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Tom Crean’s biography – why and how I wrote it.

Writing the book was a natural evolution for me after all my years posting stories about Tom Crean to the supporters of the Facebook page and group I created.

I’d known about Crean from a young age as my family has, and still has, strong connections in Annascaul. My father, from Keel, Co. Kerry, worked in Annascaul when Crean was still alive and Dad would often stay over at his sisters near the top of the village – my cousin and his family still live there today.

The South Pole Inn was the first place that roused my interest and then I came across an account of Crean’s heroism in an article written by Denis Barry in the Capuchin Annual of 1952. It was mesmerizing and I couldn’t believe such a man existed – it was all the better that he was born in a place I knew well.

Like everyone else I witnessed Crean’s story slowly coming out of the shadows in the 1990’s until it reached a peak around the millennium.

A statue, privately funded, was erected facing the South Pole Inn at the height of Crean’s new found popularity back in 2003 and then a continuum ensued. There were no politicians or leading lights calling for greater recognition and Tom Crean’s story became a legend consigned solely to social conversations. Sure, everyone seemed to revel and take pride in a fellow countryman undertaking unparalleled acts of heroism yet that’s about as far as it went.

I won’t go into the story of how the idea for a campaign for his national recognition came about as it’s all detailed in the book but we’re now at a point where we reached the goal of our campaign and RV Tom Crean, a scientific vessel was named in his honour after a government decision to provide Crean the official state recognition that he had long deserved. That it all came about through the efforts of a signatory to the Change petition I created in early 2017, provided a satisfying victory for an 11-year campaign to which almost 50,000 fans across the world subscribed to. 

Modern Ireland has matured since the days when there was little appetite for or interest in, a hero associated with the British establishment but to understand the era Tom Crean grew up in, is to understand that all that was needed by most Irish people at that time was a way to earn a living. That reason alone is why Crean sought better fortune at a time when his only other option would have been a life spent in poverty. He was a proud Irishman and an Irishman to take pride in and I still have great optimism that the Irish Government’s decision will be to name the planned new naval flagship in his honour.

I decided, in 2017, to write a book for two reasons, the first being that there was still a world of people unfamiliar with a story of huge inspiration that they are being denied and secondly, if it helped increase support for the campaign, then it had to be written.

And so my journey began. Visits to London searching through National Archive records, Trawling through internet and news archives anywhere I could to uncover more information about Tom Crean. Speaking with relatives of those he knew to try and obtain as much information as I could and I did. I liaised with archivists wherever I could find them – the Falkland Islands, Australia, New Zealand, South America, England, Scotland, Wales and of course, Ireland. All of these respected, expert archivists helped me to be able to tell Crean’s story.

It did feel at times, as if I was discovering his story for the first time as I unearthed a host of hitherto unpublished information on Tom Crean and imagine my delight, after many years of posting stories and images of Tom Crean, to discover two images that no-one in the current generation will have seen. Grainy they may be and there’s little can be done to enhance them but these two images were an absolute joy to find and their value is in the authenticity of the era they were first seen in.

Once I’d gathered all the information I now had at my disposal, it became clear that previous publications contained lots of misinformation put out there about Tom Crean and high audience platforms like Wikipedia were culpable of continuing this by using them as sources for the article entry for Tom Crean.

The Wikipedia article enjoys huge reach yet still it included a number of factual errors and a host of important events in Crean’s life and career are missing. In my rage against the machine I began working on a timeline that I’ve recently released. It’s a great free educational resource and I’ve written it in a simplified fashion so it’s suitable for everyone to understand. You can start it up and begin the journey here. 

Most recently I’d both proud and delighted that the Royal Irish Academy saw fit to revise the story of Tom Crean in the internationally acclaimed Dictionary of Irish Biography, a project they have collaborated upon with Cambridge University Press. This was confirmed to me in October 2020 and it happened after I submitted the entirety of my research carried out in preparation for writing the book.

Aside from his expeditions, Tom Crean’s well-traveled Navy career took him across the globe and there were very few places in this world that he had not set foot on. His travels took him across most of the countries in the Americas. He was active in USA, Chile, Peru, Nicaragua, Chile, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Africa and the list goes on and on.

Relatively little was known about his time in Ireland and so I was on a mission to discover as much as I could to build a picture of the man outside of his Antarctic exploits. To do this meant scouring the archives again and I found some wonderful resources. Among the most valuable and accurate of these are the first-hand accounts of those who knew him and I was fortunate to stumble upon the work of oral historians, Maurice and Jane O’Keefe, who had recorded interviews with a few people who did know Crean. One of these being his Crean’s Godson, John Knightly – the joy in his voice when talking about his Godfather Tom Crean, conveyed a relationship he treasured and missed and it was a pleasure and a great privilege to have been able to transcribe some of those lovely memories for my book.

I feel really proud to have documented an accurate and comprehensive story of a great man. Above all I hope his story helps to inspire people to undertake more selfless acts (or as I’ve re-christened them ‘Creanish Things’) by coming to the assistance of others when they most need it.

There are four chapters dedicated to his incredible acts of bravery in the book and as phenomenal as they are, they don’t define the man. There was a lot more to Tom Crean and my mission was to paint that picture as complete as I could. There was a natural ending missing though and that chapter lay in wait for the date Tom Crean was finally given the recognition he deserved.

Below, one of the images I uncovered in my research. A wonderful and rare photo featuring Tom Crean, never comfortable in the spotlight, peering out from behind Hussey and his banjo, taken in 1920 at the Royal Philharmonic Hall on the occasion of the centenary lecture given by ‘The Boss’ Shackleton, who sits left beside Frank Wild and Frank Worsley.

Tom Crean's biography - why and how I wrote it. Tom Crean Book
A century-old image featuring Tom Crean that was uncovered during research for the book.

Researching and writing Crean’s Life Story

Tom Crean's biography - why and how I wrote it. Tom Crean Book

My book, Crean — The Extraordinary Life of an Irish Hero, has been as much a labour of love for me as it has been a passion to see Tom Crean awarded the recognition he deserves from the country he loved.

For 3½ years I researched Crean’s story at some of the world’s most respected archives to be able to chronicle his story. In doing so I’ve unearthed a substantial amount of new information never before published about this incredible man and I became aware of many errors that exist in the existing timeline of his life.

In mid-2020 I presented a 7,000 word document and three folders containing files and sub-folders of the sources I used as references and notes to write the book. Used as evidence of inaccuracies and missing information, this was submitted to the Royal Irish Academy after I offered to share the research I’ve gathered over the period of my investigating Crean’s life in preparation for writing his biography.

In an update of huge importance, on October 2nd, 2020, I received confirmation from the Royal Irish Academy, that the entry for Tom Crean in the internationally recognised, Dictionary of Irish Biography, would be revised in light of the evidence I provided them. Substantial revisions to Crean’s story were officially announced on March 17th 2021.

Tom Crean's biography - why and how I wrote it. Tom Crean Book

For children, and because existing children’s books about Crean also contain a number of inaccuracies, I have written a book specifically for 6-10 year-olds. Tom The Mighty Explorer. The book is based on my findings while researching Crean’s life. The story contains 27 fully illustrated images, 4 maps and a fun interactive section.

To discover more about Tom Crean and how to purchase any of the formats of the books you can read more at

Because of my research Tom Crean's story has changed so do please share the posts.
    Tom Crean's biography - why and how I wrote it. Tom Crean Book    

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