In December 1913 Sir Ernest Shakleton announced his intention to sledge across the Antarctic. Crean was selected by Shakleton to be one of six who would make the journey across the continent. Sadly, the plan went awry when the pack ice quickly closed in around their ship the Endurance in the Weddell Sea. In October 1915 the crew were forced to abandon. After two failed attempts to march over the ice to land, the crew resigned to surviving on the ice floe while they waited for the pack ice to break up so they could launch the ships rescue boats. The drifting ice remained their home until April 1916.
In January 1912 Captain Scott and his four companions reach the South Pole but are bitterly disappointed to find a Norwegian flag and dog tracks there – evidence that Roald Amundsen and his team have beaten them to it. On the return journey, tragically all five men perish.
Irish Polar explorer Tom Crean has been commemorated with a Greenland mountain bearing his name.
In 1927 Tom opened a pub in Annascaul that he called "The South Pole Inn", he ran the pub with Nell until 1938 when after falling ill with stomach pains, he was admitted to hospital in nearby Tralee. Acute appendicitis was diagnosed, but no one was available for the simple routine appendectomy and he was transferred to hospital in Cork 80 miles away. The delay led to infection setting in and he died a week later on 27th July 1938 at the age of 61.
Crean also fought in the First World War, and retired from the Navy in 1920, after 27 years of service.
Once again on his return to England, Crean resumed his naval career at Chatham. He married Nell Herlihy in 1917 back in his home town of Anascaul, Nell had been his childhood sweetheart, though they were aged 40 and 36 by the time they married. For the rest of the First World War, Crean served in the Royal Navy aboard HMS Colleen. Shortly after the war ended, Crean was given early retirement at the age of just 42 in 1920 following a bad fall on his ship.
In order to get rescue Crean, Shackleton and four companions begin an 800 mile voyage from Elephant Island to South Georgia in the largest of the open lifeboats, the James Caird. In winter and on the world's most perilous seas they finally manage to make land. A Norwegian whaling station is located on one side of the Island but they have made landing on the uninhabited southern side and with a broken rudder have no way of sailing around. They must take on the daunting task of the first ever crossing of South Georgia's frozen mountains to reach the whaling station and safety. They succeed and over four months after they had set out, Crean and Shackleton finally return to Elephant Island and all 22 castaways from Endurance are rescued.
When Ernest Shackleton, a former merchant seaman, born in Kilkea, Co. Kildare, took on the leadership of British Antarctic exploration he chose Crean as his main supporter in 1914. Crean’s exploits were legendary, perhaps above all in Shackleton’s fifteen-day voyage in the open boat, the James Caird, from Elephant Island to South Georgia.
Though his name appears only rarely in the records of the first expedition, Crean made his mark with Scott and the rest of the crew. He was a strong sledger, a hard worker and a cheerful companion. Upon completion of the expedition and on the recommendation of Scott, Crean was promoted to Petty Officer 1st Class and served with Scott between 1906 and 1909.
Born on 20 July 1877 into a family of ten of a poor small farmer, this adventurous Irish explorer ran away from home at the age of fifteen. Forging his age at sixteen, he was accepted as a recruit in the British navy. He learnt all that could be known about seamanship and began to climb the promotion ladder when he was appointed to the torpedo school.