Tom Crean & the South Pole Inn

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.


after the beach at Inch, our second day of hiking brought us into a picturesque glacial valley and the town of Anascaul, which straddles one of the main roads into Dingle. we had our lodging booked in a B&B over a pub right where the hiking path entered town. as we came down the hill, a youngish guy working in the back garden next to our destination stopped and asked if we’d been walking from Camp today and if we had a reservation at (some other) B&B. his inquiry was the only indication that there were more than four of us hiking the Dingle Way on our schedule and pace.

after our usual post-hike shower and lie-down routine, we headed down the road to a different pub, recommended to us by the guy who served us lunch in Inch. the South Pole Inn had quite the crowd of families out enjoying the weather and a bite to eat on a covered patio. to add to the ambiance, a guy with a guitar was set up at a microphone just beside the door to the pub and performed an array of popular music and Irish tunes. there was a little kid (still in diapers but excitedly mobile) who timidly made overtures towards the musician, who tried to encourage him to come up and sing a song, or ask one of his parents to come up and sing a song. in the end the you guy decided he’d rather just run around at full tilt, sometimes towards the busy road to his parents’ chagrin. towards the end of our dinner, a woman chatted with the performer and got him to call her (not really timid) friend up to sing a song with him. she did, after stubbing out her cigarette and taking a slug of her pint, and it wasn’t half bad. I would never consider doing something like that, but it wasn’t the only time we saw it happen.

the pub, which stood next to a shallow river (named after either a local legend, known as the “Ford of Heros” or as the “River of Shadows”), was once home to Tom Crean (about which more later). the other famous local son was sculptor Jerome Connor, who has a notable work in Washington, D.C. it was, as I said, fairly well trafficked, and Anascaul, on balance, was one of the more bustling towns we visited — probably something to do with it’s location on a major road and a fair number of houses in the surrounding valley. as we descended the long straight road into town, we saw a sign for the Anascaul Walkers Club with an advert for an upcoming trek to the lake across the valley in a spectacular U-shaped glacial basin. farther than we’d ever consider adding to our trek on day three, but certainly worth the effort if driving around the peninsula.

Dick Mack’s, take two

my second night in Dingle, I came upon a group of ladies from Michigan in search of a pub listed in Rick Steves, reported to have good craic. since I’d been walking around town all day, I knew precisely where they were headed and offered to show them the way. turned out, there wasn’t any music on at the time we wandered through, so we ended up at Dick Mack’s again, just as their live music was wrapping up for the night. we got our pints and headed around to the front sitting room and chatted, and all the while the pub continued to fill up. apparently Wednesdsay night was good enough for going out, and for drawing all manner of visitors to Dingle.

we’d been sitting and chatting about travel, and Michigan, and the system of higher education in the United States, and my thesis (it was quite something to have someone express interest in learning more about my subject for the first time in a year and a half–leave it to someone who teaches on gender issues at the collegiate level to be interested, how fantastic!). just as we rid ourselves of the unwanted attentions of the pub drunk, one of the young women from a group in the next room over decided to pull up a rickety stool to the piano and began to play.

it was something you’d certainly never see in the states, and it wasn’t something that I saw happen anywhere else. this fashionablly dressed thing, who couldn’t have been more than twenty years old, pounding out reels on a creaky old piano, implored by her friends and other patrons of the bar to play one more, eventually inspiring someone to track down a guitar and other additional instruments to start up the music again. the reels got people talking about dance, and it came out that one of the pianists friends was quite the traditional dancer; after much imploring she was induced to take off her spike heels, take hold of her (very) short skirt (they were clearly out for a “girls night”, maybe even a hen party) and started dancing along with the impromptu music session. thad kind of stuff, that’s what people mean when they talk about the craic: my second night at Dick Mack’s in Dingle was definitely good craic.

Dick Mack’s, take one

after meeting up with Nico and Kelly in Cork (finally!), we made our way to Dingle on the *other* famous peninsula in Co. Kerry. we stayed at a great hostel called the Hideout that had, bar none (yes, that’s right BAR NONE) the best bathroom I experienced in my two weeks of travel. just thinking about it now is making me happy.
anyway, there’s not a lot to Dingle; it’s a tourist destination and it’s got a lot of pubs. probably about a dozen within a couple of blocks from the hostel. of course, most everything in town is within a couple of blocks of the city center.

after settling in and finding some dinner, we headed out to find some craic at one of the pubs. we’d all heard positive things about Dick Mack’s, so we headed around the block in search of it. at the very least, Nico wanted a picture in front of it, but there was some music coming from inside, so we thought we’d brave the entrance and give this, the first of the truly authentic local pubs we’d found a try.

