Swim Ireland and Sanctuary Runners join forces to launch Sanctuary Swimmers

  • New initiative to bring locals together with refugees and migrants to enjoy open water swimming
  • Launch coincides with release of video series showcasing success of pilot programme in Cork in 2022 featuring Refugee Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini
  • Plans for groups in six locations across Ireland in 2023

A first-of-its kind community integration initiative is being launched as a joint venture between Swim Ireland and Sanctuary Runners.

‘Sanctuary Swimmers’ will use the experience of open sea swimming to bring together all in the community – including asylum seekers and refugees currently living in Direct Provision.

This week’s launch follows the completion of a pilot programme held in Cork in the autumn of 2022 when 18 people, from across 13 different countries, were taught how to swim by Swim Ireland instructor Deirdre Sheehan.

Building on from the success of Sanctuary Runners, founded in Cork in 2018 to break down social barriers which exist between migrants and locals across Ireland, the Sanctuary Swimmers initiative will now expand to include six locations in 2023.

“Our hope is to create Sanctuary Swimmer groups in Kerry, Cork, Wicklow, Galway and Dublin this year but perhaps elsewhere too. We’re so excited to bring all our learnings from our work with the Sanctuary Runners to the water and to open sea swimming,” said Ailís McSweeney, Ireland Lead Manager with the Sanctuary Runners.

Groups will consist of around 18 people and be made up of locals and people who have moved to the area alike. Swim Ireland instructors, with a specifically designed programme, will teach the participants how to swim and be at ease in the open sea. 

Releasing two short films documenting the journey through the recent pilot programme, filmed by documentary maker Clem McInerney, the films conclude with a message of congratulations from Refugee Olympian and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Yusra Mardini, whose story is told in ‘The Swimmers’ film on Netflix. 

Mardini promises to “One day come swim with you in Ireland.”

Swim Ireland CEO Sarah Keane explained the importance of the Sanctuary Swimmers initiative. She said: “The open water can, for some, invoke a feeling or fear, for others a sense of adventure. Those emotions are heightened for those who have never been in the sea before. Transcending these is the power of the Sanctuary Swimmers’ initiative and doing it all alongside people we care about and who support us is what makes it truly unique.”

Celebrating the 5th year of the Sanctuary Runners’ movement which now has over 10,000 members across Ireland its founder and CEO Graham Clifford said this collaboration with Swim Ireland offers another vital strand for community integration.

“We live on an island, open sea swimming is a liberating gift we can all enjoy. And even for those who may have developed negative views of the open sea because of their journey to Ireland, conquering those alongside locals is so important. As with our core work with the Sanctuary Runners we believe sport has such a vital role to play in community integration, in bringing people together no matter their nationality or legal status and helping natural positive friendships develop while always championing solidarity and respect to all.”

And Clifford believes the concept could travel:

“There’s no reason why we couldn’t look to expand this initiative to other countries. Often the best ideas are the most simple and when it comes to bringing people together swimming can achieve that in a healthy and positive way.”


Accompanying assets: Free to use:

A Trailer for our video series


Video – Part One – Sanctuary Swimmers 


Video – Part Two – Sanctuary Swimmers


Copies of the above are also available on request.


  • For more information on the programme contact Ailís McSweeney, Ireland Lead of the Sanctuary Runners at ailis@sanctuaryrunners.ie or Trish Mayon, Head of Communications for Swim Ireland at trishmayon@swimireland.ie 
  • The Sanctuary Swimmers pilot programme took place at Fountainstown and Myrtleville beaches in Cork.
  • The pilot project was also supported by Intersport Elverys who provided wetsuits for participants living in Direct Provision
  • Sanctuary Runners is a not-for-profit movement (CLG) and was named the ‘best initiative to use sport to promote inclusion’ at the 2022 Irish Sport Industry Awards. It has also been celebrated at the United Nations and at the European Commission.
  • Swim Ireland is the National Governing Body for Swimming in Ireland with a  vision for an ‘Island of Swimmers’. 

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