Tag Archives: antarctic

On Your Bike – a short story

As traffic gets heavier with each passing day more and more people of all ages have taken to riding a bicycle. ‘On your bike’ is no longer a phrase of dismissal but says that the cyclist is keen on improving his health and happy to be away from the stress of another traffic jam. Cycling offers a sense of freedom and fun that are associated with younger years, and for that alone I am thankful.

I had not owned a bicycle since I was a teenager and buying one many years later was like taking a step back in time. Getting the right one took a while as the shop owner wanted to know what I wanted it for – casual cycling or something sportier. I tested a few and finally chose my steel horse and happily, if somewhat awkwardly, took it home. After a few days in the saddle, and more sore muscles that I care to mention, I headed off into town. It was the first time that I had done that journey since my schooldays and it was fun, and brought back memories that had lain dormant for years.

Thoughts of summer days cycling with friends to swim in Blackrock Baths were bright and vivid. As were our races when we made believe that we were competing in the Tour de France or pushing for an Olympic gold medal. Bikes were our pride and joy, and a vehicle for adventure and freedom that remains.

Moving along at a steady pace I was surprised to find myself taking in places that, up until then, I would usually drive past. Shops, lanes and houses with plaques commemorating a famous writer or politician, were now places of interest that I stopped and visited.

Ernest Shackleton's home

Ernest Shackleton’s home

I discovered that the famous Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, who almost became the first man to reach the South Pole, had lived for a time in a house in Ranelagh. Did he cycle these roads with a growing sense of freedom, I wondered, and hoped he had? And that the Donnybrook Fare, a festival that gives its name to riotous and unbridled behaviour, dated back to the reign of King John, in the twelfth century.

Being able to stop and park easily means that I am now able to pop into the second-hand bookshops that I had not previously visited. This has been a real treat and getting to know the staff adds to the whole experience. As such, I have been lucky enough to find good books that I would otherwise never have known existed. Cycling is not only good for the body but the mind, too and that can’t be bad.

I have found that cyclists often recognise one another with a nod of the head or a friendly grin, and they are quick to share news of a road closure or a handy shortcut.  And on a very windy autumn day, with dead leaves fluttering about, a fellow cyclist stopped and gave me a hand when I was fixing a puncture. It was a kind and much appreciated gesture that I have since done for other cyclists. ‘Hey, it happens to everyone sometime,’ he said as I shook his hand. ‘No problem,’ he added, before setting off without any fuss, like heroic rescuers are meant to.

In recent years with the introduction of cycle lanes, a more environmentally aware mind-set and people’s desire to improve their health, cycling is enjoying a golden period. Doctors recommend it and the concept of ‘Pedal Power’ has more to do with taking control of your body than just getting somewhere quickly. Up-down-up-down-up-down is now a mantra that many are familiar with and happy to keep saying.

And as a friend said to me a while ago cycling is now one of the few places that are digitally-free. With keeping an eye on surrounding traffic, pedestrians, road and weather conditions it is impossible, and downright dangerous, to pay attention to anything else. Hence, cycling has become, as my friend said, a GDF.

‘What’s that?’ I asked.

‘It’s a Gadget Free Zone.’

We laughed at that before he threw his leg over the crossbar and put the pedal down. ‘Right, I’m off,’ he added, cycling away.

‘Yeah, on your bike,’ I said, fixing my helmet and grinning at his witty and perceptive observation.

On your bike!

On your bike!


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Filed under Dublin, Ireland, short stories

Ernest Shackleton – Man of the Sea

ES as a young man

ES as a young man

If ever a man lived up to his family motto then Ernest Shackleton is most definitely that man. The words ‘By Endurance We Conquer’ were borne out to the maximum as he led all his 28 men to safety during the Antarctic expedition of 1914-1917. It is a tale of unbelievable skill, bravery and determination that is considered one of the greatest achievements in exploration. For this he is remembered as a man who showed consummate leadership skills and, of course, endurance, and they are all well presented in the Endurance Exhibition in Dun Laoghaire.

35 Marlborough Road

35 Marlborough Road, Dublin

Shackleton was born on the 15th February 1874 in Kilkea, near Athy in County Kildare. His father, Henry, decided to study medicine in Trinity College and moved his family into 35 Marlborough Road, Ranelagh for four years from 1880-1884. After graduating the family moved to Sydenham, south London where he practiced medicine for more than thirty years. Ernest, or ‘Mickey’ to his family and friends, went to school in Dulwich College where he admitted that was ‘not a good student’. And, surprisingly, when you consider what he did later on, he did not like geography! He had no desire to follow his father into the medical world and joined the merchant navy when he was sixteen. He progressed quickly, becoming a very capable mariner and met many influential Navy officers. It was through these contacts that he was invited by Captain Scott to travel aboard the Discovery to the Antarctic in 1901. They failed to reach the South Pole, as did his own 1907-09 Nimrod expedition that got to 88 23 degrees South, only 97 miles short of its goal. They turned back due to lack of provisions and to ensure their safety. At that time is was the closest that anyone had got to the South Pole.

On his return he received much public adulation and was knighted by Edward VII. He was feted when he came back to Dublin, and gave lectures in Earlsfort Terrace (now the National Concert Hall) and the Gresham Hotel.

For the 1914 expedition to cross the Antarctic, the team sailed in the Endurance on the day Germany declared war. After a final stop on South Georgia they set sail for the Antarctic on 5th December and arrived in the Weddell Sea on 19th January 1915. The ship became frozen in the thickening ice and it was eventually crushed and lost on 21st November. The team headed in three boats to Elephant Island, and from there Shackleton and five others made the momentous 800-mile journey in horrendous weather to South Georgia. The 17-day journey in the James Caird, the strongest of the open 20-foot boats, and the subsequent safe return of all the crew, is heroic and bordering on the miraculous. Endurance, indeed!

The James Caird in Dulwich College

The James Caird in Dulwich College

Shackleton was only 47 when died on the 5th January 1922 on South Georgia. He suffered a fatal heart attack, and is buried in the small graveyard in Grytviken.

Photo Credit: The James Caird by P O’Neill


Filed under Dublin, London, Science