originally, as with many pubs in Ireland, and many of the pubs in Dingle in particular, in years past, Dick Mack’s served a dual purpose. by day it was a leatherworks shop, and at night the cobbler’s tools were tucked away and the place opened up as a pub. the daytime uses have been retired, but the interior was certainly one of the most unique pubs I set foot in. in the main room, in addition to the bar and a fantastic snug, there’s a long work bench that doubled as space for musicians to gather (through the door on the right in the picture). around the corner, there are two sitting rooms (for lack of a better phrase); in one there’s a fireplace and in the other there are shelves (behind the window in the left corner). on the walls of both rooms, there are paintings that depict scenes of those rooms as it appeared in a previous life. and in these two rooms, our amusement of an evening occurred. twice. and both times my party was accosted by the pub drunk.

the first night, after Kelly flatly refused to respond to his persistent (and annoying) inquiries, he got a little belligerent and said some rather unflattering and rude things. after Nico told him in no uncertain terms to bugger off (subtlety did not work), though, he did. later on one of the publicans came through, collecting glasses, and after we mentioned the confrontation, he expressed a degree of sheepishness about the drunkard.
the second night, the people I was with (Nico & Kelly had already headed back to Dublin) seemed more inclined to engage him in conversation, despite the fact that he got a rather lecherous look in his eyes when the youngest of our party (a soft-spoken blond) got a fit of the giggles. discussion of Leonard Cohen ensued, but eventually the drunk moved on.

the black stuff

there’s a knack to pouring Guinness. doing it properly requires a double pour, and takes a couple of minutes to settle. the first 3/4 of the pour goes in to the glass at a 45 degree angle. then you set it aside while it settles — the Guinness cascade. it is wonderfully fascinating to watch. once the black stuff settles, the remainder is poured slowly until the head forms a slight dome over the top of the glass (or at least it should … i had a pint or two that didn’t quite suffice).

and despite being dark, a pint of Guinness has fewer calories than skim milk or orange juice. the Guinness diet works for me!

more on Belfast pubs: the Duke of York & Crown Bar

on my walking tour of Belfast, since it was early afternoon, we popped in to the Duke of York pub, just around the corner from St. Anne’s Cathedral. the area surrounding the pub was once the hub of newspaper publishing in Belfast. the Belfast Telegraph, Irish News, and Sunday World are still located in the area and paraphernalia from the old presses hang on the walls of the Duke of York. (see the first photo)

they also have quite a collection of whiskey signs, most notably here, Old Bushmill’s, which is distilled on in Bushmills on the Antrim Coast.

the Crown Bar Liquor Saloon over the road from the Hotel Europa is also quite something to behold, and worth a look if you’re in Belfast. it has the best snugs I saw anywhere in my travels, and they were all filled up when I stopped in for dinner. because it’s just across from the Hotel Europa, it suffered repeated damage from bomb blasts. but through it all it survived and provides a visual feast to go with your pint of Guinness or tumbler of whiskey.


one of the many pubs claiming “oldest” something, this one in Belfast.
many of the older establishments are hidden in back alleys, for reasons dating to initial phases of settlement and plantation. because of the proximity to Scotland, many of the earliest non-native Irish settlers to Northern Ireland were of conservative Scot persuasion. with them, these Scots brought certain ideas about the display of vices. in other words, the enjoyment of spirits had to go on in back alleys where nosy neighbors or religious leaders wouldn’t spot you succumbing to vice. as an additional consequence, often situated next to these pubs were gambling halls. immediately to my left as i took this picture was a Paddy Power betting spot. (which, i just discovered, is the official betting partner of RTE, Ireland’s national television and radio broadcaster.) stand in front of a pub pretty much anywhere and there’ll be a betting hall within sight.

more to come …


full day and a half in Cork. arrived earlier than expected day before last on a bus from Dublin, after one from Belfast. spent Sunday afternoon walking around the city — Beamish Distillery, St. Fin Barre’s cathedral, City Hall, Patrick Street and around. finally sorted meeting up with Nicolette & Kelly (they actually came down from Belfast by train yesterday, rather than Sunday), and had an amazing night’s sleep at the hostel in MacCurtain Street.

yesterday more walking around Cork City — the weather has been fantastic thus far! and then i took a bus out to Midelton to see the Jameson Distillery and the kitchy ‘Jameson Experience Midleton’. the distillery bit is quite interesting, but the tour is somewhat perfunctory, seems like it’s designed for the tourist who doesn’t much care about the history of the company or who has a limited understanding of the English language. the facility we toured, however, was in constant use from the time the complex was built in the 1840s (?) until 1975. the process has now been moved to a newer complex on the same sight, where all whiskey (except for that produced by Bushmills) is produced.

back in Cork, we went out for dinner at a restaurant down the road with a waterfall in the courtyard. very posh compared to where/what i’ve been eating so far! after sitting for a bit, we went to explore the city centre and ended up having some pints and participating in a pub quiz. (and ran into about a dozen students from USD, who are attending the University of Cork … wait, i thought i was in Ireland … ?)

today, picking up the car and heading north.