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Dublin: 14 °C Monday 16 July, 2018
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'When you come here, you get a warm feeling': The South Pole Inn is anything but chilly

The story of the pub that belonged to Antarctic explorer Tom Crean.

IN ANNASCAUL, CO Kerry, is a pub devoted to serving pints and preserving the legacy of the great Tom Crean.

The renowned Antarctic explorer originally hailed from the village, but left as a teenager to join the Royal Navy. Thus began a life of adventure for the Kerryman who participated in three Antarctic expeditions and was awarded an Albert Medal for his heroism.

Crean eventually found his way back to Annascaul and opened The South Pole Inn with his wife in 1927.

Over ninety years on and the pub is still alive and kicking. It has, however, changed hands and is now run by Gary Percival and his family.

His mother originally came from Annascaul, but moved to England with her family as there was no work in the area. She spent forty years there, but always had a yearning to return home. Then she was presented with an opportunity she couldn’t turn down.

“In 1999, the pub was up for lease,” explains Gary Percival. “We came back and took over the pub. We’ve been running it ever since.”

Having grown up in England, Gary wasn’t too familiar with Tom Crean and his achievements.

“I was aware that he had been with Scott, but I didn’t know the full story at all,” he explains. Little was known about Crean anyway. A guarded man, he had never kept a diary and did few interviews.

But in 2000, author Michael Smith published his biography of the explorer and shed a light on Crean and his achievements.

“That really helped because up to that point, we were telling people all we did know. Then the book came out and we obviously read every inch of it and absorbed it all.”

Percival says he now delivers anything from 300 to 400 talks a year to people who make the trip to The South Pole Inn.

“There’s two distinct types of people who visit. There’s people who are really into polar exploration – we call them Frozen Beards. It’s like a pilgrimage for them to come here. Then there are people who are just on the peninsula or in Killarney.”

“We probably get four or five schools every year that come into us. That’s quite cool. It’s nice knowing that children are learning about Tom Crean.”

The pub itself is populated with photos of Crean taken by Herbert Ponting and Frank Hurley, the two photographers who were tasked with documenting the famed Antarctic expeditions.

Upstairs, meanwhile, is a gallery devoted to another of Annascaul’s famous sons. Jerome Connor was a sculptor who left Annascaul for the United States as a teenager. He found enormous success there and his public sculptures can still be seen in Washington DC, New York City and Georgetown University.

Connor returned to Ireland in the 1920s, but failed to find the same work here and died penniless. He left a selection of his works to the people of Annascul. The works are now housed upstairs in The South Pole Inn.

Perhaps this is why Percival likens the pub to a “working museum”.

“You come in, you have a pint, and you can learn about Tom Crean. You don’t have to be quiet when you’re looking around. It’s still a pub.”

So what about food and drink? Its proximity to the coast means it specialises in fresh seafood. Additionally, it will soon stock Expedition Ale, a red ale brewed by Crean’s granddaughter. The pub previously stocked Crean’s Lager until Dingle Brewing Company went into liquidation.

“It’s being brewed by a new company now and we don’t stock it because it’s not local. We’re sticking with the Crean family.”

While the Creans are no longer involved with the South Pole Inn, Percival maintains close ties with the family. Indeed, members of the Crean family are due to present medals after the Tom Crean Endurance Walk, an 18-mile trek organised to coincide with the forthcoming Tom Crean Festival (June 17th – 18th).

While he may have been reluctant to trumpet his own achievements during his lifetime, Tom Crean needn’t have worried about being forgotten.

As long as Gary Percival and his family are here, neither Crean nor The South Pole Inn will be forgotten any time soon.

We want to promote Tom Crean even though he probably didn’t want to promote himself when he was here, if you know what I mean. We’re proud of him.

There’s something special about the place. There’s a character. You know, sometimes you walk into a place and you feel unwelcome? Or people stare at you and make you feel like that? When you come here, you get a warm feeling and not just because the heating is on. It’s not just the staff. It’s the building itself has that feeling.

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Amy O'Connor

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