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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Arctic Explorer Robert McClure

robert-mcclureSir Robert John Le Mesurier McClure, Irish explorer of the Arctic, is born in Wexford, County Wexford on January 28, 1807.

McClure is the posthumous son of one of James Abercrombie‘s captains, first cousin of Oscar Wilde and spends his childhood under the care of his godfather, General John Le Mesurier, governor of Alderney, by whom he is educated for the army. The McClures are of Highland Scots ancestry, being a sept of Clan MacLeod of Harris. He enters the navy, however, in 1824, and twelve years later gains his first experience of Arctic exploration as mate of HMS Terror in the expedition (1836–1837) commanded by Captain George Back.

Upon his return he obtains his commission as lieutenant, and from 1838 to 1839 serves on the Canadian lakes, being subsequently attached to the North American and West Indian naval stations, where he remains until 1846. Two years later he joins John Franklin‘s search expedition (1848–1849) under James Clark Ross as first lieutenant of HMS Enterprise.

After he returns from the first Franklin search expedition, a new search expedition is launched in 1850, with Richard Collinson commanding the HMS Enterprise and McClure, as his subordinate, given the command of HMS Investigator. The two ships set out from England, sail south on the Atlantic Ocean, navigate through the Strait of Magellan to the Pacific Ocean with the assistance of steam-sloop HMS Gorgon, where they become separated and have no further contact for the rest of their respective journeys.

The HMS Investigator sails north through the Pacific and enters the Arctic Ocean by way of the Bering Strait, and sails eastward past Point Barrow, Alaska to eventually link up with another British expedition from the northwest. Although the HMS Investigator is abandoned to the pack ice in the spring of 1853, McClure and his crew are rescued by a party from the HMS Resolute, one of the ships under the command of Sir Edward Belcher that are sailing from the east, after a journey over the ice by sledge. Subsequently he completes his journey across the Northwest Passage. HMS Resolute itself does not make it out of the Arctic that year and is abandoned in ice, but later recovered. The wood from that ship becomes quite famous later.

Thus, McClure and his crew are the first both to circumnavigate the Americas, and to transit the Northwest Passage, considerable feats at that time. The HMS Enterprise, meanwhile, having arrived at Point Barrow in 1850 a fortnight later than the HMS Investigator, finds its passage blocked by winter ice and has to turn back and return the following year.

Upon his return to England, in 1854, McClure is court martialed for the loss of the HMS Investigator, which is automatic when a captain loses his ship. Following an honourable acquittal, he is knighted and promoted to post-rank, his commission being dated back four years in recognition of his special services. McClure and his crew share a great monetary reward of £10,000 awarded them by the British Parliament. He subsequently is also awarded gold medals by the English and French geographical societies. In 1855 he is elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society.

From 1856 to 1861 McClure serves in Eastern waters, commanding the division of the Naval Brigade before Canton in 1858, for which he receives a CB in the following year. His latter years are spent in a quiet country life. He attains the rank of rear admiral in 1867, and of vice admiral in 1873. He dies on October 17, 1873 and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London.

McClure Strait is later named after Robert McClure, as well as the crater McClure on the Moon.

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Shackleton’s Expedition Finds South Magnetic Pole

nimrod-expedition-southern-partyErnest Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition finds the South Magnetic Pole on January 16, 1909.

On January 1, 1908, Nimrod sails for the Antarctic from Lyttelton Harbour, New Zealand. Shackleton’s original plans had envisaged using the old Discovery Expedition base in McMurdo Sound to launch his attempts on the South Pole and South Magnetic Pole. Before leaving England, he had been pressured to give an undertaking to Captain Robert Falcon Scott that he would not base himself in the McMurdo area, which Scott was claiming as his own field of work. Shackleton reluctantly agrees to look for winter quarters at either the Barrier Inlet, which the Discovery Expedition had briefly visited in 1902, or King Edward VII Land.

