The transition from the late Pleistocene to the Holocene (30 000–5000 years ago) was a period of considerable climate variability, which has been associated with changes in deep water formation and the intensity of the Meridional Overturning Circulation. Although numerous records exist across the North Atlantic region, few Antarctic ice core records have been obtained from the south. Here we exploit the potential of upwelling ancient ice – so-called blue ice areas (BIAs) – from the Patriot Hills in the Ellsworth Mountains to derive the first deuterium isotope record (δD) from continental Antarctica south of the Weddell Sea. Gas analysis and glaciological considerations provide a first relative chronology. Inferred temperature trends from the Patriot Hills BIA and snow pit suggest changing climate influences during the transition between the last glacial period and Holocene. Under modern conditions, the interplay between the Antarctic high-pressure system and the Southern Annular Mode appears to play a significant role in controlling katabatic wind flow over the site while the BIA record suggests that greater sea ice extent during the last glacial period was a major control. Our results demonstrate the considerable potential of the Patriot Hills site for reconstructing past climate change in the south Atlantic region.