Shackleton Autumn School
Athy, Co Kildare, Ireland

"The world's best polar gathering!"

Bank Holiday weekend, October 2006-2011

Excerpts from past trip reports relating to the annual gathering at Athy.
Tends to be repetitive but you'll get the flavor of the event.




LAUNCHED: 31 October 2010.       LAST UPDATED: 28 November 2011


Accessed at least many times since 31 October 2010.



   2006
   2007
   2008
   2009
   2010
   2011


2006


Friday 27 October 2006. …We … drove to Athy, perhaps three-quarters of an hour away, for the opening of the 6th Annual Shackleton Autumn School. We arrived just as the wine supply was diminishing. A good crowd including the usual Antarcticans: Zaz Shackleton, Margot Morrell, Joe O'Farrell, Bob Headland, Bob and Jackie Burton, Paul Davies, et al. The three-day event was opened by a talk by David Norris, a name not known to me but apparently very well known in Ireland (member of the Irish Senate, Joycean scholar, writer).
      After the opening, Carol, Arthur, Jonathan and I went to La Scala (see below) for an Italian dinner.

I was put up at the Carlton Abbey Hotel, a brand new, very nice hotel in what not long ago was a convent for the adjoining church (which is still very much in business). My room was large and comfortable; the bathroom, better and bigger than mine. The former chapel is now the bar and restaurant. One glitch: They misspelled 'Shackleton' on the directory.

     


Saturday 28 October 2006. After a 'full Irish breakfast' with Zaz, Margot and Bob Headland, went off to the Athy Heritage Centre, less than a ten minute stroll away, for the start of the day's program. Out front of the Centre was the "camp" of the Antarctic Adventurers, Mick Parker and John Reid, enthusiastic heroic age Antarctic reenactors. They would be there for the entire weekend.

First up was Seamus McCann who gave an excellent talk on his seal research in South Georgia. Next was Joe O'Farrell on the Ross Sea Party; again, an excellent presentation.

After lunch–the presenters repaired to the Castle Hotel– Margot Morrell spoke on 'the making of a bestseller,' based on her experience researching and writing her book 'Shackleton's Way.'
The last talk of the day was by Jarlath Cunnane recounting his voyage through both the Northwest and Northeast Passages in a not-very-large aluminum sailboat.

That evening we repaired to the Clanard Court Hotel on the outskirts of Athy, another brand new hotel of a design I would not have expected to see in Ireland (Las Vegas perhaps). We had a good meal and a bit of entertainment including Bob Headland with his always amusing recount of "silly questions asked by Antarctic tourists." Cliff Wedgbury sang a few songs and even got the audience involved.

     

And here I am with Joe O 'Farrell.

With the Banquet behind us we realized that the night was still young so once back in Athy some of us headed to O'Briens where we settled into the back room. Irish pubs like O'Briens–a shop or service in the front (in this case, a grocery) and a bar in back–are apparently disappearing fast. Too bad, there's a lot of charm here and no pretense. I gather that Frank O'Brien is an institution in Athy and very supportive of all things Shackleton. Over the windows (hard to make out here) the lettering reads "Sweet Athy forever." Here's Frank with Zaz Shackleton; also Seamus McCann in conversation with Bob Burton.

           

Well, we closed up O'Briens but still weren't ready to call it a night, so off to the Carlton Abbey Hotel for a nightcap. Here Joe O'Farrell is making a point and Zaz seems particularly animated much to my pleasure.

     


Sunday 29 October 2006. First order of business was to find where I left my briefcase the night before. Filled with things like passport, money, camera, air tickets, etc. So after breakfast headed to the Heritage Centre and bumped into Seamus Taaffe. I thought the case might have been left at O'briens. So Seamus rang the buzzer (Frank lives above the pub) and sure enough Frank had found it, so all was well. Seamus and I went off for a cup of coffee and soon after were back at the Centre. My talk was the first one of the day and seemed to go well. Sunday morning is a good time for something that doesn't require much thought! Bob Headland came next (better than the other way around), speaking on "Attainment of the North Pole, a Historical Account."
      I skipped the showing of the Byrd film after lunch but reconvened to be in the 'Open Forum' at 4:30, the concluding event that afternoon. That evening had dinner in the former chapel at the hotel with Jonathan Shackleton, Joe O'Farrell, the Burtons, Bob Headland, then back to the Heritage Centre for the very well done one-woman dramatic piece "A Father for my Son," presented by Jenny Coverak. This is based on the life of Captain Scott's wife, Kathleen. Of course, after the show, we had to pay another visit to O'Briens.


