The 3rd Annual Ernest Shackleton Autumn School

The Athy Heritage Centre-Museum has established the Ernest Shackleton Autumn School to celebrate the life and work of the great Antarctic explorer in the area of his birth.


Thursday 23rd October – Readings


8.00pm Athy Heritage Centre
A Sense of Place: Readings
Showcase of recent work from a series of creative writing workshops held in County Kildare libraries, facilitated by the writers Mary O’Donnell, Ann Egan, and Martin Malone.


Friday 24th October – Official Opening


7.00pm Athy Heritage Centre
Followed by a talk by the artist Vincent Sheridan on his exhibition of prints Arctic Enigma. The exhibition of prints was inspired by the artist’s travels in the Arctic and particularly by a visit to a Franklin related site on Dealy Island, North West Territories in 1989. At Dealy, he encountered a number of artifacts relating to the Franklin era: old ships’ masts, cairns, graves, numerous rusting food cans and a large food cache dating from 1853. Blending the memory of these artifacts with various aspects of the human form, Sheridan’s work seeks to focus on, and wander into the bodies and minds of the ill-fated explorers searching for clues to the mystery of human nature, our obsession with answers and our inevitable mortality.

Friday 24th October – Drama


9.00pm Athy Community Library
Meeting Lane Theatre Company presents the World Premiere of The Woman at the Window. The Woman at the Window is a play based on the life of the Quaker writer Mary Leadbetter. Recognised as a key contributor to grassroots social history in Ireland, Mary Leadbetter was a prolific writer for her time. Best known for her Annals of Ballitore – an account of daily life in the village of Ballitore, Co. Kildare, she recorded the tragedies and celebrations of her community, in particular the horrific events of 1798. Set in the house in which she raised her family, the play is the story of Mary’s life, and is also a ghost story, focussing on the one loss which touched her most deeply and continues to haunt her ghost into the twenty-first century. A one-woman show performed by Paula Dempsey, she plays eight roles in The Woman at the Window in a tour-de-force performance, moving from moments of high comedy and celebration to the depths of loss and desperation.
The Woman at the Window is written and directed by John MacKenna who is best known as a novelist and short story writer. His books have won numerous awards including the Irish Times Fiction Award.
Paula Dempsey has played a wide range of roles with a large number of theatre companies. She was, until recently, Director of Laois Youth Theatre. She is a founding member of Meeting Lane Theatre Company.

Saturday 25th October – Lecture Series


Athy Heritage Centre
10.00am “Irish Arctic Exploration”
Frank Nugent, Mountaineer and Explorer. Admission €6

11.30am “The Story of Captain Oates’ Antarctic Tragedy: From the Curragh to the South Pole”
Michael Smith, Author. Admission €6

2.30pm “The Other Shackleton: The big brother and the Crown Jewels affair”
Myles Dungan, Broadcaster and Author. Admission €6

4.00pm “The Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard”
Sara Wheeler, Author. Admission €6

5.00pm Open Forum chaired by Dr. Bob Headland, Curator Scott Polar Research Institute


Saturday 25th October – Drama


3.00pm Children’s Drama Workshop and Performance
Scoil Mhicil Naofa, Athy
Fairbank Productions and Play on Words present The Life of Tom Crean
A specially adapted performance and workshop for children by Aidan Dooley

9.00pm Athy Community Library
Meeting Lane Theatre Company present
The Woman at the Window
Admission €8 (details above)

Sunday 26th October – Lecture Series


Athy Heritage Centre

11.00am “A History of Scott’s Ship Discovery”
Ann Savours, Polar Historian. Admission €6

12.00am “The importance of being Ernest in a changing antarctica: An illustrated review of places that Shackleton visited”
Jonathan Shackleton, Antarctic Specialist. Admission €6

Sunday 26th October – Film


Athy Heritage Centre

2.30pm South (80 Mins)
Frank Hurley’s contemporary documentary film of Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition to Antarctica. Restored by the National Film and Television Archive of the British Film Institute, South is one of the most remarkable exploration films ever made. Introduced by Luke McKernan – Film Historian, Head of Information at the British Film and Video Council. Admission €6

Sunday 26th October – Drama


Athy Community Library

12.00am Fairbank Productions and Play on Words present “Endurance”
Direct from the New York International Fringe Festival, Aidan Dooley returns to Athy after a rapturous reception at last year’s Autumn School for his dramatisation of the life of Tom Crean. This year’s contribution, Endurance, a dramatisation of Shackleton’s epic expedition is written and performed by Irish actor Aidan Dooley who has appeared on stages across the US, Britain and Ireland. Admission €8

