Irish & Mount Vinson

Mount Vinson is the highest peak on the summit plateau of the Vinson Massif. It is the highest peak on Antarctica, lying in the Sentinel Range of the Ellsworth Mountains, which stand above the Ronne Ice Shelf near the base of the Antarctic Peninsula. The mountain was first discovered in 1958 and first climbed in 1966. It is named after Carl Vinson – US Congressman from the state of Georgia and one of the main supporters of Antarctic research. The name Mount Vinson was officially designated by the USGS to the highest peak on the massif in 2006 (Source: Damien Gildea).

The first Irish born person to climb Mount Vinson 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 Mount Vinson 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 Mount Vinson 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 is Robert Kelso Smith from Tyrone who now lives in Fort William, Scotland. Robert is an accomplished mountain guide who has climbed Mount Vinson 20 times, but has also climbed Mt. Sidley (x2), Mount Sporli (1st ascent), Mount Shinn (5x), Mount Tyree, Sublime Peak (x2), Branscomb Peak and other smaller peaks in Antarctica and has completed an impressive seven ‘Last Degree’ expeditions to the South Pole.

The following Irish adventurers have climbed Mount Vinson 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 Kelso Smith – Tyrone – 2008/09 (x2)
– Robert Kelso Smith – Tyrone – 2009/10 (x2)

– Terry Kelleher – Dublin – 2010
– Albert Connaughton – Dublin – 2010
– Mary Scannell – Kerry – 2011
– Senan Foley – Cork – 2011
– Robert Kelso Smith – Tyrone – 2010/11 (x2)
– Robert Kelso Smith – Tyrone – 2012/13
– Paul Holland – Galway – 2013
– Robert Kelso Smith – Tyrone – 2013/14
– Paul Devaney – Longford – 2014
– Neill Elliott – Fermanagh – 2015
– Kevin Trundle – Cork – 2015
– Robert Kelso Smith – Tyrone – 2015/16 (x2)

– Steven Loughrey – Offaly – 2018
– Robert Kelso Smith – Tyrone – 2018/19 (x2)

– Diarmuid Morrissey – Westmeath – 2019
– Robert Kelso Smith – Tyrone – 2019/20

– Justin Condon – Dublin – 2020
– Robert Kelso Smith – Tyrone – 2020/21
– Robert Kelso Smith – Tyrone – 2021/22 (x3)
– Darragh Ó hAodha – Cork – 2022
– Tom Cleary – Dublin – 2022
– Louise McEvoy – Dublin/USA – 2022
– Chris Bell – Antrim – 2022
– Rory McHugh – Dublin – 2022
– Robert Kelso Smith – Tyrone – 2022/23 (x2)
– Robert Kelso Smith – Tyrone – 2023/24
– Johnny Ward – Down – 2024
– Ryan O’Sullivan – Sligo – 2024

It is difficult to be exact about how many have people have climbed Mount Vinson, or how many Irish climbers have reached the summit. These are the records 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.