EARLIER this year two people with direct connections to the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration of the early 1900s met for the first time in the Eastgate Theatre, Peebles.

They were actor Aiden Dooley and Hannah Shackleton. Aiden wrote and performs the multi-award winning play Tom Crean Antarctic Explorer. Hannah, currently studying in Edinburgh, is the daughter of Jonathan Shackleton who has travelled to the Antarctic 37 times and is also second cousin of Sir Ernest Shackleton. Before he was knighted Ernest Shackleton led Tom Crean, and others, on one of the ground-breaking polar expeditions that defined the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

Aiden Dooley created the play to celebrate the life and times of one of Ireland’s unsung heroes. Tom Crean began exploring with Scott’s Discovery Expedition to the south pole in 1901. He returned to the Antarctic on Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova expedition in 1912 when his solo walk of 35 statute miles (56 km) across the Ross Ice Shelf to save the life of Edward Evans was later described by historians as 'one of the finest feats of individual heroism from the entire age of Antarctic exploration’. Crean’s final Antarctic venture was the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition on Endurance led by Ernest Shackleton (1914 – 17). After Endurance was crushed by the pack ice, he was one of the men forced to spend months drifting on an ice floe, before sailing a small, open lifeboat to Elephant Island, and completing an open boat journey of 800 nautical miles (1,500 km) from Elephant Island to South Georgia. There he was one of the party to walk across the island, without maps or mountaineering equipment, to get aid.

Hannah Shackleton first heard about Aiden Dooley’s play and performance from her father Jonathan Shackleton. He had seen it as part of a Tom Crean exhibition in Kerry, Ireland and later met Aiden Dooley outside Tom Crean’s pub 'The South Pole Inn’, in Annascaul, Co Kerry. Jonathan told Hannah that Aiden Dooley’s play is ’the best one man show about Antarctic history that there is’. Hannah moved to Edinburgh in September 2014, and was amazed and delighted to discover that the play Tom Crean Antarctic Explorer was passing her doorstep – being performed at the Eastgate Theatre, Peebles.

“I thoroughly enjoyed Mr Dooley’s remarkable performance, it was engaging, entertaining and informative,” she said. “It was very moving to see Tom Crean’s story so powerfully brought to life, and I left feeling like I knew his character more than I thought I had before.” As well as her family history Hannah has personal experience of the Antarctic. She said: “One of my most treasured and humbling memories was when, along with my father, I managed to make a landing on the usually inaccessible Elephant Island 12 years ago. Indeed it matched Mr Dooley’s description of the miserable place where 22 of Shackleton’s men waited so desperately for four months for rescue - whilst Shackleton, Crean and four others negotiated the treacherous Drake Passage in a 23 foot wooden boat to get help. It was truly a desolate heap of rocks covered in ice, where I believe no man could ever choose to exist.”