mayo Emigrants, Titanic