Crean: The Extraordinary Life of an Irish Hero by Tim Foley | Magazine | Interviews | Non-Fiction

By Tim Foley

In June 2020, after completing three and a half years of research into the life and career of Tom Crean, I gathered my files, folders and images together and sent them over to the Royal Irish Academy. Later, in March 2021, what I had discovered would officially change up, and add substantially to, the story of the great Kerry explorer. The revisions were then incorporated into the article entry for Crean in the Dictionary of Irish Biography.

As a result, the biography that was published and released in May 2023 by Merrion Press, Crean – The Extraordinary Life of an Irish Hero, would be very different from any previous account of Crean’s life.

Correcting a number of inaccuracies and accounting for periods and events that were never previously investigated or referenced, would alter a host of things that readers had, for 20 plus years, digested about the Annascaul born explorer.

As a first-time author of a historical biography, and with all the new information I had found, it was daunting to think how my book would be received but I had carried out thorough research and I had double- and triple-checked my sources over and over again.

When it became public knowledge that I was working on a biography of Crean, I knew objections might arrive from certain quarters and they did, yet, far from scaring me off, as was the intention, they made me more determined to forge ahead and release the book.

Researching for a historical biography meant days of scouring through news and genealogical archives, exchanging masses of e-mail correspondence and streaming through records at various archives. It was an intense journey that consisted of many nights burning the midnight oil and, in my case, days of resisting the need to take a break. However, when your efforts pay off and you uncover gems of new information, it’s truly exhilarating.

It’s not healthy to write without rest, I know, but I’m the kind of writer who, when focusing on a subject, has an impulse to type out my thoughts no sooner than I think of them. With hindsight, a Dictaphone would have been a wise investment as opposed to hopping out of bed at silly o’clock, in a rush to get to the keyboard. At a later stage I shape my notes into legible sentences that I believe will appeal to a reader when I compile a first working draft.

If I were asked to pass on advice to anyone contemplating writing a non-fiction project, firstly I would say, avoid my unstructured approach to writing and secondly, information you discover during your research, may fly in the face of what has long been accepted as factual but, as a writer, regardless of the impact it may have, and if you are certain of its authenticity, you have a choice. You can sit on it and decide not to upset the applecart, or, as was my choice, you can consider it your duty to reveal what you found and put the record straight.

My choice was made a little easier given that Tom Crean’s story felt more personal to me. My father was born just a few miles from Crean and I’d virtually grown up having some knowledge of the person and having a huge sense of pride in his heroic exploits. Telling his story was borne out of a passion to do so in as factual and as fully a way as possible.

Over the course of three years, I released three editions of my biography all of which were self-published. The reason being that on each occasion, after undertaking further research, I discovered yet more material to add to his story.

In 2021, Merrion Press took an interest in the book and we began discussions. When a respected publisher has faith and a belief in your research, when they like what they read and they wish to include your book among their portfolio of offerings, it’s a real thrill.

When I felt I had reached a point where I’d exhausted my attempts to unearth more information about Tom, and before signing the publisher contract, I removed all the previous self-published accounts from sale. Copies of them still circulate in the ‘used’ market but it’s important to note that they don’t provide the fullest picture of Tom’s life and career that the published edition does.

Working with Merrion Press was a real eye-opener and in the months of collaborating with a bona fide, professional editor, my book underwent some pretty radical surgery to render it worthy of a place on the bookshelves. The front and rear covers were changed, I was advised to re-title the chapters, many of the images were replaced and, not least of all, I was tasked to work on the chronology of the content to ensure that the timeline of events had a more natural flow.

The differences between my self-published efforts and the book released by Merrion Press were vast. Looking back, I was completely naive to think that my self-published version could sit comfortably alongside books that were created under the umbrella of a reputable publisher.

Thereafter, writing up Tom’s biography for the little ones was an absolute joy. No research, no index or reference notes and completely free reign to incorporate the humour I have a tendency to include in much of my writing. The chance to educate and entertain, utilising illustrations created specifically with young children in mind, was wonderful in a book that introduces them to a new hero: Tom The Mighty Explorer.

It’s a self-published book and before releasing it I had consulted with a mini-focus group of teachers, parents and grandparents. I wanted to identify firsthand the most important elements to incorporate in a 138-page biography that would have to appeal to young children. It was a wise decision and judging by the great feedback from readers, I’m pleased that the book hits the right notes for children.

The project I’m currently working on is another children’s book. However, this time it’s totally unrelated to Tom Crean’s story and it’s entirely fictional. (I’ve gone totally off piste if you like). It’s a story that I dreamt up and told my own children 30 plus years ago and today it still rouses howls of laughter from my grandchildren. If I’m persistent, as every budding author has to be, a good publisher might connect with it.

Would I ever work on another biography?

Yes, if the story was one I felt needed to be told. I’m drawn to uncovering stories about those unheralded people from history who, like Tom Crean, deserve an audience for their incredible lives. I’ve a number of people in mind and if I reach the point of it becoming an irresistible urge, I’ll bury my head in research once again.

About Tom Crean:

Tom Crean was an Irish explorer from County Kerry whose life-saving exploits during the pioneering age of Antarctic exploration, earned him the prestigious Albert Medal for bravery. 

The book begins in Ireland under the governance of the British Empire and continues through Crean’s career in the Royal Navy and his time serving under the leadership of Scott and Shackleton on three Antarctic expeditions.

Crean’s naval career took him to a number of surprising locations across the world and these are revealed within the book. Following his early travels as a naval recruit, his amazing feats of bravery as an explorer in Antarctica are fully documented as is his return to a changed Ireland in the aftermath of rebellion and in the midst of a War of Independence. The book also poses the questions of why and how his incredible story was left largely forgotten.

(c) Tim Foley

Tim has added some great free Tom Crean learning resources on his website and they can be found at:

About Crean: The Extraordinary Life of an Irish Hero by Tim Foley

Tom Crean is one of the most iconic figures in Irish history. Born in 1877 in County Kerry, he enlisted in the Royal Navy at the age of sixteen, the start of a career that would bring him to the most extreme environments on Earth. This is an extraordinary tale of an unassuming but quietly strong man who showed remarkable bravery in the harshest conditions on the planet and lived a life unlike others.

Order your copy online here. And your copy of Tom The Mighty Explorer here.

About the author

For eleven years, Salford-born Tim Foley was the driving force of a campaign to honour Tom Crean.
Tim spent his early career in the building trade and began writing via his own online consumer advice forum in 1999.
Over the course of his career a number of publications have featured Tim’s articles and in 2017 he decided to utilise his many years of research and study into the life of Tom Crean to compile a biography about the Annascaul born explorer.
In 2010, Tim created a Facebook campaign dedicated to achieving official recognition for the Annascaul born explorer. The campaign, which generated over 50,000 worldide supporters, was victorious when, in January 2021, a government funded scientific research vessel, the RV Tom Crean, was named in his honour.
Today, in order to raise awareness of Crean, Tim continues to tell his story via his website and on a number of social media platforms including ‘The Tom Crean Story’ Facebook page, with over 33,000 worldwide supporters.

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