About the ILDSA

Our Vision

  • Collect in one location the history of all swims in the island of Ireland
  • Provide a valuable resource tool for national and international swimmers in current and future generations
  • Showcase the best of open water swimming
  • Be a forum for rewarding and recognising Irish swims and swimmers

ILDSA Foundations

The Irish Long Distance Swimming Association was first formed in 1966 as a result of growing interest in open water swimming in Ireland. The following year, 1967 was remarkable in the history of open water swimming, with many swim meets scheduled that would sow the seeds and pave a way for the sport in years to come.

ILDSA Honorary President William ‘Billy’ Wallace

Billy Wallace was inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame as an Honour Administrator in 1999. Wallace is currently the President and has served as the Honorary Secretary of the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association. His mother lifeguarded for Mercedes Gleitze when she trained in Northern Ireland.

ILDSA Accolades

For its promotion and services to open water swimming, the ILDSA was admitted in 2012 into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame as an Honour Organisation.

In 2010 Anne Marie Ward, Donegal became the first Irish woman swimmer to swim from Ireland to Scotland. This was Anne Marie’s 4th North Channel attempt. As a result of her perseverance and determination Anne Marie was awarded the World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA) Woman of the Year. This was the first occasion it was awarded to an Irish swimmer. In June of 2010 Anne Marie travelled to New York to receive her award at the combined WOWSA conference and International Marathon Swimming Hall Of Fame Inductions and Awards.

In 2012 Steve Redmond, Cork became the first swimmer in the world to complete the notoriously difficult ‘Oceans Seven’ series of swims. (The North Channel, The Cook Strait, The Molokai Channel, The English Channel, The Catalina Channel, The Tsugaru Strait and the Strait of Gibraltar). For his efforts, Steve was voted the WOWSA Man of the Year in 2012 and inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in 2017.

In 2013 Pádraig Mallon was awarded the WOWSA Man of  the Year for completing (in the same year!) an official ice swim, the English Channel and the North Channel.

Five swimmers, contributors and organisations from Ireland are honorees in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame: the ILDSA itself, Billy Wallace, Steve Redmond, Ned Denison and the late Ted Keenan.

Ned Denison’s “Cork Distance Week” was named as WOWSA’s 2022 Product or Service of the Year. 

Revealing further the history of open water swimming in and around the Emerald Isle

Swimmers from all over the world have travelled to Ireland to take part in events here, and Irish swimmers have travelled internationally to all continents including UK, America, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and South Africa – not to mention both North and South Poles. In our culture we have a strong tradition of adventure and exploration. Irish open water swimmers are globally known as some of the toughest and heartiest. Our humbleness has often meant that our successes in the history of open water swimming have been unrecorded and therefore lost.  In 2020 the ILDSA commenced a search to capture the history and successes of those who have swum a marathon open water swim distance of 10k or more, either in togs (‘skins’) or wetsuit, in all waters of the Island of Ireland. It started with a fluid and thorough plan from the Historical Research committee headed by Annette Cullen, and in May a public call for help to record the history supported by local press and the national body Swim Ireland. This information will create a historical catalogue and will be available online in the database on this website.

We all have an inspirational swimmer from our community who has inspired us with their achievements. Let’s use them to inspire each other – and most importantly, inspire the next generation of open water swimmers to dream up and achieve wonderful adventures, not only on our shores but all over the globe.

ILDSA Life-Long Members

ILDSA award a life-long membership to persons who show a dedication to ILDSA and to the sport of open water swimming.  See https://www.ildsa.info/about/life-members/

ILDSA Annual Awards

From 2008 the ILDSA has hosted an Awards ceremony in different parts of the country to celebrate the open water achievements of the season. See https://www.ildsa.info/ildsa-awards/

ILDSA Irish Championships

Lough Erne was the venue between 1991 and 2019 for both 17K and 25K championships. Results were collected and published by the ILDSA

Minutes from the first ILDSA Committee meeting 1967

From Fred J. Parkes, 18th August 1967


We, as an association, must be proud of our achievements and progress this year and it gives me great pleasure in presenting our first annual report.

The association owes its origin to Mr. John Moffett who had been talking about forming an Irish Long Distance Swimming Association for quite some time. He finally persuaded a few of us that it would be to the advantage of Irish Swimming to have a body primarily interested in distance swimming. So after the Copeland Islands to Donaghadee swim in August, 1966 a caretaker association was formed which was instructed to call a general meeting later in the year and to invite interested people to attend. These instructions were carried out and the inaugural meeting of the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association was held in the International Hotel, Belfast on the 22nd September, 1966. Mr. J. Moffett became the association’s first general secretary, Mr. L. Harris was elected chairman and Mr. J. Boyd treasurer.

Unfortunately, at the first committee meeting of the newly formed association, Mr. Moffett had to resign due to pressure of business and he proposed Mr. F. J. Parkes as his successor. This was agreed to by the committee. We owe a great deal to John Moffett for his belief in such an association and his untiring effort in forming it.

