A Rallying Call
By Tim Foley
From the Kerry Airport Should Be Renamed Tom Crean Airport campaign group.
In what was known commonly known as the Heroic Age of Polar Exploration, for a period of around 20 years from the turn of the 19th century, certain names entered the annals of history. Most prominent among these were Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton, men born with a hunger for pioneering exploration of the last undiscovered continent, Antarctica. All three openly sought the glory of becoming the first to lay down a marker, that could not be bettered by following generations of explorers, and all three were privileged to have been born into the upper echelons of a class system that could assist them in achieving their dreams and ambitions.
None of these three leaders of men could undertake their expeditions without those from the opposite end of the class spectrum, and their successes or failures would rely heavily on men whose sole aim was to serve to survive. Hardy men, many of whom sought a life at sea as a means of escaping an impoverished existence that would have ate away at their very souls had they not happened upon such an opportunity in the days of empire.
It was from this class of men that one appeared, whose story remained hidden for almost a century, yet although his epic tale overshadowed those of the men he so loyally served, his status denied him an entry into the same history books as his leaders.
Tom Crean’s story is a complex one, still misunderstood by those who don’t have a true grasp of the history in an era before Ireland became an independent state. He, like many other of his compatriots, joined the British Navy in the late nineteenth century, at a time when the whole of Ireland was under the rule of Britain.
For Tom Crean it wasn’t only his class status but the timeline of his career that conspired to keep his story in the shadows. During his later expeditions and up to his retirement and return to Ireland, all forms of association with the British were frowned upon, at a time when atrocities were being carried out in his homeland and when his fellow countrymen were laying down their lives to break free from a power that had employed the hated Black and Tan mercenaries to brutally quell any thoughts of uprising. It was a time when Irish heroes were born out of brave resistance at any cost in order to free their land and people from the chains of British rule.
Tom Crean’s employment in the British Navy commenced in 1893. Like many of his countrymen, it offered him a way out of poverty and allowed him to see a world beyond the shores he grew up around. He joined up at the age of 15, together with a relative of Thomas Ashe, whose family were neighbours of the Crean’s from nearby Kinard.
His life in the navy was one of exploration not confrontation and as much as any other Irishman, retaining his national identity was paramount. His identity manifested itself in various forms whether in song, humour or wit, and in the days before the Irish tricolour came into existence, Crean always flew the Irish Ensign on his sled.
His heroism was borne out of astonishing feats of physical endurance in the most extreme and harshest of conditions on this planet, and all were undertaken for one goal, to save the lives of his fellow man.
He was an unassuming man who played down his feats, and on his return to Annascaul he retired from reminiscing of them. He wrote very few accounts of them and little is known of his political leanings while he was living in a transitional Ireland that was caught up in the Irish War of Independence during which his brother, an RIC officer, was shot dead. It has been speculated his sympathies lay with Eamon De Valera’s Fianna Fáil party although this cannot be confirmed.
Today, a century after he embarked on his last expedition aboard Endurance, and one in which his feats unbelievably overshadowed his earlier heroics, a solitary statue to commemorate him stands across from his former pub, The South Pole Inn, in his birthplace of Annascaul, as testament to this great Irish Hero. The lack of anything else across his country is a sad indictment of the indifference of the decision makers, to this unique man’s story.
Four years ago I made it my mission to try and change that and I created a facebook group to rally support for a more fitting tribute to this proud Kerryman. Our aim? To have his memory served by renaming Kerry Airport, the central hub for national and international visitors to his home county, in his honour.
In April 2014 I added to our social media presence by creating an easier to access Facebook page and a Twitter account to help increase our reach and our audience. People from all over the world, in over 50 countries, have joined the crusade and can now read, see and hear accounts of an extraordinary humanitarian hero. No matter what nationality they are, people pay respect to and shower praise upon Tom Crean for his incredible tale. In any other country in the world Tom Crean would be feted and celebrated to the highest degree yet in his homeland, startlingly, his memory still remains unsung. Our Twitter account too is generating somewhat of a celebrity following with names such as, Glen Hansard, Declan O’Rourke, Kevin J Ryan, Donal Logue, Paddy Holohan, Aisling Daly, Dermot Murnaghan, Timothy V Murphy and his famous American namesake, basketball coach Tom Crean, revealing themselves as supporters of the aim.
It’s a huge step forward that today’s generation of schoolchildren in Ireland are being made aware of another Irish Hero in Tom Crean, and his story forms part of the national curriculum but still, when they leave the education system, they too must be shocked at the lack of recognition for a hero whose story they grew up with.
This website is another big step in the right direction, allowing a borderless international internet community access to the story of an international hero that history failed.
Let me impart to you a story that pretty much sums up the raw deal Tom Crean received in his home county. My father, also Tim Foley, was born in 1917 just a few miles away in Shanahill, Keel. He worked in Annascaul before emigrating to England after the war and he more than likely passed by Tom Crean on many occasions.
Like all inquisitive youngsters, I wondered why a pub had the strange title of the South Pole Inn and as we passed by on our way to visit my father’s sister who lived in Tom Crean’s village of Annascaul, I’d seek an answer. The strength of my dad’s knowledge stretched only to the fact that it was owned by a sailor known as Tom the Pole who served under Captain Scott.
Now anyone who doesn’t get any further than this point in the story of Tom Crean, I’d urge you to read An Unsung Hero, the book by Michael Smith that brought Tom Crean’s story out of the shadows in the year 2000. I’ll guarantee after reading it you’ll remain as gobsmacked as I was at both his amazing feats and moreso by the lack of recognition from the home county and country of this remarkable man
If and when you do read his story, whether it be the book, this great new website from another of his passionate fans, Andy Walsh, or if you discover his story elsewhere and if you still feel powerless in attempting to right this wrong, pay a visit to our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/kerrytomcreanairport – add your name to the growing list of Irish and international fans who not only recognise Tom Crean as a proud Irish Hero but who also want to play a part in waking Ireland and his home county up to the realisation that he’s a hero that Ireland should be proud of, and give worthy recognition to.
Large numbers singing as one voice cannot be ignored and we can all play a part in Tom Crean reaching a higher and worthy platform at a renamed Kerry Tom Crean Airport.
My utmost Thanks to Tim Foley, who has spearheaded the campaign for the rightful recognition of Tom Crean as a true and undisputed Irish hero. One need only read the passage above to appreciate the passion, possessed for Tom Crean. Please support the campaign to rename Kerry Airport, in honour of the great man, as this can only be achieved by a collective spirit, which in itself can only be obtained by numbers of like minded people, showing their support for the cause.
So please follow the link to the campaigns Facebook platform and Like the page, to add your voice to the rallying call.