2007


Friday 26 October 2007. …The Tourist office opened at 9 and I picked up a map and bought a ticket for a city bus tour which took about 1-1/2 hours and well worth it. Afterwards walked across the Liffey and up Grafton Street which is now a pedestrian street and lined mostly by chain stores. Had fish n' chips and a pint at The Duke off of Grafton Street. Walked back to the bus station and took the 1:30 bus to Athy. Heavy traffic but a nice ride of an hour or so.
Left my bag at the Heritage Center, said hello to Margaret Walsh and had a look around. Soon I was across the way at O'Brien's, the unofficial headquarters of the annual Shackleton Autumn School.


This was the second year in a row that I had come to Athy. It's always a good time for those interested in the Antarctic and Shackleton.
Present were Kevin Kenny, who I remembered from last year, and Frank O'Brien's daughter, Judith, behind the bar. Enjoyed a pint.
About 6:30 went across to the Heritage Center for the opening reception. People began filtering in: Jonathan and Arthur Shackleton arrived, Bob Headland, Bob Burton, Zaz, Joe O'Farrell. Several glasses of wine. Then a talk by Kevin Myers, well known in Ireland as a former columnist for the Irish Times. Gave a controversial talk on immigration. John McKenna—just a he did with Margot last year—made pointed comments from the rear.
Afterwards, Jonathan, the two Bobs, Jackie Burton and Joe O'Farrell went to Joe's (!) Chinese Restaurant for a good meal to end the day.

Saturday 27 October 2007. A big Irish breakfast at Arthur's and then into Athy just as things were starting. Bob Headland began things with a overview of Arctic exploration as it related to sovereignty issues. He was followed by Will Gow on the Shackleton Centenary Expedition (a somewhat questionable undertaking, some think). Jonathan, Paul Davies and I had lunch at The Bay Tree. The afternoon session started with a good talk by Max Jones on Captain Scott and the question of heroes. David Tatham followed with a talk on the biographical dictionary he's preparing on South Georgia.
Once the sessions ended, repaired to O'Brien's for a pint,


Bob Headland and Frank O'Brien in O'Brien's back room.


Paul Davies and Joe O'Farrell.


Jonathan Shackleton.

then off to shop for Sunday night dinner. Jonathan and I then headed for Frank Taaffe's house for a very nice cocktail party. A marvelous house with lovely furniture and furnishings and filled with books: his, Seamus's and another son's. Three collections under one roof.
From Frank's we drove to the outskirts of Athy to the Clenard Courtyard Hotel for the Autumn School Dinner. Salmon or Beef. This hotel could be found in any American suburb; nothing Irish about it. But still a good time.

Max Jones on the left; Bob and Jackie Burton on the right.


David Tatham, Zaz and Seamus Taaffe.

Sunday 28 October 2007. Back into Athy. First session a very good program by Bob Burton, the theme being the importance of penguins to the success and survival of Antarctic expeditions. Very interesting. A substitute for the next speaker was from the National Trust and spoke on conservation issues related to the historic huts. Next a rundown on the International Polar Year. In the afternoon there was a Korean feature-length very bizarre movie which I'm at a loss to explain. Things ended up with Bob Headland moderating an open forum.


2008


Friday 24 October 2008. …Afterwards we headed to the Central Bus Station and not long after were on our way to Athy, most of the time in terrible traffic.
Arrived about 6 pm and encountered Joe O'Farrell as we approached the Athy Heritage Centre. He was headed for O'Brien's and we followed.


The Athy Heritage Centre, the official conference venue for the Shackleton Autumn School.


