Why you should care

It’s getting easier all the time to pack light for an Irish beach vacation.

Ireland has leprechauns, green hills, cold rains, dark ocean waters and even darker beers. But here’s something worth adding to the list of Irish attractions: nudism.

Though nudism is technically illegal and, in Ireland, climatically challenging, the country hosts a thriving naturist, i.e., nudist, community and even attracts skinny-dippers from other countries.

The island nation recently hosted the International Naturist Congress, a gathering of delegations from 30 countries to discuss how to organize and promote naturist activities.

Dublin and Tipperary have a few indoor facilities in the south like swimming pools and saunas, though most Irish nudists prefer to go buff in the wild. There are some 23 unofficial naturist beaches along Ireland’s rocky coastline, according to the Irish Naturist Association (INA).

The bravest still choose to face the elements and dip in the Irish Sea’s notoriously frigid and murky waters.

Never mind gale-force winds, icy waters and 95 percent chance of rain. The island’s stunning scenery is attraction enough for many.

“The weather is really not so bad. We get nice temperatures in spring, summer and often even September,” says Pat Gallagher, president of the INA, adding, “You can easily go to France or Spain and have it lash rain for your holiday too.”

Of course in wintertime, most naturists gather indoors, though the bravest still choose to face the elements and dip in the Irish Sea’s notoriously frigid and murky waters to boost circulation and the immune system, so the theory goes.

But weather’s not the only thing that makes Ireland an unlikely nudist destination.

The Irish coast at sunset with thick clouds coming in.

The coast of Ireland.

While the practice is tolerated and rarely prosecuted, strictly speaking, public nudity is still illegal in Ireland due to some — let’s get real — quite outdated laws. According to the Town Improvement (Ireland) Act of 1854, the Irish are prohibited from indecently exposing themselves. And the amended Criminal Law Act of 1935 criminalizes nudity in some places if the person intends to offend or cause scandal.

Standing buck naked for everyone to see falls pretty far outside the Irish cultural comfort zone.

What’s more, contrary to more established nudist destinations like France or Croatia, in Ireland, local councils lack the authority to designate nudist-friendly spots. This could change as the INA continues to lobby for passage of such a law.

Local culture is also unfriendly to naturist activities. Ireland is a heavily Catholic country with traditionally strict views on what constitutes public decency. Really, standing buck naked for everyone to see falls pretty far outside the Irish cultural comfort zone.

But that’s evolving fast, naturists maintain. “People’s attitudes to naturism in Ireland have really changed in the past 20 years,” says Gallagher. “It’s much more accepted now.”

In fact, the main advocate for bringing the International Naturist Congress to Ireland was not the INA, but the country’s board of tourism — Failte Ireland.

“They were the ones who approached us with the idea and encouraged us to bid to bring the convention here,” explains Gallagher. “They obviously see that there is potential for tourism, and I think more naturists will come to Ireland to do things like play golf, go cycling or sightseeing if we provide more facilities.”

For now, neither cold nor rain nor laws nor social opprobrium stays the Irish from doffing their duds.

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