As controversy over the suspension of two Kerry anglers for their use of the tricolour at an international competition in July continues, Tralee swimmer Elaine Burrows Dillane talks about how important the flag is to her when competing.
Irish and British Triple Crown swimmer Elaine Burrows Dillane has looked to the Irish tricolour for inspiration many times while navigating difficult swells in the North Channel and English Channel.
The Tralee swimmer always insists on having a tricolour and Kerry flag fly from the boat that shadows her during swims.
Flags are a source of pride for Elaine, a reminder of where she comes from and what she represents.
The recent controversy involving Kerry anglers Chris and David O’Sullivan - suspended by the Irish Federation of Sea Anglers (IFSA) for ‘overzealous’ use of the flag while representing Ireland in the Home Nations Tournament in July - has reignited interest in the flag and its place in sport.
While Elaine does not wish to become entangled in the controversy, she understands wholeheartedly why the anglers would express pride in the tricolour following their achievement.
“Your flag means everything to you. Bristol [Channel] was my hardest swim to date. While I was swimming, the flag was flying on the boat and your heart is bursting out of your chest,” she said.
Elaine explains that when difficult sea currents hinder progress, she can often find herself swimming in the same spot for two hours. The tricolour is what drives her when things get tough.
“When your head is down, and you glance over and see the flag flying, it keeps you going,” said Elaine.
"When I swam from England to Wales, I wasn’t just Elaine Burrows, I was from Kerry, representing Ireland. That’s what it would have felt like for the anglers as well: you do it for Ireland. It’s about pride and where you come from.”
In July 2021, Elaine touched Orlock Point in County Down to complete the North Channel swim. Despite being in the north of Ireland, she insisted on the tricolour being a part of the achievement.
Elaine says this created no controversy, and that having pride in a national flag – when used in a sporting context - should be exempt from offence.
“There could have been controversy but there wasn’t. I was on the boat with northern people that day and they took no offence. They never questioned my flags. That’s how it should be when it comes to sport. Sport is above all that.”
Elaine feels strongly that everyone has a right to feel pride in their national flag when representing their country.
“You need more than the fact you are competing to drive you on. You are doing it for your country, that matters. The flag matters,” she said.
“It’s not easy to just turn up and represent Ireland in any sport: angling, football, swimming, whatever. You must qualify and prepare. I can only speak for myself, but when you get there, and you see your flag, it’s the one thing that drives me on. I’m sure it’s the same for everyone,” Elaine said.
Separately, the fallout from the suspension of the six anglers continues to be felt within angling circles.
Less than 48 hours after news of the suspensions was made public, some clubs have ceased taking part in competitions in a show of solidarity.
On Thursday, the North Kerry Sea Angling Club held an emergency committee meeting in relation to the suspension of its members who represented the Irish Men’s Home Nations team.
The statement read: “It has been decided that North Kerry SAC shall cease all club activities including club matches and open competitions. This will be until all anglers are reinstated.”
North Kerry SAC also stressed that it regretted having to take such action but that it was a necessary under the circumstances.
Tralee Bay Sea Angling Club and The South Shore SAC have also suspended activities in a show of support for the anglers.