McCarthy, Timothy (‘Tim’) (1887–1917), sailor and Polar explorer, was born 15 July 1887 in Kinsale, Co. Cork, a younger son of John McCarthy, farmer and fisherman of Lower Cove, Kinsale, and Mary McCarthy (née Ford) who was originally from Garrylucas, near the Old Head of Kinsale. Many of the male members of his family were sailors and he followed this family tradition, going to sea while still in his early teens. He sailed mostly on sailing ships and was also a member of the Royal Naval Reserve. In 1914 he volunteered for the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition led by Sir Ernest Shackleton (qv), sailing aboard the Endurance with fellow Irishman Tom Crean (qv).
McCarthy quickly established a reputation as one of the most cheerful and reliable members of the Endurance crew and, due to his previous experience aboard sailing ships, he became a favourite of the sailing-master, Capt. Frank Worsley, who later described him as ‘one of nature's gentlemen’ (Huntford, Shackleton, 651). After the Endurance was crushed by ice in November 1915, he distinguished himself in the open-boat journey to Elephant Island. It was not surprising that when Shackleton decided to sail to South Georgia in search of help, McCarthy was chosen to be one of the boat's party. Throughout this epic seventeen-day boat journey in the James Caird he maintained his usual composure and professionalism as the party sailed over 800 miles (1,450 km) through the treacherous seas of the South Atlantic. When the James Caird finally reached South Georgia on 10 May 1916, he remained behind with two incapacitated members of the crew (Harry McNeish and Jack Vincent) while Shackleton, Crean, and Worsley went for help to the whaling station at Stromness. On being finally rescued, he was immediately evacuated back to England. Worsley later described him as a ‘big, brave, smiling, golden-hearted Merchant Service Jack’ (Huntford, Shackleton, 603). McCarthy was awarded the British Polar Medal for his part in the Endurance expedition, and Shackleton named an island in King Haakon Bay as ‘Tim McCarthy Island’.
After a period of leave, he was called up for active service with the Royal Naval Reserve, serving as an able seaman. On 16 March 1917 he was serving as one of the gun-crew aboard the tanker SS Narragansett when she was attacked by the German submarine U44 off the south coast of Ireland. McCarthy was one of the forty-six fatal casualties. He never married.
His elder brother Mortimer McCarthy (1877–1967), sailor and Polar explorer, was born 15 April 1882 in Kinsale. Lying about his age, he joined the Royal Navy (RN) aged only 12, and initially served as a boy seaman. He saw naval service during the second Boer war and was awarded the South African war medal. Leaving the RN in 1907, he based himself in New Zealand and worked as a merchant seaman. In 1910 he was one of hundreds of sailors who volunteered to sail with Capt. Robert Falcon Scott on the British Antarctic Expedition (1910–13) where he also served alongside Tom Crean. Accepted as one of the crew of the Terra Nova, he served as a member of the support parties during Scott's ill-fated attempt on the South Pole in 1912–13. On his return from the Antarctic, he was awarded the British Polar medal by George V at a special investiture at Buckingham Palace. He also later met the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who gave him a penknife as a souvenir.
He applied to sail with Shackleton on the Endurance expedition and was hoping to serve with his brother Tim in the Antarctic. Shackleton had, however, already picked his crew and could not find a place for him. Undaunted, he travelled to Tromsø, where he joined the Northern Exploration Company and travelled on an expedition to the Arctic. He rejoined the RN during the first world war and served aboard destroyers. In 1920 he returned to New Zealand, where he settled permanently. A man of considerable charm, he was renowned as a raconteur. In 1963 he was one of the last three surviving members of Scott's expedition and was invited by the American Antarctic Survey to make a commemorative visit to the South Pole. He duly went and, then in his eighties, was the oldest man ever to visit the South Pole. Mount Mortimer McCarthy in Antarctica was named in his honour. On 11 August 1967 he died in a house fire in New Zealand. He married (1923) Ellen Coughlan (b. December 1893) of Kinsale; they had three sons.
Despite the fact that the McCarthy brothers had such a colourful career in Polar exploration, there was little interest in them in their native Kinsale until Mr Terry Connolly, chairman of the Kinsale Historical Society, embarked on a campaign to raise their profile locally and a memorial committee was duly formed. In September 2000 busts of Tim and Mortimer McCarthy were unveiled in Kinsale. Cast in bronze by local sculptor Graham Brett, they were placed at Pier Road in the town park, overlooking the sea. Mortimer McCarthy's son, Gerard McCarthy, and his grandson, Andrew McCarthy, travelled from New Zealand to attend the unveiling ceremony.