To conserve coal, the ship is towed 1,650 miles by the steamer Koonya to the Antarctic ice, after Shackleton had persuaded the New Zealand government and the Union Steamship Company to share the cost. In accordance with Shackleton’s promise to Scott, the ship heads for the eastern sector of the Great Ice Barrier, arriving there on January 21, 1908. They find that the Barrier Inlet has expanded to form a large bay, in which are hundreds of whales, which leads to the immediate christening of the area as the Bay of Whales. It is noted that ice conditions are unstable, precluding the establishment of a safe base there. An extended search for an anchorage at King Edward VII Land proves equally fruitless, so Shackleton is forced to break his undertaking to Scott and set sail for McMurdo Sound, a decision which, according to second officer Arthur Harbord, is “dictated by common sense” in view of the difficulties of ice pressure, coal shortage and the lack of any nearer known base.

Nimrod arrives at McMurdo Sound on January 29, but is stopped by ice 16 miles north of Discovery‘s old base at Hut Point. After considerable weather delays, Shackleton’s base is eventually established at Cape Royds, about 24 miles north of Hut Point. The party is in high spirits, despite the difficult conditions. Shackleton’s ability to communicate with each man keeps the party happy and focused.

The “Great Southern Journey”, as Frank Wild calls it, begins on October 29, 1908. On January 9, 1909, Shackleton and three companions (Wild, Eric Marshall and Jameson Adams) reach a new Farthest South latitude of 88° 23′ S, a point only 112 miles from the Pole. En route the South Pole party discovers the Beardmore Glacier, named after Shackleton’s patron Sir William Beardmore, and become the first persons to see and travel on the South Polar Plateau. Their return journey to McMurdo Sound is a race against starvation, on half-rations for much of the way. At one point, Shackleton gives his one biscuit allotted for the day to the ailing Frank Wild, who writes in his diary, “All the money that was ever minted would not have bought that biscuit and the remembrance of that sacrifice will never leave me.” They arrive at Hut Point just in time to catch the ship.

The expedition’s other main accomplishments include the first ascent of Mount Erebus, and the discovery of the approximate location of the South Magnetic Pole, reached on January 16, 1909 by Edgeworth David, Douglas Mawson, and Alistair Mackay. Shackleton returns to the United Kingdom as a hero, and soon afterwards publishes his expedition account, Heart of the Antarctic.

In 1910, Shackleton makes a series of three recordings describing the expedition using an Edison Phonograph.

Several mostly intact cases of whisky and brandy left behind in 1909 are recovered in 2010 for analysis by a distilling company. A revival of the vintage (and since lost) formula for the particular brands found has been offered for sale with a portion of the proceeds to benefit the Antarctic Heritage Trust (New Zealand) which discovered the lost spirits.

(Pictured: Nimrod Expedition South Pole Party (left to right): Frank Wild, Ernest Shackleton, Eric Marshall and Jameson Adams)


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Birth of Astronaut & Test Pilot Michael Collins

Michael Collins, Irish American former astronaut and test pilot who is part of the Gemini 10 and Apollo 11 missions, is born in Rome, Italy, on October 31, 1930. The Apollo 11 mission includes the first lunar landing in history. His Irish roots can be traced to the town of Dunmanway in County Cork, from which his grandfather, Jeremiah Collins, emigrates in the 1860s.

Collins is born in Rome where his father, United States Army Major General James Lawton Collins, is stationed at the time. After the United States enters World War II, the family moves to Washington, D.C., where Collins attends St. Albans School. During this time, he applies and is accepted to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, and decides to follow his father, two uncles, brother and cousin into the armed services.

In 1952, Collins graduates from West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree. He joins the United States Air Force that same year, and completes flight training at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi. His performance earns him a position on the advanced day fighter training team at Nellis Air Force Base, flying the F-86 Sabres. This is followed by an assignment to the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing at the George Air Force Base, where he learns how to deliver nuclear weapons. He also serves as an experimental flight test officer at Edwards Air Force Base in California, testing jet fighters.

