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


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Death of Antarctic Explorer Ernest Shackleton

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, Anglo-Irish Antarctic explorer who led three British expeditions to the Antarctic, dies of a heart attack in Grytviken, South Georgia on January 5, 1922. He is one of the principal figures of the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

Born in Kilkea, County Kildare, Shackleton and his Anglo-Irish family move to Sydenham, London when he is ten. His first experience of the polar regions is as third officer on Captain Robert Falcon Scott‘s Discovery Expedition of 1901–04, from which he is sent home early on health grounds, after he and his companions Scott and Edward Adrian Wilson set a new southern record by marching to latitude 82°S. During the Nimrod Expedition of 1907–09, he and three companions establish a new record Farthest South latitude at 88°S, only 97 geographical miles from the South Pole, the largest advance to the pole in exploration history. Also, members of his team climb Mount Erebus, the most active Antarctic volcano. For these achievements, he is knighted by King Edward VII on his return home.

After the race to the South Pole ends in December 1911, with Roald Amundsen‘s conquest, Shackleton turns his attention to the crossing of Antarctica from sea to sea, via the pole. To this end, he makes preparations for what becomes the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914–17. Disaster strikes this expedition when its ship, Endurance, becomes trapped in pack ice and is slowly crushed before the shore parties can be landed. The crew escapes by camping on the sea ice until it disintegrates, then by launching the lifeboats to reach Elephant Island and ultimately South Georgia Island, a stormy ocean voyage of 720 nautical miles and Shackleton’s most famous exploit.

In 1921, Shackleton returns to the Antarctic with the Shackleton–Rowett Expedition on a 125-ton Norwegian sealer, named Foca I, which he renames Quest. When the party arrives in Rio de Janeiro, he suffers a suspected heart attack. He refuses a proper medical examination, so Quest continues south, and on January 4, 1922, arrives at South Georgia. In the early hours of the next morning, Shackleton summons the expedition’s physician, Alexander Macklin, to his cabin, complaining of back pains and other discomfort. According to Macklin’s own account,he tells Shackleton he has been overdoing things and should try to “lead a more regular life,” to which Shackleton answers, “You are always wanting me to give up things, what is it I ought to give up?” “Chiefly alcohol, Boss,” replies Macklin. A few moments later, at 2:50 AM on January 5, 1922, he suffers a fatal heart attack. At his wife’s request, he is buried there.

Away from his expeditions, Shackleton’s life is generally restless and unfulfilled. In his search for rapid pathways to wealth and security, he launches business ventures which fail to prosper, and he dies heavily in debt. Upon his death, he is lauded in the press but is thereafter largely forgotten, while the heroic reputation of his rival Scott is sustained for many decades. Later in the 20th century, Shackleton is “rediscovered”. He rapidly becomes a role model for leadership as one who, in extreme circumstances, kept his team together in a survival story described by cultural historian Stephanie Barczewski as “incredible.”

In his 1956 address to the British Science Association, Sir Raymond Priestley, one of his contemporaries, says “Scott for scientific method, Amundsen for speed and efficiency but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton,” paraphrasing what Apsley Cherry-Garrard had written in a preface to his 1922 memoir The Worst Journey in the World. In 2002, Shackleton is voted eleventh in a BBC poll of the 100 Greatest Britons.


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Gearóid Mór FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, Arrested

coat-of-arms-sir-gerard-fitzgeraldThe personal rule of Gearóid Mór FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, is brought to an end on February 27, 1495, when he is arrested in Dublin by the Lord deputy Sir Edward Poynings and sent to the Tower of London to await trial for treason.

FitzGerald is Ireland’s premier peer and serves as Lord Deputy of Ireland from 1477 to 1494 and again from 1496 to 1513. His power is so great that he is called “the uncrowned King of Ireland.”

Gerald FitzGerald is appointed Lord Deputy in 1477, but is replaced by Lord Grey of Codnor on the supposition that an Englishman can do a better job. The Lords of the Pale set up a breakaway Parliament in protest, and Edward IV is forced to re-install FitzGerald. He inherits the title of Earl of Kildare in 1478.

FitzGerald manages to keep his position after the York dynasty in England is toppled and Henry VII becomes king, but FitzGerald blatantly disobeys King Henry on several occasions. He supports the pretender to the throne of England and the Lordship of Ireland, Lambert Simnel. However, Henry needs FitzGerald to rule in Ireland but, at the same time, he cannot control him. Simnel’s attempt to seize the throne ends in disaster at the Battle of Stoke Field and many of his supporters are killed. Henry, now secure on his throne, can afford to be merciful and pardons both Simnel and Kildare. Kildare is shrewd enough not to commit himself to the cause of the later pretender, Perkin Warbeck, despite Henry’s caustic comment that the Irish nobility would crown an ape to secure power for themselves.

FitzGerald presides over a period of near independence from English rule between 1477 and 1494. This independence is brought to an end on February 27, 1495 when his enemies in Ireland seize power and Lord deputy Sir Edward Poynings has him sent to London as a traitor. With FitzGerald’s absence, the way is cleared to end the independence of the Irish Parliament. Poynings directs the Irish Parliament, which is sitting in the town of Drogheda, to pass legislation making it subordinate to the English Parliament in Westminster. This marks the end of medieval Ireland and the commencement of the period of Tudor rule.

FitzGerald suffers another blow when his wife Alison dies soon after his arrest. He is tried in 1496, and uses the trial to convince Henry VII that the ruling factions in Ireland are “false knaves.” Henry immediately appoints him as Lord Deputy of Ireland and allows him to marry Elizabeth St. John, a distant cousin of the King. FitzGerald returns to Ireland in triumph.

He rules Ireland with an iron fist. He suppresses a rebellion in the city of Cork in 1500 by hanging the city’s mayor. He raises up an army against rebels in Connacht in 1504, defeating them at the Battle of Knockdoe. In 1512, after entering O’Neill of Clandeboye’s territory, capturing him and taking the castle of Belfast, FitzGerald proceeds through to utterly ravage the Bissett family’s lordship of the coastal Glens of Antrim.

The following year, while on an expedition against the O’Carrolls, he is mortally wounded while watering his horse in Kilkea. He is conveyed back to Kildare where he dies on or around September 3, 1513.