Irish & Vinson Massif

Vinson Massif is the highest mountain of Antarctica, lying in the Sentinel Range of the Ellsworth Mountains, which stand above the Ronnie Ice Shelf near the base of the Antarctic Peninsula. The mountain was first discovered in 1958 and first climbed in 1966. The mountain was named in 2006 after Carl Vinson – US Congressman from the state of Georgia and one of the main supporters of Antarctic research.

The first Irish born person to climb Vinson Massif was Sheila Dyson in 1997. Sheila was born and raised in Dublin and like many of her generation she emigrated to UK in her early 20’s to find work. Her summit of Vinson Massif came two weeks before Pat Falvey became the first Irish male to complete the climb. Pat Falvey would return to Antarctica a decade later, firstly to lead the 1st Irish expedition on Vinson Massif with Clare O’Leary and John Dowd, and then to lead the 1st Irish expedition to reach the South Pole in 2006. The most accomplished Irish adventurer in Antarctica in the current era is Robert Smith who was born and raised in Tyrone and lives in Fort William, Scotland. Robert is an accomplished mountain guide who has climbed Vinson Massif 8 times, but has also climbed Mt. Sidley and completed a first ascent of Mt. Sporli as well as multiple expeditions to the South Pole.

The following Irish adventurers have climbed Vinson Massif up to 2020:

– Sheila Dyson – Dublin/UK – 1997
– Pat Falvey – Cork – 1997
– Pat Falvey – Cork – 2005
– Clare O’Leary – Cork – 2005
– John Dowd – Kerry – 2005
– Michael Lanigan – 2005 (Not Confirmed)
– Ian McKeever – Wicklow – 2007
– Noel Hanna – Down – 2009
– Bill Hanlon – Wexford – 2009
– Vivian Rigney – Dublin – 2009
– Robert Smith – Tyrone – 2009
– Terry Kelleher – Dublin – 2010
– Albert Connaughton – Dublin – 2010
– Robert Smith – Tyrone – 2010 (x2)
– Mary Scannell – Kerry – 2011
– Senan Foley – Cork – 2011
– Robert Smith – Tyrone – 2011 (x2)
– Robert Smith – Tyrone – 2012 (x2)
– Paul Holland – Galway – 2013
– Robert Smith – Tyrone – 2013
– Paul Devaney – Longford – 2014
– Neill Elliott – Fermanagh – 2015
– Kevin Trundle – Cork – 2015
– Steven Loughrey – Offaly – 2018
– Diarmuid Morrissey – Westmeath – 2019
– Justin Condon – Dublin – 2020
– Darragh Ó hAodha – Cork – 2022
– Tom Cleary – Dublin – 2022
– Louise McEvoy – Dublin/USA – 2022
– Chris Bell – Antrim – 2022
– Rory McHugh – Dublin – 2022

It is difficult to be exact about how many have people have climbed Vinson, or how many Irish climbers have reached the summit. These are the  statistics I have collected (including records from Union Glacier in Antarctica and personal research) on Irish ascents of Vinson Massif. Please drop me a line if I have missed anyone off the list. 

Irish & Antarctica - Historic Icons

Ernest Shackelton – Born in Ballytore Co. Kildare in 1874 to a Quaker family, the young Ernest joined the merchant Navy and worked his way up through the ranks. Shackleton’s first experience of the Antarctic was in 1902 as a member of Scott’s ‘Discovery’ Expedition when he first met his fellow countryman Tom Crean. Shackleton returned to Antarctica in 1907 with his own expedition when he got within 97 miles of the Pole, 360 miles closer than anyone previously. After Amundsen reached the pole, Shackleton was determined to be the first to cross the continent and returned with the ill-fated Endurance in 1914 to disaster and an Epic escape to South Georgia. Shackleton could not get the Antarctic out of his blood and returned once more in 1922 but only made it to South Georgia where he died and is buried. His ill-fated ship Endurance was finally discovered in incredible condition on the seabed in March 2022. 

Tom Crean – Born just outside Annascaul in Kerry in 1877. At the age of 15 he ran away and joined the Royal Navy as a Boy 2nd Class. Crean played a major role in three of the greatest Antarctic expeditions. On his second trip to the Antarctic in 1911, Crean was a member of the tragic Scott Expedition narrowly beaten in the race to the South Pole by the Norwegian Amundsen. Crean retrieved the bodies of Scott’s polar party, frozen only 11 miles from a food depot. In 1914 Crean was back in the Antarctic for a third time, on this occasion with an old friend Ernest Shackleton on the ill-fated Endurance expedition. He was instrumental in the rescue mission and was one of three (Shackelton, Worsley being the others) who reached the whaling station in South Georgia to raise the alarm and spark the rescue of all hands from the doomed Endurance. On returning home, Crean resumed naval duties. On 15 December 1916 he was promoted to the rank of warrant officer (as a boatswain), in recognition of his service on the Endurance,and was awarded his third Polar Medal. On 5 September 1917 Crean married Ellen Herlihy of Annascaul in Co. Kerry. He retired from the Navy on medical grounds on 24 March 1920. He and Ellen opened a small public house in Annascaul, which he called The South Pole Inn. The couple had three daughters, Mary, Kate, and Eileen, although Kate died when she was four years old. His legend, statue and The South Pole Inn pub can still be found in Annascaul.

Tim McCarthy – McCarthy was born on 15 July 1888 in Kinsale, Ireland. He signed on the Endurance as an able seaman, and participated fully in the dangers and privations of the Weddell Sea, particularly after the Endurance sank and the ship’s company and shore party were marooned on a nearby ice floe. He was one of the party of 6 who organised the rescue via the epic boat journey to South Georgia. On his return home, McCarthy (who was not an Irish Nationalist and identified himself with the British Empire) found his country fighting World War I. He joined the Royal Navy Reserve as a leading seaman. In these duties he was assigned to man a deck gun on the S.S. Narragansett, an oil tanker. On 16 March 1917, this vessel was torpedoed and sunk with all hands in the Western Approaches. McCarthy, aged 28, was the first member of the Weddell Sea party of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition to die.

Edward Bansfield – Born in Cork in 1783. Bansfield was the first European to sight Antarctica. As a merchant seaman, he was pressed into the British Navy and took part in the blockade of Brest (1813-14) during the Napoleonic Wars. By 1815 he had risen to be a master, the highest rank available to him. From 1829 to 1821 he explored and charted the South Shetland Islands (as named by him). In 1819 he discovered Trinity Land, the north-western tip of the Antarctic peninsula. Bransfield Island, Bransfield Straight, Bransfield Rocks and Mount Bransfield are named after him. A monument was unveiled in his hometown in County Cork in his honour in 2019. 

Francis Crozier – Born in Banbridge, Co. Down in 1796. Crozier joined the British Navy in 1810. He made three Arctic voyages with Parry between 1821 and 1827. He explored the Antarctic as second in command to Ross from 1839 to 1843 and took over command of Franklin’s Arctic expedition in 1847 when Franklin died. Cape Crozier on King William Island, Canada, is named after him.

Francis McClintock – Born in Dundalk in 1819. McClintock entered the British Navy in 1831 and between 1848 and 1852 he made several Arctic voyages – his first as captain in 1852. He made a number of long journeys by sledge across the Arctic and developed methods that were widely adopted. In 1859 McClintok found the remains of Franklin’s expedition and the grave of Crozier and his men. Mount McClintok in Antarctica is called after him.