Collins makes the decision to become an astronaut after watching John Glenn‘s Mercury-Atlas 6 flight. He applies for the second group of astronauts that same year, but is not accepted. Disappointed, but undaunted, Collins enters the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School as the Air Force begins to research space. That year, NASA once again calls for astronaut applications, and Collins is more prepared than ever. In 1963 he is chosen by NASA to be part of the third group of astronauts.

Collins makes two spaceflights. The first, on July 18, 1966, is the Gemini 10 mission, where Collins performs a spacewalk. The second is the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969, the first lunar landing in history. Collins, accompanied by Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, remains in the Command Module while his partners walk on the moon’s surface. Collins continues circling the moon until July 21, when Armstrong and Aldrin rejoin him. The next day, he and his fellow astronauts leave lunar orbit. They land in the Pacific Ocean on July 24. Collins, Armstrong and Aldrin are all awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Richard Nixon. However, Aldrin and Armstrong end up receiving a majority of the public credit for the historic event, although Collins is also on the flight.

Collins leaves NASA in January 1970, and one year later, he joins the administrative staff of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In 1980, he enters the private sector, working as an aerospace consultant. In his spare time, Collins says he stays active, and spends his days “worrying about the stock market” and “searching for a really good bottle of cabernet under ten dollars.”

Collins and his wife, Patricia Finnegan, have three children. The couple lived in both Marco Island, Florida, and Avon, North Carolina until her death in April 2014.


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Birth of Admiral Sir Francis Leopold McClintock

Admiral Sir Francis Leopold McClintock, Irish explorer in the British Royal Navy who is known for his discoveries in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, is born on July 8, 1819 in Dundalk, County Louth.

McClintock is the eldest son of Henry McClintock, formerly of the 3rd Dragoon Guards, by his wife Elizabeth Melesina, daughter of the Ven. George Fleury, D.D., archdeacon of Waterford. His uncle is John McClintock (1770–1855) of Drumcar House.

In 1835 McClintock becomes a member of the Royal Navy as a gentleman volunteer, and joins a series of searches for Sir John Franklin between 1848 and 1859. He masters traveling by using human hauled sleds, which remain the status quo in Royal Navy Arctic and Antarctic overland travel until the death of Captain Robert Falcon Scott RN in his bid to reach the South Pole. In 1848-49, McClintock accompanies James Clark Ross on his survey of Somerset Island. As part of Capt. Henry Kellett‘s expedition 1852 to 1854, McClintock travels 1,400 miles by sled and discovers 800 miles of previously unknown coastline.

In 1854 the explorer John Rae travels west from Repulse Bay, Nunavut and learns from the Inuit that a ship has been abandoned somewhere to the west. Previous expeditions have not searched the area because they believe it to be ice-blocked. In April 1857 McClintock agrees to take command of the Fox, which belongs to Lady Franklin, and searches for her husband in the area west of Repulse Bay. At Disko Bay he hires thirty sled dogs and an Inuit driver. It is a bad year for ice and from September he is frozen in for eight months. The following year, 1858, is another bad year and he does not reach Beechey Island until August. He enters Peel Sound, finds it blocked by ice, backs up, enters Prince Regent Inlet in the hope of passing Bellot Strait. He is glad to extricate himself from this narrow passage and finds winter quarters near its entrance.

In February 1859, when sledging becomes practical, he goes south to the North Magnetic Pole which had been found by James Clark Ross in 1831. Here he meets some Inuit who tell him that a ship has been crushed by ice off King William Island, the crew has landed safely and that some white people have starved to death on an island. In April he goes south again and on the east coast of King William Island meets other Inuit who sell him artifacts from Franklin’s expedition. William Hobson, who has separated from him, finds the only written record left by Franklin on the northwest corner of the island. They also find a skeleton with European clothes and a ships boat on runners containing two corpses. They get as far south as Montreal Island and the mouth of the Back River.