O'Brien's, the unofficial conference venue for the Shackleton Autumn School.


Bob Headland, Regina Daly and Jonathan Shackleton at O'Briens.


Inside were Bob Headland, Bob and Jackie Burton, Zaz and some others. I said hello to Frank and his daughter, Judith, who both seem the same as a year ago. Had a pint and relaxed. The others head over to Joe's Chinese Restaurant for dinner. I stay and chat with Frank and soon Regina shows up after having got settled at her bed and breakfast. She orders in a pizza.
At 7:30 we go across to the Opening Reception of the weekend at the Heritage Centre. Lots of wine and conversation. Among those there (other than those mentioned above): Stuart Leggatt, Frank and Seamus Taaffe, Noel Shackleton, Arthur and Carol Booth Shackleton, Huw Lewis-Jones, Kari Herbert, and more.


Carol Booth Shackleton, Arthur Shackleton and Zaz (Shackleton, of course).



Joe O'Farrell, in a characteristic pose, talking to Ernie Coleman.



Booksellers Bernie Louser (Vancouver) and Stuart Leggatt (London).



Kari Herbert, Huw Lewis-Jones and Geraldine McDonald.



Bob Headland making a point with Seamus Taaffe.



Noel Shackleton (right) ponders something Jonathan Shackleton (left) is saying.



Frank Taaffe, who started it all 8 years ago.


Saturday 25 October 2008. Not a great day, rain off and on. Drove to Athy getting there at about 10:30 just as things were starting. (All the speakers throughout the weekend were very good, I thought.) Lunch at the The Bay Tree (a BLT) across the road with Jonathan, Regina, Paul Davies and Fergus O'Gorman. To O'Brien's at the end of the day and then out to Frank Taaffe's for drinks. I photograph the stencils and inscription of Seamus' Aurora Australis.


Rob having a look at Seamus' Aurora. (Photo: Jonathan Shackleton.)


From there to the Clanard Court Hotel for the banquet. About the same as the past two years. Enjoyed the salmon. There was traditional Irish music afterwards…

Sunday 26 October 2008. Back into Athy after another nice breakfast at Fruitlawn. First talk was Huw Lewis-Jones, which was very good. Polar photography. Sandwiches and a beer at O'Brien's.

Monday 27 October 2008. It looks like a nice start to the day. Up and after breakfast we head back into Athy and board the bus for a tour of 'Shackleton Country' led by John MacKenna. To Kilkea, Castledermot and Ballitore (where we stopped for coffee and carrot cake).


2009




Once an abbey, our hotel is only a few steps away from the Heritage Centre and O'Briens.


Friday 23 October 2009. I was pleased to see that the misspelling of Shackleton's name in the lobby has finally been corrected after three years!


Although Shackleton is now spelled correctly, Restaurant is still missing an A. Left (2006), right (2009).


Have a drink or two in our suite, then wander over to Joe's Chinese Restaurant where some of the usual suspects are about to tuck into dinner: Zaz, Joe O'Farrell, Bob Headland, Kevin Kenny, Russell Potter, et al. We're then just in time for the Autumn School's opening reception at 7:30. The place is jumping. The first event is the launch of Regina Daly's new book The Shackleton Letters: Behind the Scenes of the Nimrod Expedition. Regina says a few words. Soon after we go upstairs to hear the keynote speaker, Caroline Casey, a blind woman (I can't tell) who gives an inspirational talk largely about disabilities.


Regina Daly launches her new book to those assembled including Joe O'Farrell and Duncan Lawie.


Once that's over it's not hard to guess where the action moves to—O'Briens, a mere hundred feet or so away. Frank O'Brien is present as usual, seemingly the same from year-to-year. And his daughter, Judith, who has trimmed down since last year and looks terrific.


O'Brien's, the unofficial conference venue for the Shackleton Autumn School.


The front room at O'Briens; still a functioning grocery.


The back room at O'Briens. Lady Herbert and her daughter, Kari, Huw Lewis-Jones and Russell Potter.


