Bird's flying visit to research Tom Crean

RTE's Charlie Bird interviewing Tom Crean's daughter Mary O'Brien.
RTE's Charlie Bird interviewing Tom Crean's daughter Mary O'Brien.


A LONG-held dream for RTÉ's Chief News Correspondent Charlie Bird began taking shape in Kerry this week when he visited the daughter of legendary polar explorer Tom Crean in preparation for a forthcoming documentary on Antarctica.

To be screened next year as part of the Charlie Bird Explores series, the interview with Mary O'Brien will form part of the documentary which will also see Bird trekking in the footsteps of the famous Annascaul man on the frozen continent.

It comes as the culmination of a long-held desire by Bird to make a film celebrating Crean's achievements, some 20 years after an initial attempt fell through.

"I came across Crean in the 80s and developed a great interest in his story. Most people who knew me back then will recall me talking about him a lot and I decided to try to make a film about him 20 years ago. Unfortunately that didn't work out, but I'm delighted to finally tackle the subject," he told The Kerryman.

His sense of Crean's character was enhanced greatly by meeting the explorer's daughter Mary O'Brien at her home in Tralee. "She's a remarkable woman. At 92, she's still driving and her recall is excellent. She tells me it's the last substantial interview she's going to give on her father.

"I spoke to her for over an hour and we also interviewed her son Brendan in Annascaul, where we visited the South Pole Inn, Tom Crean's grave and the harbour at Minard where he first joined the Royal Navy; all as part of the Kerry connection for the film," Charlie Bird added.

Tough as the terrain in West Kerry may have been during this week's weather, it will be as nothing compared to the icy wastes of Antarctica when Bird hits out for there in November. "We're going to travel by skis, cross-country, for 100 miles or so to the magnetic pole and complete the journey that Crean wasn't allowed to. But it's nothing like how it was in his time. It would have been impressive enough had he done it once, but to have done it three times!"

Bird regards the West Kerry native as one of the greatest polar explorers of all time. "Both Scott and Shackleton recognised that he had something special, what I like to call the Kerry grit. That was seen in the central role he played in the 600-mile rescue to South Georgia.

"Thankfully we're able to celebrate his exploits today unlike in 1920s and 30's West Kerry when his Royal Navy past would not have been very popular in Kerry. It's great to see his story on today's curriculum and how the people of Kerry celebrate him today, through the efforts of Kerry County Council and Kerry County Museum for example.

"I'm looking forward now to getting down to the Antarctic to travel in his footsteps in a journey that can be undertaken relatively safely today only by standing on the shoulders of giants like Crean."