Sir Ernest Shackleton
Born close to the village of Kilkea, between Castledermot and Athy, in the south of County Kildare in 1874, Ernest Shackleton is renowned for his courage, his commitment to the welfare of his comrades and his immense contribution to exploration and geographical discovery. The Shackleton family first came to south Kildare in the early years of the eighteenth century. Ernest’s Quaker forefather, Abraham Shackleton, established a multi-denominational school in the village of Ballitore. This school was to educate such notable figures as Napper Tandy, Edmund Burke, Cardinal Paul Cullen and Shackleton’s great aunt, the Quaker writer, Mary Leadbeater. Apart from their involvement in education, the extended family was also deeply involved in the business and farming life of south Kildare.
Having gone to sea as a teenager, Shackleton joined Captain Scott’s Discovery expedition (1901 – 1904) and, in time, was to lead three of his own expeditions to the Antarctic. His Endurance expedition (1914 – 1916) has become known as one of the great epics of human survival. He died in 1922, at South Georgia, on his fourth expedition to the Antarctic, and – on his wife’s instructions – was buried there.
Athy Heritage Centre-Museum
Athy Heritage Centre was established to celebrate the vibrant socio-historic legacy of the area. It houses material and audio-visual programmes that chronicle the ancient, medieval and post 16th century lives and achievements of the people of the town and its hinterland.
Athy Heritage Centre is home to the only permanent exhibition anywhere devoted to Ernest Shackleton. Highlights include an original sledge and harness from his Antarctic expeditions, a 15-foot model of Shackleton’s ship Endurance, an exhibition of unique Shackleton family photographs and an audio-visual display featuring Frank Hurley’s ﬁ lm footage of the Endurance expedition.
The Centre also houses material on the Great War and its effects on Athy; the industrial and social effects of the canal in Athy life; information on the Gordon-Bennett race, which is celebrated annually in the town, and a wide range of seasonal exhibitions which reflect life past and present in this vibrant community.
Highlight of the year, at the Centre, is the Shackleton Autumn School, which was established to commemorate the explorer in the county of his birth. It provides a forum for discussion and debate on polar exploration and the presentation of artistic works relevant to Shackleton and his time.