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Government urged to buy Shackleton’s Polar Medal

The Government is being urged to purchase Ernest Shackleton’s Polar Medal as events are held to mark the explorer’s 150th Anniversary.

Shackleton is regarded as a quintessential British hero, but was born in Kildare on 15 February 1874.

The Polar Medal, with three clasps to represent his three Antarctic expeditions, was one of many honours bestowed on the explorer but it is valued at £1.7 million (€1.99m).

The British government has imposed a temporary export ban to give time for British institutions to buy it.

But Irish groups say the medal should be purchased by the Government before it disappears into the hands of a private collector.

Kevin Kenny of Shackleton Museum in Athy, Co Kildare, said: “Its real value is as an inspiring and historic artefact and the best place for this is on public display, with the Shackleton Museum being its natural home. It’s just a matter of the Irish State making the small investment needed”.

Shackleton is most famous for overcoming adversity when his ship The Endurance became stuck in ice on the third expedition in 1915.

After being stranded on ice for over a year and moving camp a number of times, Shackleton and five other men took to a lifeboat from Elephant Island, travelled over 800 nautical miles in stormy seas and hurricane winds to reach South Georgia island.

Shackleton and two others still had to cross 51km of mountain to reach a whaling station and summon help for the rest of the 22 crew still stranded in Antarctica.

The journey is celebrated in Britain as a triumph of fortitude and Shackleton was voted 11th in a BBC poll carried out in 2002 to find the 100 Greatest Britons in history.

However, of the six men who travelled in the open boat for 15 days, three, including Shackleton, were Irish. The other two were Tom Crean and Timothy McCarthy.

To mark the 150th Anniversary of Shackleton’s birth, a memorial stone is to be unveiled in Westminster Abbey in a ceremony attended by his grandchildren, John and Alexandra Shackleton.

It contains Connemara marble and Kilkenny limestone.

The stone is situated in the abbey’s South cloister near to memorials to fellow explorers James Cook and Francis Drake.

Events are also being held in the Irish Embassy in London and in the Shackleton ancestral home at Kilkea House near Athy.

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