Dublin 2023 a “massive opportunity” – Ellen Walshe

Ellen Walshe made her Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020 – Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Irish Olympian and history-making world championship medallist Ellen Walshe says the inaugural LEN European U23 Swimming Championships will provide a “massive opportunity” to promote her nation’s rapidly improving strength-in-depth.

From London 2012 to Tokyo 2020 the size of the Irish Olympic swimming team more than doubled and since those Games Walshe secured the best-ever result for an Irish swimmer at a World Championship, with 400m individual medley silver at Abu Dhabi 2021.

Team-mate Dan Wiffen has also become one of the leading distance specialists on the planet, while Mona McSharry has claimed World and European honours over the last four years.

All three have confirmed their intention to race at Dublin 2023, which will run from 11-13 August in the Sport Ireland National Aquatic Centre.

“It’s going to be a big event for Irish Swimming and Sport Ireland,” Walshe tells LEN.

“Obviously a couple of the younger ones like myself qualified for the Olympics at a young age and I think we have just thrived after that and we’re realising now like, how much you can give to it.

“It’s great for Irish Swimming and I think it (Dublin 2023) is going to be a massive opportunity for us to show off what we have, enjoy it and it’s going to be pretty cool.”

The new logo incorporates two of Dublin’s most iconic landmarks, the Poolbeg Chimneys and the Spire of Dublin.


Walsh enjoyed recreational swimming as a youngster, but it was only when she turned 16 that she began to believe that competing at an Olympic Games could be a possibility.

At the age of 18 she became the first Irish woman to break the one-minute barrier in the 100m butterfly (long course) event, en route to qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics.

“I’d been to big competition like Worlds and I’d seen spectators and my parents in the stands, but this all happened during Covid-times, even when I qualified,” recalls the 21-year-old.

“We knew it was going to be a bit quieter than what it would normally be at the Olympics, but the athletes did their best to create an atmosphere and it was still special.”


Image courtesy of Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

There was no time to reflect on her achievement, or celebrate her World silver later that year in the middle east though.

“I’m definitely a person that once I achieve something, it’s ‘What can I do next?’ and my head is immediately like, straight to the next accomplishment,” says Walshe.

The Olympian wanted a new challenge and decided to relocate to the USA where she trained and studied at the University of Tennessee.

“It was so different to anything I’d experienced before because the team was huge,” she reveals.

“I’d only ever trained with like 20-25 people and there were then 80 of us in the pool at the same time, 40 men, 40 women and it was just massive and such a great thing to be part of.”


Ellen with her Tennessee team-mates – Image from @ellen_walshe

Following her freshman year though Walsh was forced to postpone her competitive career in the USA and took time out after succumbing to ‘chronic fatigue’ syndrome.

It would be over six months before she raced again.

“It was a really tough process,” Walsh recalls.

“Watching your friends compete and you can’t be at that level you know you could have been at was hard.

“I had to have a break from the sport, step back and then I was left thinking ‘am I going to make a comeback? I would try to train and it was so hard, I couldn’t breathe and there were so many other things I’d never (previously) had a problem with.

“I think it began around March last year and took me until December to start feeling myself again.”


Walshe will be targeting the Paris 2024 Olympics next year – Photo by David Kiberd/Sportsfile

Now back training in her homeland, the swimmer will reassess her options and whether to return to the United States later in the season, after competing at two major events for Ireland.

“Last year was a real challenge but I found the motivation because I wanted to make the World’s team and the U23 team, so that’s what got me back, setting those goals,” she says.

Walshe is involved in Team Ireland’s ‘Dare to Believe’ programme which sees her visit schools around the country and deliver inspirational messages to children.

She hopes that together with her fellow Irish swimmers that the Dublin 2023 squad can deliver the type of performances which will encourage more young people to not only take up the sport, but stick with it.

“I didn’t ever enjoy public speaking because I was quite shy, but I took a class in the States and it built my confidence,” the Olympian tells LEN.

“I didn’t like telling my story, but they always ask about medals and when I get them out the attention and excitement they have is so much more than I’ve ever felt for a medal so it’s really nice to see them enjoy it and want photos.

Walshe continued; “We don’t have a big group of people that swim (in Ireland) and a lot of people quit at a young age so it’s good to have a group of us now that are good seniors and enjoying the sport.

“It shows if you believe in yourself and dream big, you might accomplish it.”