McClintock returns to England in September 1859 and is knighted. The officers and men of the Fox share a £5,000 parliamentary reward. The tale is published in The Voyage of the ‘Fox’ in the Arctic Seas: A Narrative of the Discovery of the Fate of Sir John Franklin and His Companions. London, 1859.

In 1872–1877 McClintock is Admiral-Superintendent of Portsmouth Dockyard. In 1879 he is appointed Commander-in-Chief, North America and West Indies Station with the flagship HMS Northampton. McClintock leaves the Royal Navy in 1884 as a Rear Admiral. He dies on November 17, 1907. He is buried in Kensington Cemetery, Hanwell, Middlesex.

On October 29, 2009 a special service of thanksgiving is held in the chapel at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, to accompany the rededication of the national monument to Sir John Franklin there. It also marks the 150th anniversary of Sir Francis Leopold McClintock’s voyage aboard the yacht Fox.

Admiral Sir Frances Leopold McClintock has several portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, London.


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Birth of British General & Explorer Francis Rawdon Chesney

francis-rawdon-chesneyFrancis Rawdon Chesney, British general and explorer, is born in Annalong, County Down, on March 16, 1789.

Chesney is a son of Captain Alexander Chesney, an Irishman of Scottish descent who, having emigrated to South Carolina in 1772, serves under Lord Francis Rawdon-Hastings (afterwards Marquess of Hastings) in the American War of Independence, and subsequently receives an appointment as coast officer at Annalong, County Down, where Chesney is born.

Lord Rawdon gives Chesney a cadetship at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and he is gazetted to the Royal Artillery in 1805. Although he rises to be lieutenant-general and colonel-commandant of the 14th brigade Royal Artillery (1864), and general in 1868, Chesney’s memory lives not for his military record, but for his connection with the Suez Canal, and with the exploration of the Euphrates valley, which starts with his being sent out to Constantinople in the course of his military duties in 1829, and his making a tour of inspection in Egypt and Syria. In 1830, after taking command of 7th Company, 4th Battalion Royal Artillery in Malta, he submits a report on the feasibility of making a Suez Canal. This is the original basis of Ferdinand de Lesseps’ great undertaking. In 1831 he introduces to the home government the idea of opening a new overland route to India, by a daring and adventurous journey along the Euphrates valley from Anah to the Persian Gulf. Returning home, Acting Lt. Colonel Chesney busies himself to get support for the latter project, to which the East India Company’s board is favourable. In 1835 he is sent out in command of a small expedition, on which he takes a number of soldiers from 7th Company RA and for which Parliament votes £20,000, in order to test the navigability of the Euphrates.

After encountering immense difficulties, from the opposition of the Egyptian pasha, and from the need of transporting two steamers, one of which is subsequently lost, in sections from the Mediterranean Sea over the hilly country to the river, they successfully arrive by water at Bushire in the summer of 1836, and prove Chesney’s view to be a practical one. In the middle of 1837, Chesney returns to England, and is given the Royal Geographical Society’s gold medal, having meanwhile been to India to consult the authorities there. The preparation of his two volumes on the expedition, published in 1850, is interrupted by his being ordered out in 1843 to command the artillery at Hong Kong.

In 1847, his period of service is completed, and he goes home to Ireland, to a life of retirement. However, in 1856 and again in 1862 he goes out to the East to take a part in further surveys and negotiations for the Euphrates valley railway scheme, which, however, the government does not take up, in spite of a favourable report from the House of Commons committee in 1871. In 1868 Chesney publishes a further volume of narrative on his Euphrates expedition.

In 1869, Lesseps greets him in Paris as the “father “ of the canal. Francis Rawdon Chesney dies at the age of 82 in Mourne, County Down, on January 30, 1872.