Page last updated at 17:02 GMT, Friday, 22 July 2005 18:02 UK

Ice-bound rescue mission recalled

BBC Northern Ireland's Dublin Correspondent Shane Harrison visits a new exhibition telling the story of one of the greatest rescue operations ever.

In 1914, Irish-born explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton led a crew of 28 men to the Antarctic but the ice crushed their ship leaving them stranded.

Kildare-born explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton
Kildare-born explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton

How they escaped has become the stuff of legend, one being recalled by the exhibition in the National Museum in Collins Barracks.

It tells the story through photos, film and personal mementoes from the time.

Kildare-born Sir Ernest and his crew wanted to be the first to walk across Antarctica via the South Pole.

But his ship, The Endurance, got trapped and was eventually crushed before they reached the continent.

So, the men had to salvage whatever provisions they could muster, including small boats, and then headed across the frozen waters towards the nearby Elephant Island.

In April 1916, Shackleton made a very brave decision.

He and five other men, including Kerry explorer Tom Crean whose story featured in a recent drinks commercial, got into a small boat.

It's a journey nobody would contemplate except that they had to
Dawson Stelfox

And for 17 days they travelled through cold and dangerous seas on an 800-mile journey to South Georgia island.

Their aim was to launch a rescue operation for their stranded colleagues.

Months later Shackleton arrived back on Elephant Island and miraculously saved all 22 of his men.

It is an epic tale that has inspired many, including, Dawson Stelfox, the first Irish man to climb Everest.

"It's a journey nobody would contemplate except that they had to," he said.

"It was their only way out, their only escape. So, it's the escape, I suppose, that is the real excitement of the story."

The Endurance was trapped and crushed by ice
The Endurance was trapped and crushed by ice

The director of the National Museum of Ireland, Pat Wallace, expects big crowds for the exhibition that lasts until the end of October.

He believes that there are two reasons for this. Firstly, people are now more interested in Irish explorers, albeit ones who wore British military uniforms.

And secondly, there is now a greater focus on Antarctica because of worries about the Earth's ozone layer.

"The idea of exploration, the idea of conserving the planet, the idea of respecting and loving the planet, as Shackleton and his type of explorer would have done - they're all very much back with us now in our new more ecologically-aware world."

In 1922, Shackleton, who was drinking and smoking to excess against medical advice, returned to South Georgia, one of the scenes of his great escape, on his way to the Antarctic.

But he suffered a fatal heart attack on his boat and, according to his wife's wishes, was buried on the remote island in the South Atlantic.

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