From Billy Wallace, ILDSA President
During the course of 1989/1990 I reminded the committee (I was Hon. Secretary then) that 1991 was the Silver Jubilee of the ILDSA and something should be done to mark the occasion.
There was a discussion on this, and eventually someone suggested that it would have to be a special swim. An event long enough to attract International swimmers from Ireland and abroad, and a venue that was safe and not subject to adverse weather conditions.
After looking at a number of possibilities it was decided that Lough Erne in county Fermanagh offered the best venue, and a course from Carrybridge to Enniskillen was chosen in the waterways between Upper and Lower Lough Erne.
This was later measured by an engineer from the DOE, and proved to be 17Km, and was calm and sheltered all the way, with a bearable water temperature. So the committee agreed that this was the best option, and that I should write to Fermanagh District Council to discuss the matter.
A meeting was arranged with Mr. Rodney Connor, the CEO of the council, and a small group comprising Billy Wallace, Dermot Duffy, Grainne Gunn, Peter Legge and Davy Bell journeyed to Enniskillen to meet Mr. Connor.
The council were in favour of the event and a further meeting was arranged. The same ILDSA members went to Enniskillen and a boat was provided by the council to go along the course from Carrybridge to Enniskillen, finishing at the rear of the Lakeland Forum Leisure Centre. Everone agreed that the course looked an ideal venue.
The date set for the inaugural swim was the 17th. August. The council provided grant aid not only for the first event but for many years, and supported the swim in various ways for a long time. Their development officers, and in particular Mr. Keith Collen were a great help every year.
The same support was also given by Waterways Ireland, N.I.T.B. , Dublin Mini-coaches, and others.
The inaugural swim was a great success and has been ever since, thanks to everyone involved, canoeists, safety boats and their crews, rescue services, Lough Erne Wardens, local expert Mr. Joe Crawford, the swimmers, Carrybridge Hotel, Killyhevlin Hotel and local B & B’s, and all who helped in any way.
A few years later Swim Ireland gave permission to name the event the Irish National Championship.
And the rest, as they say is history.
Billy Wallace organised the Lough Erne event for the first 18 years (1991 – 2008). After that Martin Cullen ran it for 3 years and Geoff Wilson for 3 years. Under Stephen Millar’s leadership it evolved into a Festival with multiple events running on the same day (1.5km, 5km, 10km, and a 25km challenge joining the 17km).