Our affiliation to the I.A.S.A. having been accepted, members suggested three possible swims. Mr. J. Burcombe suggested a Belfast Lough Swim, Mr. J. Moffett a Donegal Bay Swim and Messrs. R. Jones and R. McGaffin a Lough Neagh Swim. The committee decided to limit our efforts to these three ventures and to make sure these were successful.

The first swim came much earlier than we had thought and was arranged very quickly. The Bundoran Development Company had a Lobster Festival in late May and asked us to organize a 1¾ mile swim. Eight swimmers and three officials travelled to Bundoran on Sunday the 28th May and the race took place on the Monday. This event was very successful and a very enjoyable time was had by all. The cup, which was presented by Guinness Ltd., was won by Ronnie Jones. We should like to thank our sponsors Bundoran Development Company and Arthur Guinness Ltd., who were so pleased with the race that they have asked us to make it an annual event. Further details of this event are given in a report by G. Walker.

The next venture was the Belfast Lough Swim which was swum on Saturday 1st July, 1967 from Helen’s Bay to Carrickfergus, a distance of 4.2 miles. This race was a tremendous success with 13 starters and no less than 8 finishers. The Guards Cup was won on handicap by Jim Burton and the fastest time of 1 mile 47 minutes was recorded by Ronnie Jones. The Belfast Lough Swim received a great amount of publicity and established the association as a strong and competent body. We are very grateful to Carreras Ltd., and the Carrickfergus Borough Council who were our sponsors. A special note of thanks is due to Mr. Hugh Love for his help and assistance. Next year I hope we will lengthen the course to at least five miles and invite some International swimmers to compete. Further details of this race are given in a report by M. L. Harris.

After testing our strength in the Belfast Lough Swim three of our members expressed interest in swimming in the B.L.D.S.A. Rathlin to Ballycastle Swim. The B.L.D.S.A. therefore got in touch with the Ballycastle Urban Council who welcomed the idea of our members competing. They and we got in touch with Mr. Kendall Mellors, the Assistant Secretary of the British Long Distance Swimming Association and the organizer of the event. He was delighted and accepted the entries. He asked for our assistance in running the race.

Unfortunately due to bad weather the Rathlin Swim did not take place but the substitute race, Fairhead to Ballycastle, was swum. This was over a distance of approximately three miles and the race was won by R. Jones. L. Burke was 4th and E. Skelly was 6th. These three men put up a magnificent show and let us see that they could compete on equal terms with members of the B.L.D.S.A.

At Ballycastle the B.L.D.S.A. and the I.L.D.S.A. members formed firm friendships. Since Ballycastle our association has had numerous letters from Mr. Kendall Mellors and Commander Gerald Forsberg. The latter has since joined our association as a life member. Another outcome of the Ballycastle Swim is that both associations have accepted that we should be mutually affiliated. Mr. John Slator, the Honorary Secretary of the B.L.D.S.A. has written and given us details of their swims and annual meeting and has done his best to assist our young association.

Our next swim was over a 2 mile course in Lough Neagh. This race was organized by a sub-committee of Messrs. J. Jones, R. Jones and R. Mc Gaffin. Because of bad weather the race had to be postponed to the following Saturday the 19th August 1967 at 3 p.m. The course, in the northern part of the lough, was from Skefflington Lodge to the Firing Head and back. It was a glorious day and the swim was most enjoyable. There were 13 starters and 11 finishers. We are very grateful to Mr. Marcus and Charrington and Kinahan for sponsoring this event.

The last swim of the year was a short sprint of 1000 yards. This swim took place on Thursday 31st August at 8 p.m. and was from The Old Quay to Carrickfergus Harbour. We are very grateful to the Carrickfergus Sailing Club for providing the prizes and refreshments. This event was organized by Messrs. Boyd, McLerson and Burke.

I should like to congratulate all the swimmers for the magnificent show they put up this year. In long distance swimming the achievement is in finishing the course and the time taken is only a secondary consideration. I feel I must single out Ronnie Jones for particular mention. Ronnie, who returned the fastest time in each of our swims and won the B.L.D.S.A. Irish Championship, was the outstanding swimmer. My only disappointment was that Ronnie did not attempt a longer solo swim such as Lough Neagh, Whitehead to Bangor or compete in one of the British races. But let us hope that next year Ronnie and some of our other swimmers will attempt other swims in the British Isles.

Now that our association is well established, next year could be a most important one in the respect that we should become an all Ireland association. We must strive to promote swims and recruit members in all parts of Ireland. Some of our members have suggested that we promote such swims as Aranmore to Burtonport, Lakes of Killarney and a Dublin Bay Swim. It was noticeable this year that each swim increased our membership and this surely will be the case next year. Another thing we should encourage our swimmers to do is to compete in Great Britain and to tempt Great Britain swimmers to swim over here.

Finally, I should like to thank our Chairman, Louis Harris and our Honorary Treasurer, Jimmy Boyd for all the assistance they have given to me personally and to the association this year. To all you who have swum, rowed, officiated, organized or helped in any way at all, our sincere thanks.

This article can also be found on openwaterswimming.com, posted in 2015 by Billy Wallace.