The back back room at O'Briens. Zaz Shackleton, Joe O'Farrell and the man himself, Frank O'Brien.


More activity at Obrien's: Bob Headland expostulating to Bruce Larsen and Kevin Kenny.
And Joe O'Farrell singing show tunes to Geraldine McDonald, Wendy Driver, Pauline Young and Kari Herbert.


Saturday 24 October 2009. The first session begins at 10:30 (a very civilized time given the activities at O'briens the night before). The speaker is Hans-Kjell Larsen; his subject, his grandfather, Carl Anton Larsen, ship's captain, explorer and founder of Grytviken on South Georgia. His talk explains the presence of the "Larsen Triplets" from Norway, Torill Flyen from Boston and the Larsens from Jaffrey.


Hans-Kjell with Bruce Larsen at Frank Taaffe's house.


Sandwiches and beer at O'Briens for lunch, then the afternoon sessions.
Before the banquet Saturday night we go out to the Taaffe's lovely house for drinks and to view Frank's and Seamus's collections. Talk about books!


Mike Tarver inspects the treasures.


Out to the Clanard Court Hotel for the Banquet. David Wilson and I oversee the 'Nimrod Quiz', each table contesting. And then some traditional Irish music.


The boys from Clancy's entertain us.


On conclusion, back to Athy and another session at O'Briens.

Sunday 25 October 2009. Michael Rosove gives a good talk on Shackleton books to start the morning off. I then show a few photos of my new library in Jaffrey, concluding with my "Antarctic Council" slide, a Photoshopped version of Stephen Pearce's "Arctic Council."


Stephen Pearce's 'Arctic Council'. . . and his little known 'Antarctic Council planning the 9th Annual Shackleton Autumn School.'


Lunch. Guess where? Then back for the concluding sessions.
At the end of the day we have a party at our suite with all the Larsen relatives present.


A Larsen get-together: Hans-Kjell Larsen, Else Åbø, Bruce Larsen, Kari Flyen, Lill Egeland, Torill Flyen, Sally Larsen and non-Larsen Bob Headland.


Following that we move next door for dinner in the hotel. The bar/grille was once the chapel for the abbey with all the woodwork and stained glass preserved. After dinner, faced with the choice of attending a theatrical performance or making an appearance at O'Briens, some of us choose the latter (and learn later that our's was the better choice).

Monday 26 October 2009. A bright and blue morning. Check out of the hotel and congregate at the Heritage Centre to do the Shackleton tour with Frank Taaffe as leader. Off by Bus. First stop is Kilkea House, where Shackleton was born. On to Ballitore to vsit Mary Leadbeater's house and the Quaker meeting house. Refreshments at the Shaker Store.


Our tour guide, Frank Taaffe, in front of the Athy Heritage Centre. Our group in front of Shackleton's birthplace, Kilkea House.



2010


Friday 22 October 2010. An early breakfast, packed up and took the tube to Heathrow in plenty of time for my flight to Dublin. Arrived and took the bus directly to Heuston Station where I bought a ticket to Athy. In the past I've always taken the bus but, given the Bank Holiday congestion, the train seemed worth trying out. I caught the 3:10 train and although every seat was taken and I had to stand, at least until the first stop, this proved to be the way to go.


The train from Dublin to Athy. Not an empty seat.


About an hour to Athy. I walked from the station to the Carlton Abbey Hotel and was soon ensconced in a very nice room, arranged by Margaret Walsh at the Heritage Centre. This was the third time I've stayed in the hotel which was once an abbey. Highly recommended. Once settled in I went down to the lobby and encountered Bob Headland. We walked to the unofficial headquarters of the gathering, O'Briens, and had a pint. Kevin Kenny was there, also Fergus O'Gorman. A little later Bob, Kevin, Joe O'Farrell, Chet Ross and others repaired to the nearby Chinese restaurant and had a good meal.


Once an abbey, my hotel is only a few steps away from the Heritage Centre.



The Shackleton Autumn School banner on the Athy Heritage Centre.


