IN THE region of 2,000 people descended on Annascaul over the weekend as the West Kerry village celebrated the life and times of their most famous son, Antarctic explorer Tom Crean, with the hosting of the inaugural Tom Crean International Festival.
Despite some bad weather on Friday evening, spirits were high as people began to flock to the village with the opening night hosting a welcome parade, music and the premiere of 'Dancing with Death' a special dance performance conceived, choreographed and performed by Martin Percival with Máire Clerkin and Michael Donnellan. This was inspired by the life and times of Tom Crean who served with both Scott and Shackleton, and survived three famous Antarctic expeditions: Discovery (1901-1904), Terra Nova (1910-1913) and Endurance (1914-1916).
On Saturday 49 hardy souls set out on the Tom Crean Endurance Walk, a 17-mile endurance hike over the mountains which visited some of the key locations associated with Tom Crean's life. The walk was staged to mark the 100th anniversary of Tom Crean's epic 56km solo march across the polar ice to save the lives of his comrades, William Lashly and Teddy Evans, for which he received the Albert Medal for Bravery.
Indeed locals were delighted to welcome Julian Evans, the grandson of Teddy Evans, who travelled to participate in the weekend's celebrations.
Those who completed the tough endurance walk were delighted to receive the specially commissioned Tom Crean Memorial Medal afterwards in Annascaul village.
A talk by Tom Crean biographer Michael Smith followed before a crowd of almost 300 packed into the local sports hall to witness a special performance of Aidan Dooley's award winning show 'Tom Crean Antarctic Explorer'.
On Sunday, following well-attended talks and presentations by Julian Evans and present day explorer Frank Nugent, 60 walkers set out on the Tom Crean Trail laying wreathes in Ballinacourty, near his family home and grave. Local school children from Scoil Bhreac Chluain also complete their own Tom Crean walk and were presented with medals afterwards.
Reflecting on the weekend, organiser Noel Spillane of Annascaul Walks said that arising from the success of the inaugural event, the festival is here to stay.
"The place was packed; I'd say between 1,800 and 2,000 visited Annascaul over the weekend," he said. "For a village its size, the festival was an incredible success."