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Ernest Shackleton to be honoured at Westminster Abbey

Kildare born Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton will be honoured with a memorial at Westminster Abbey in London next week.

Mr Shackleton, who was born in Kilkea in 1874 before moving to London as a boy, led three expeditions to Antarctica.

The memorial was carved by sculptor Will Davies, and incorporates Connemara marble and Kilkenny limestone to reflect Mr Shackleton’s Irish heritage.

The Dean of Westminster, David Hoyle, said the dedication would help sustain Mr Shackleton’s “legacy of wonder”.

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One Mr Shackleton’s granddaughter, Alexandra Shackleton, said the family was “very keen” to include elements of his birthplace in the memorial.

The memorial will be located in the Abbey’s south cloister, close to memorials to fellow explorers James Cook and Francis Drake.

It is inscribed with the names of Shackleton’s expedition ships and his family motto, fortitudine vincimus – by endurance we conquer.

Ms Shackleton said she was “very pleased, and very proud” that her grandfather’s memorial will be next to those of James Cook and Francis Drake.

“It’s a huge honour to be in Westminster Abbey,” she said.

“The Princess Royal (Princess Anne) will unveil the memorial and I will make a speech, my son [will do] some readings and various other people will do readings. It’s going to be a wonderful day,” Ms Shackleton added.

She said only one word could be used to sum up her grandfather and that word is “leadership”.

“The way he led his men is why 100 years later there is so much interest in him; exhibitions, expeditions go out in his memory and there’s a lot going on,” Ms Shackleton said.

Kerry explorer Tom Crean joined Mr Shackleton’s expedition to Antarctica in 1914. Their ship, named the Endurance, became trapped in ice and sank.

In a preview of the speech she will give at the unveiling next week Ms Shackleton said: “NASA named a crater on the Moon ‘Shackleton’ and more recently they named one on Mars ‘Endurance’, after one of his ships saying that he ‘cast a long shadow’.”

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Mr Shackleton’s first experience of the polar regions was as third officer on Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery expedition of 1901-1904, from which he was sent home early on health grounds.

In 1907, his Nimrod expedition aimed to be the first to reach the South Pole and although this was not achieved, it was the first expedition in history to travel within 100 miles of the South Pole and successfully ascend Mount Erebus, Antarctica’s second highest volcano.

Mr Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1917 hoped to achieve the first land crossing of Antarctica from the Weddell Sea via the South Pole to the Ross Sea.

The expedition’s ship, Endurance, became stuck in pack ice and sank in the Weddell Sea in 1915, and was lost until it was located by a British-led expedition in 2022, months after the 100th anniversary of Mr Shackleton’s death.

The survival of Mr Shackleton’s crew despite the sinking of Endurance highlighted his exceptional leadership, Westminster Abbey said.

During his lifetime, Mr Shackleton was awarded the Polar Medal and is remembered as one of the key figures associated with the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

Additional reporting PA


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