00:00 Saturday 12 January 2008  Written by Leo McMahon

Bandon doctor becomes first Irish woman to reach the South Pole

DR. Clare O'Leary from Bandon walked into history when, at 7.30pm Irish time on Tuesday, she became the first Irish woman to trek to the South Pole as a member of the four-person 'Beyond Endurance' expedition team, led by Pat Falvey from Cork.

Speaking on RTÉ radio's Morning Ireland on Wednesday, the first Irish woman to conquer Mount Everest in 2004, said she felt "grand" after reaching the South Pole and had a sense of relief, excitement and exhaustion all combined together. "It's brilliant and amazing to be here after such a long time."

The 35-year-old Bandonian was deputy leader of the first Irish Antarctic team to walk to the South Pole, which also comprised Shaun Menzies, Jonathan Bradshaw and leader Pat Falvey. Niall Foley was media and sponsor liaison officer.

Constantly getting up every day at 5.45am and knowing there was ten hours of skiing and pulling a heavy sledge was tough, said Clare, but there was always something to focus the mind and, after putting in so much hard work over the past three years, she always believed they would get there and so kept pushing on.

Clare spoke of how her heart jumped on seeing a black dot on the horizon which marked the South Pole on the final day of the 1,100-kilometre ice trek across the coldest place on earth and enjoying a cup of tea on arrival.

A specialist in gastroenterology and general internal medicine based in South Tipperary General Hospital, Clonmel, where she works as a consultant, Dr. Clare O'Leary is one of the world's leading female adventurers and high altitude climbers.

She was the first Irish woman (15th female worldwide) to climb Mount Everest in 2004 and the seven highest peaks in seven continents (including Mt. Vinson in the Antarctic) and the first Irish woman to cross Greenland in another Pat Falvey-led expedition. In November 2006 she was a team leader on the successful South Georgia traverse to Elephant Island in what was the first phase of the Beyond Endurance expedition.


The expedition team is due to return to Ireland on January 16 and Clare said she looked forward to sitting by the fire at the family home in Bandon and enjoying a homemade dinner. Daughter of Kevin and Alice O'Leary, she was congratulated during her interview from the South Pole on Morning Ireland by her mother, who said her achievement and that of all the team was fantastic. Clare added that she had nothing definite planned for the future, but intended undertaking further expeditions, because she loved the challenge.

Speaking from where the temperature was -22.5 degrees centigrade, veteran explorer and Everest conqueror, Pat Falvey who suffered a back injury in the polar trek, said it was 58 days of sheer effort reaching the South Pole, which pushed every team member to the limit, to get to one of the most amazing places on the planet. This was done in honour of explorers such as Tom Crean, Shackleton, Scott and Amundsen (the first man to reach the South Pole on December 14, 1911) and he was both thrilled and relieved.

Other notable Antarctic explorers from Cork were Patrick Keohane, Barryroe; Mortimer and Tom McCarthy, from Kinsale; Edward Bransfield from Ballinacurra, Midleton, and Robert Forde.


President Mary McAleese in a message of congratulations said:

"Occurring one century after fellow Irishman Ernest Shackleton's first attempt on the pole, the expedition's achievement is particularly poignant. I congratulate Pat Falvey, Clare O'Leary, Jonathan Bradshaw and Shaun Menzies on their remarkable achievement and send my very best wishes to their many supporters in this mammoth undertaking."

An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, TD, said: "This is a fantastic personal achievement for all of you. I have been following your adventure through news coverage since you set out and total admiration is perhaps the best way to sum up my thoughts on what you have achieved. You are continuing a proud tradition of Irish adventurers and you should be very proud of your wonderful achievement."

Congratulations was extended on a proposal by Mr. Andrew Coleman at Tuesday night's meeting of Bandon Town Council. He said it was a fantastic achievement by Clare O'Leary, which should be suitably honoured. Other members concurred.

Meanwhile, the general manager of South Tipperary General Hospital - where Clare works - Ms. Breda Kavanagh, paid tribute to the Bandon woman for her Beyond Endurance expedition achievement.

Ms. Kavanagh said: "The Health Service Executive and South Tipperary General Hospital is proud of Dr. Clare O'Leary, who has again achieved a fantastic feat. Dr. O'Leary was the first Irish woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest and is now the first Irish woman to reach the South Pole.

"We are not surprised by this news. Dr. O'Leary, who is a specialist gastro-enterologist and a medical student tutor for UCC at South Tipperary General Hospital, excels at everything she does, but manages her achievements in a very low-key and gentle manner.

"For this reason, she is a very popular member of our staff. We salute her," Ms. Kavanagh concluded.

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