A gloriously restored Stella cinema in Rathmines was the ironic setting earlier this week for the world premiere of a documentary called Shackleton’s Cabin.
The film also talks about a restoration work, but of a somewhat more Spartan building: the wooden hull of the ship in which the great polar explorer Ernest Shackleton made his last voyage and in which he also died, 100 years ago. years last January.
A glorified shed, it spent most of the last century in Norway, until it was donated to the Shackleton Museum in Athy, a town which, as well as being its birthplace, also won the place death of the explorer.
It was then lovingly restored to its original condition by Connemara conservationist Sven Habermann, the film’s other hero.
But viewers watched the preview in Art Deco splendor of the new Stella, from armchairs you could sleep in, especially if you put your feet up on the leather-covered ottomans that each seat now has.
Dim lighting was provided by custom table lamps, on custom tables. And while we waited for the show to start, people were waiting for us, serving us wine and canapes.
It must have been due to a sense of guilt that while sending photos to a friend on WhatsApp I also sent a copy of the ad in the newspaper that Shackleton is supposed to have placed when looking for recruits for an expedition . You know this one: “Men wanted for hazardous journey, small salary, biting cold, long months of total darkness, constant danger, questionable safe return, honor (sic) and recognition in case of success.”
Alas, as I now realize, the announcement is a myth.
Or at least no one has found the alleged original, which is generally said to have appeared in The Times of London, despite diligent searches. The first known reference to this was in a 1944 book, long after Shackleton’s death.
This seems to have been another one of those ghost quotes that come to life on their own. But as fictional as it may be, it derives its undoubted authority from the facts of Shackleton’s ill-fated career.
It was said of the great explorers of the South Pole, and it was again during the Q&A after the screening, that if Scott and Amundsen could have been better organizers or navigators, it was Shackleton you would want by your side in case of emergency.
Judged by the ambitions he and his rivals were vying for, he was a failure. But he is perhaps best remembered now for an outstanding achievement: never losing a crew member on his travels, despite the appalling conditions he faced.
His leadership was most notoriously tested during the aptly named Endurance Expedition of 1914-1917, when the ship was crushed by ice and he, Tom Crean and others had to row 800 miles at high sea, then through the icy mountains of South Georgia. , without proper climbing gear, for help.
In contrast, Shackleton’s last voyage – a subplot of the documentary – was much less eventful, except for one point. On another trip to South Georgia, exhausted from stress and alcoholism, he suffered a fatal heart attack in his cabin in the early hours of January 5, 1922.
He was duly buried on the island, and still is. But the cabin at least now rests in Kildare.
The documentary will be broadcast on RTÉ on Monday May 2. Meanwhile, this week’s preview also made me try (and fail) to remember the last time I visited the old Stella, an entirely different experience than the current one. It wasn’t this century, and maybe not even in the 1990s. But each time it was, the place then acquired a certain infamy.
The promise of a night out at the Stella during his declining years was the movie version of Shackleton’s recruitment ad. It may not be a dangerous journey, in freezing cold, total darkness, and with a questionable safe return. Even so, it was far from comfortable.
When I took to Twitter to jog my memory, many veterans recalled the sticky mats that were its defining feature.
Someone else mentioned the rat, once seen scurrying across the floor by a friend. I remembered the rat too. He was a local celebrity at the time. Although I’ve never seen it myself, many others (or their friends) have. In the best versions, it had gone through someone’s foot.
I wonder now if the rat was also a myth. Then again, rodent infestations were hardly unheard of in the dilapidated buildings of the 1980s. And what better place to have one than in a suburb pronounced by many Dubliners and its rural apartment dwellers, as “Rat-mines” ?