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Polar Exploration, Ponies and Punchestown!

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24th May 2021

A surprising fact about Co. Kildare is its close connections with Polar Exploration.

The ‘Boat Afloat’ installation across from the main stand is an artistic interpretation of Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton’s lifeboat, the “James Caird”.

Shackleton was born in Kilkea (near Athy), Co. Kildare in 1874 and spent much of his childhood there. His Irish identify was recognised by his contemporaries, something he was proud to claim.

In 1907, he was the first to bring ponies to Antarctica to perform the heavy haulage work. On that expedition, he got to within 100 miles of the South Pole, turning back to ensure the safety of the expedition. His explanation to his wife Emily was that he would “prefer to be a live donkey than a dead lion”!

In 1916, on an expedition to cross Antarctica, his ship “Endurance” was crushed and sank. To organise a rescue, he took the 21 foot lifeboat “James Caird” with a crew of six across 800 miles of the South Atlantic to reach a Norwegian whaling station on the island of South Georgia. This was one of the greatest ever feats of seafaring, and half the crew were Irish – Shackleton, Tom Crean and Tim McCarthy.

“James Caird 100” which is on display in Punchestown is 2/3 the size of the original. It was developed to mark the centenary of the famous voyage, and raise awareness of the  Shackleton connection to County Kildare, and Ireland’s contribution to Polar exploration.


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