Swimming is my life: I want to share this gift

Swim coach Eilis Burns, from Fairhill, talks to EMMA CONNOLLY about her early days in the water, the various sporting challenges she’s completed over the years, and why she’s excited about her new role
Swimming is my life: I want to share this gift
Eilis Burns, Head Swim Coach Leisure World Group Cork, at Leisure World Bishopstown, Cork. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

SWIMMING is for life — and will help with your emotional, mental and physical wellbeing. That’s the message from one of the most successful marathon swim coaches in Ireland, Eilis Burns.

Having recently joined LeisureWorld (Bishopstown, Churchfield and Douglas) she urges everyone to get in the water and insists if you don’t, you’re missing out on one of life’s biggest gifts.

Originally from Fairhill and now living with her wife in Midleton, Eilis, feels there’s still a myth in Ireland that you can be ‘too young’ to start swimming and advises that six months is a good time to start.

“Around 70% of Irish people can’t swim; swimming is my life and that’s why I choose to do coaching and give that gift — I want everyone to be able to enjoy it,” she said.

But to be able to swim, she says, it’s first of all about loving the water: “It’s all about being relaxed, slowing down to actually go faster, being gentle; being like a ballet dancer on stage where it’s all about grace, elegance and lightness. You have to be gentle and slippery and slide and glide.”

Her love affair with swimming started when she was five and her parents joined her and her siblings up with Dolphins.

“I’ve two older sisters, an older brother and a younger brother, and all five us were literally dumped into the pool; my parents thought it was a way of keeping us on the straight and narrow, keeping us disciplined and healthy,” she remembers.

Eilis Burns, Head Swim Coach Leisure World Group Cork, at Leisure World Bishopstown, Cork. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Eilis Burns, Head Swim Coach Leisure World Group Cork, at Leisure World Bishopstown, Cork. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

She took part in her first competition aged seven, swam from Blackrock to Cobh when she was 13, and continued at a national and international level throughout school, also playing waterpolo competitively and gaining lifesaving qualifications.

After school she gained fitness qualifications and worked with COPE Foundation’s PE department for a spell and also spent time coaching in Australia and the US.

Eilis is also a trained psychotherapist and water-based psychotherapist and has people referred to her by word of mouth, who benefit hugely from talking to her, while in the pool.

Eilis stresses that swimming is not just about being able to cross the channel, it’s something you’ll have for life.

“If you have a problem, get into the water for a swim and an hour later, the problem will still be there but you’ll have a completely different outlook on it — it’s the headspace that it gives you.

“Water can hold you when you float, so you’ll feel supported. Under water, there’ll be no sounds so it will calm you down and relax you; and then there’s that sense of freedom, of being able to move your body in any direction which brings a feeling of peace. And if you can swim, you can transfer all that to the sea and enjoy being in the ocean where you can turn around and look back towards land which is a phenomenal feeling.

“I was swimming recently in the Lakes of Killarney at 6.30am, the sun was rising, it was calm, warm, just stunning and I thought ‘this is what life is all about’. You’ve no idea what you’re missing if you don’t get to do that.”

Eilis says she ‘has to get wet in some shape or form every day’ and it’s recently helped her transition to LeisureWorld after 28 years in a former job.

She also points out that water doesn’t know what age you are: “You could be two or 102 — it treats everyone equally.”

She recently got to enjoy a 45 minute swim with her hale and hearty parents, Pat, aged 81, and Elizabeth, aged 80, and describes them as her ‘rocks.’

Sea swimming has enjoyed a major resurgence in popularity in recent years, which Eilis welcomes as a coach with Sandycove swimmers in Kinsale, but she does urge people not to take risks.

“Some people might not be as strong as they think they are; the sea is nature, it’s not a toy so don’t swim alone.”

Eilis Burns with her wife Yvonne.
Eilis Burns with her wife Yvonne.

Eilis’s wife Yvonne Delaney, teaches Home Economics and Irish in Ballincollig’s Colaiste Choilm. The couple have been together for 23 years and were married in a civil ceremony in 2011 in Castlemartyr, followed by another ceremony when the law changed in 2015, which saw them mark the occasion with a meal with a small group of friends in Les Gourmandises.

Yvonne, from Douglas, is as committed to fitness as her wife, and while she originally played hockey and basketball, Eilis said she soon adopted an ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ attitude and they’re both now triathletes.

In recent weeks, Eilis was part of a relay team who won the Hardman in Killarney and was first out of the water; she did a half Iron Man and triathlon in Majorca last year and two years ago she did the Wicklow 200k cycle Her own longest personal swim was a 22.3k race in Spain in 2015 which saw her spend over nine and a half hours in the water in very turbulent conditions. Out of 40 swimmers, in the ‘Neda el Món’ race, only five finished with Eilis taking first place.

She’s got 26 people across the channel successfully and currently is helping three to achieve their goals, giving of her time and expertise free of charge.

And to all of us her advice is to get in the water: “This is your year, this is your opportunity with these classes, whatever your challenge, we’ll be able to help you on your way. You’ve everything to gain and nothing to lose.”


Eilis will deliver advanced performance competitor coaching for children, teens and adults across Leisureworld’s three sites in Cork (Bishopstown, Churchfield and Douglas).

LeisureWorld have an established Swim School which caters for thousands of children each week, aged three to 12, while also teaching adult group lessons for those that are complete beginners to those looking to improve their stroke.

From here, people may graduate to the LeisureWorld Swim Club, which is focused on lane swimming for intermediates to advanced swimmers looking to sharpen their techniques, overall ability and fitness level.

Christine Moloney, CEO LW Management, said: “Strategically, LeisureWorld recognised that there is a high demand for performance competitive swim coaching in Cork to cater for the growing number of tri-athletes and swimmers competing across the country.

“In an effort to feed this demand we are delighted to be in the position to launch a third and new strand to our swim offering called LeisureWorld Performance Swim Coaching.”

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