during our lunch in Inch, the guy serving our lunch asked about our plans (our packs may have tipped him off to our hiking) and, upon learning we would spend the night in Annascaul, recommended a pub with good food, beer, and craic in the main road. that pub was the South Pole Inn, once owned by Antarctic explorer and native son Tom Crean.
Crean was born in a farming hamlet near Annascaul in 1877, Crean enlisted in the Royal Navy a handful of days before his sixteenth birthday at the nearby Minard Inlet (site of the castle of the same name). within six years he’d risen from “boy second class” to “petty officer, second class.” in 1900 he was posted to a ship in the New Zealand Squadron and a year later, when Robert Scott’s Discovery expedition required a replacement for an able seaman who deserted, Crean volunteered. he distinguished himself during the expedition, receiving praise from the ship’s second mate and fellow seamen. when the Discovery became locked in ice in 1902, and efforts to extricate the ship the following summer failed, Crean remained behind in the Antarctic until the ship was freed in February 1904. upon returning to civilization, Crean received a promotion to petty officer, first class, at Scott’s recommendation, and returned to regular duty (and eventually torpedo school) in England. Scott eventually requested Crean join his crew and the latter followed the former through a series of ships and posts.
Crean was one of Scott’s first selections when organizing his crew for the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition. Crean accompanied Scott much of the way to the South Pole, but was ordered to turn back, along with two other men, while Scott and several others continued on towards the Pole. Crean’s group barely returned safely, but Scott’s group did not return at all.
in 1913, Crean received a Polar Medal (as did all surviving members of the expedition) and an Albert Medal (for his part in saving the life of Edward Evans after parting ways with Scott’s group), bestowed by the King in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
a year later, Crean joined Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Transantarctic Expedition as second mate, picking up all manner of duties including responsibility of one of the dog teams when the hired Canadian wrangler failed to show up. when the Endurance was trapped and eventually sunk by pack ice, Crean helped navigate lifeboats carrying the surviving crew in lifeboats to Elephant Island. he carried on with Shackleton with a team of eight set off for South Georgia to orchestrate a rescue operation. after successfully completing the 800-nautical-mile journey, Shackleton, Crean, and another man (Worsley), were forced to trek 30 statue miles across the glaciated island on foot as the rudder of their reinforced lifeboat had broken off when landing on the island. they made it and, after three attempts, Shackleton rescued the men stranded on Elephant Island.
Crean returned to England in 1916, and received a third Polar Medal for his service on the Endurance. he married an Annascaul woman in 1917 and spent most of the First World War stationed in Chatham barracks and later on a depot ship in Ireland. in 1920, Shackleton invited him to join another Antarctic expedition but, having settled down and recently welcomed a second daughter, Crean declined. he was retired from the navy on medical grounds, following a fall that effected his vision. he and his wife, Ellen, returned to Annascaul and opened the South Pole Inn. they ran the public house together until Crean suffered a burst appendix in 1938 and, following a delay in having it removed due to difficulty finding a doctor (he was first taken to Tralee and then later on to Cork as no surgeon was available in Tralee), died of an resulting infection, aged 61.
today, the South Pole Inn is a bustling local pub with live music on the patio during warm months, serving typical Irish fare and a lager from the Dingle Brewing Company named in Crean’s honor. a statue of Crean stands in the park across the street, erected in 2003.