Monday 27th October – Field Trips


10.00am Field Trip to ‘Shackleton Country’ including Castledermot and Kilkea
Lead by Eamon Kane, Local Historian.
Assemble at the Courthouse, Athy – Tickets €5

2.30pm Guided barge tour of Athy’s waterways
Lead by Frank Taaffe, Local Historian. Assemble at the Courthouse, Athy – Tickets €5




Athy Heritage Centre

Ernest Shackleton Exhibition
10.00am to 5.30pm
“Very interesting and informative – Congratulations”
Alberto Yoacham,Ambassador of Chile
Arctic Enigma

10.00am to 5.30pm Exhibition of prints by Vincent Sheridan


Information on Contributors


Myles Dungan
Broadcaster Myles Dungan is presenter of Rattlebag, RTE Radio’s arts programme and formerly presented Five Seven Live. He is the author of several books including Irish Voices from the Great War – They Shall Grow Not Old. His forthcoming publication is The Stealing of the Irish Crown Jewels. The book traces the alleged involvement of Frank Shackleton (Ernest’s brother) in the theft of the Crown Jewels from Dublin Castle in 1907.


Ann Egan
An award winning poet, Ann Egan is from Clane, Co. Kildare. Her first poetry collection is Landing The Sea. Her second collection The Wren Women was dramatised and staged at Listowel Writers Week 2003.

Dr. Bob Headland
Dr. Headland is the archivist and curator of the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge. His specialities are the history and geography of both Polar Regions. His research has involved stays of two winters on South Georgia and voyages to the region over 20 years. His work with the Antarctic Heritage Trust involves the preservation of the historical huts and other sites associated with exploration and discovery in the Antarctic.


Martin Malone
Martin Malone is the author of three novels – Us, which won the John B Keane Award; After Kafra and The Broken Cedar. He is also the winner of a Hennessy Literary Award and is currently working on another novel. He lives in Kildare Town.


Luke McKernan
Luke McKernan is a film historian and an authority on early cinema. He is Head of Information at the British Universities Film & Video Council. Previously he worked at the National Film and Television Archive of the British Film Institute, where he undertook research into the filming of South during its restoration in 1998.

Frank Nugent
A mountaineer and explorer, Frank is one of Ireland’s best known expedition climbers. He has been involved in four Himalayan expeditions, including the first Irish ascent of Mount Everest in 1993. In 1997 he was joint leader of South Aris – The Irish Antarctic Adventure which retraced Shackleton’s open boat voyage and traverse of South Georgia in 1916. As a member of the crew of Northabout, he was involved in the first Irish navigation of the Northwest Passage. He is author of Seek the Frozen Lands – A History of Irish Polar Explorers 1740 to 1922.

Mary O’Donnell
Mary O’Donnell is a poet and novelist. She has just completed her fourth novel Canticles and her fourth poetry collection September Elegies was recently launched. She is a member of Aosdana and lives near Straffan, Co. Kildare.

Ann Savours
Ann Savours is one of Britain’s leading experts on Polar exploration and history and was a former polar curator at the Scott Research Institute and curator of the Polar Gallery at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. She was also Research and Displays Officer for Project Discovery. Her publications include The Voyages of the Discovery and The Search for the North West Passage.

Jonathan Shackleton
Jonathan Shackleton, cousin of Ernest Shackleton, is an Antarctic enthusiast and family historian who has led several student expeditions to the frozen continent. He is co-author with John MacKenna of the recently published Shackleton – An Irishman in Antarctica.

Vincent Sheridan
Vincent studied at NCAD and has been working as a full-time artist since 1981. During the 1980s he spent three summers in the Canadian High Arctic, initially as a member of the Irish Brent Goose Expeditions (1984 – 1986) and later as a freelance artist. During March 1991 he was Artist in Residence at the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative, Cape Dorset, Baffin Island.

Michael Smith
Michael is the best-selling author of An Unsung Hero, the epic story of Irishman, Tom Crean, who travelled with both Scott and Shackleton on their polar expeditions. His second book, I am Just Going Outside, traces the life of the Polar explorer-soldier, Captain Oates, who served on the Curragh, County Kildare. A children’s version of Tom Crean’s life, The Iceman, is published this Autumn. Michael is a former business and political journalist with The Guardian and The Observer.

Sara Wheeler
Sara Wheeler has written several travel books including the best selling Terra Incognita, the story of seven months she spent travelling in the Antarctic. Other books include Travel in a Thin Country about a journey she made through Chile, and a much-praised biography of Apsley Cherry- Garrard, a member of Captain Scott’s Antarctic team.

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