Then to the reception a few steps away at the Heritage Centre followed by a book launch of Chet's Shirase bibliography—attended by the Japanese ambassador to Ireland—followed by a stirring though lengthy talk by "Irelands leading journalist" Fintan O'Toole. In attendance were Jonathan and Daphne Shackleton, Zaz, of course, the Taaffes (who started the whole thing ten years ago), Frank O'Brien, Hew Lewis-Jones and Kari Herbert, Jim McAdam and Geraldine McDonald, Bob and Jackie Burton, Rick and Suzy Dehmel, Mike Tarver, Noel Shackleton, John Shackleton, Meredith Hooper, Tim Baughman, those already mentioned and a host of others.


The opening reception at the Heritage Centre.


Afterwards, many repaired to O'Briens to the early hours of the next day.


In O'Brien's back room: Bob Headland, Geraldine McDonald and Zaz Shackleton.


Saturday 23 October 2010. The first session wasn't until 10:30 so there was time to dawdle over breakfast. All the sessions were interesting and well-done as usual. Had a lunch of soup and a pint at O'Briens and afterwards a plaque on the Heritage Centre honoring Ernest Shackleton was unveiled by Zaz.


Zaz doing what Zaz does best—unveiiling a plaque to her grandfather.


At the end of the day many of us had the pleasure of once again going out to Frank and Bridge Taaffe's beautiful house on the outskirts of Athy where we enjoyed drinks and hors d'oeuvres and, of course, all the books, downstairs and out in the new garden library.


At the Taaffe's. Celebrating 10 years of the Autumn School (and looking at a lot of books).



Frank's new library in the garden.


The banquet this year was at the Carlton Abbey making for improved logistics.


At the banquet— Chet Ross, Seamus and Miriam Taaffe.


In other years the entertainment was mostly traditional Irish. This year, country and western. I thought Frankie Lane was pretty good but I don't think the Irish and English in attendance were quite as enthusiastic.


Hard to believe: Country and western singer Frankie Lane entertaining at the banquet.


Some of us slipped back to O'Briens after the banquet. Things were still going on when I left for the hotel at 2 am.


Mick Parker, Antarctic reenactor, stopping by for a pint.


Sunday 24 October 2010.

Jonathan and I left after the final session on Sunday, giving the evening event a miss, and headed to Fruitlawn, Carol and Arthur Shackleton's place near Abbeyleix.


2011


Friday 28 October 2011. We arrive mid-afternoon and check into the
Carlton Abbey Hotel, once a convent, and a short walk from the Heritage Centre and O'Briens, the official and unofficial venues of the Shackleton Autumn School which will be our focus over the next few days.


My hotel is only a few steps away from the Heritage Centre.


Re-enactors set up in front of the Heritage Centre.


O'Briens, certainly my favorite pub in Ireland. Behind the bar: Frank O'Brien and his daughter, Judith.

Near the end of the day some of the usual crowd repair to the Chinese restaurant, now re-opened as Chen's. This is then followed by a visit to O'Briens and then at 7 pm we're at the Heritage Centre for the opening reception of the Autumn School. The Norwegian ambassador says a few words, a book or two are launched and wine and food consumed. And the evening ends at about 1 am at O'Briens, of course.


The Mayor opens the 11th Shackleton Autumn School.


The ones that make the Autumn School work: Seamus and Frank Taaffe.


Seamus introducing Rorke Bryan who is about to launch his new book.


Geraldine McAdam and the lucky Joe O'Farrell at O'Briens.

Saturday 29 October 2011. A full Irish breakfast at the hotel is followed by a full Antarctic day at the Heritage Centre. Excellent talks overall.
That evening, the customary drinks party at the Taaffe's are as pleasant as ever. We all have an envious look at Seamus' polar books overflowing the premises. The banquet is at the Carlton Abbey. Good food and good music. Clocks back one hour.


My table at the Saturday night banquet: Geraldine McAdam, Janice Tipping, ?, Kevin Kenny, Emma Jane McAdam, Jim McAdam.


I couldn't stop being fascinated by Bob Burton's magnetized reading glasses.

Sunday 30 October 2011. Another day of very good talks.