Men from different classes who were a class Irish double act.
There’s little doubt that song and humour played a vital part in the historic story of survival that brought about the greatest rescue in Polar history and that Tom Crean and Sir Ernest Shackleton were often centre-stage in providing that entertainment.
Frank Worsley recalled, as a summary of their relationship, that there was a “quaint sort of mimic bickering” between the two Irishmen.
The ‘hoosh’ that provided their only nourishment on their journey had become infested with Reindeer hairs from the sleeping bags in the confined hull that was their home as the James Caird lifeboat made its way across the harshest sea conditions on the planet heading towards South Georgia, Worsley recalled:
‘It was partly chaff and partly a comic revolt against the conditions. Tom Crean had been so long and done so much with Sir Ernest he had become a privileged retainer. As these two watchmates turned in, a kind of wordless rumbling, muttering, growling noise could be heard issuing from the dark and gloomy lair in the bows, sometimes at things in general and sometimes at nothing at all.
At times they were so full of quaint conceits and Crean’s remarks were so Irish that I ran the risk of explosion by suppressed laughter.
‘Go to sleep Crean and don’t be clucking like an old hen.’ “Boss, I can’t eat those old reindeer hairs or I’ll have an inside on me like a Billy Goats neck. Let’s give ’em to the Skipper, (Worsley) and McCarthy. They’ll never know what they’re eating…..” .
On another occasion Worsley made a none too flattering mention of Crean’s lack of singing talent:
“Crean was making noises at the helm that we found by a Sherlock Holmes system of deduction represented “The Wearin’ o’ the Green”. Another series of sounds, however, completely baffled us”
It’s clear from other similar tales that Tom Crean and Sir Ernest Shackleton enjoyed a healthy respect for one another in a humorous, quarrelsome relationship that entertained their crewmates. That entertainment factor wasn’t quite so apparent when they, as they often did, lead the singing together, their favourite song being ‘The Wearing of the Green’. Neither could sing for toffee but you could argue they were the original Snow Patrol.
On their historic mountain trek across South Georgia, an interview from the Irish Life and Lore oral history archives with an Annascaul acquaintance of Tom Crean’s, reveals how Crean came to the aid of his friend and leader, Shackleton. It would be an act typical of Crean’s nature and it comes as no surprise that the deed was never documented in official accounts of the journey.
When news of Shackleton’s passing reached Crean in early 1922, the Kerryman must have felt it deeply yet while researching the book I was unable to convey the sadness Crean must have felt through his own words. The man who Crean and his expedition colleagues, knew respectfully as ‘Boss,’ received numerous accolades from those who knew him and Crean’s, had it been documented, would have been among the highest.
Researching and writing Crean’s Life Story
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.
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 the books you can read more at https://tomcreanbook.com/about-the-book/