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Explorer Ernest Shackleton returns to Belfast

It’s been almost 125 years since Ernest Shackleton worked for the White Star Line sister company in Belfast. But this intrepid explorer, infamous for his attempts to conquer the South Pole, made a welcome return to the city.

Bestselling author Michael Smith was the man responsible for bringing his story back to the city, as he launched the first comprehensive biography of Ernest Shackleton in a generation.

Entitled Shackleton – By Endurance We Conquer, Michael Smith launched the book in Belfast, 100 years since Shackleton set off on his Endurance voyage.

Despite his explorations being renowned the world over, Shackleton has been somewhat overlooked as an Irish hero, and with this book Mr Smith seeks to redress the balance.

He said: “In Ireland we measure our heroes’ successes with the metrics of international recognition, a level of sacrifice and, crucially, their Irishness. Ernest Shackleton was not successful in his aims as an explorer, nor does he fit the popular definition of an ‘Irish’ hero, being neither scribe nor revolutionary, catholic or, indeed, successful.”

Shackleton failed to cross the South Pole and didn’t die vaingloriously on the way. However, the book highlights how he rose through the merchant navy ranks and charmed funding for the expedition from British polite society, teetering on the brink of a ruinous war. There are so many instances in the narrative of derring-do that it’s hard to comprehend how all this was achieved without any of the technological support we now take for granted. All on a diet of penguin, biscuits and fish.

It also discusses how Shackleton enjoyed something of rehabilitation in business leadership. He succeeded in managing two teams on either side of the Antarctic continent by force of personality, leading them to safety from almost certain disaster.

The book delves deep into his personal story. He had a chaotic private life that greatly contrasted his celebrity status as a leading explorer. Persistent money problems left his men unpaid and his family with debts.

This first comprehensive biography in a generation brings a fresh perspective to the heroic age of Polar exploration dominated by Shackleton’s complex, compelling and enduringly fascinating story

Shackleton – By Endurance We Conquer by Michael Smith is published in hardback by The Collins Press, £20.

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