The 34th International Naturist Congress will be held in Drumshanbo, County Leitrim, despite the fact that public nudity remains illegal in Ireland and there are no designated public areas dedicated to being nude.
From September 11 to 14 the Lough Allen Spa Hotel will host the Congress, which expects delegates from 30 associations. A spokesperson from the hotel told the Irish Independent “We'll show them the best of Leitrim.
"And I'm sure they'll show us the best of the naturist world."
Traditionally in Ireland, some areas, certain beaches or hidden away coves are known to be nudist areas but the fact remains that unlike other European countries, such as France or Croatia, authorities cannot designate official areas. In fact there are over 20 unofficial naturist beaches around Ireland listed on the Irish Naturist Association (INA) site, five in Leinster, nine in Connacht and nine in Munster.
However, under the Town Improvement Ireland Act of 1854, men, but not women, are prohibited from indecently exposing themselves. The amended Public Order Act of 1935 criminalizes nudity in some places if the person intends to offend. And Irish law doesn't distinguish between non-sexual nudity and lewd acts or public urination.
Surprisingly it was not the INA who are bringing the International Naturist Congress to Ireland but Failte Ireland. Niall Gallagher, president of INA told the Irish Times the tourism authority obviously sees it as an opportunity.
“Fáilte Ireland obviously sees that there is potential for tourism (in naturism), even though people would say ‘What about the weather?’ But I just say what about it! You can easily go to France or Spain and have it lash rain for your holiday too.
“In any event, naturists will come to Ireland to play golf or go pony-trekking or go cycling or sightseeing or whatever, provided that in their down-time, there’s some naturist facility that they can use, such as a beach or something like that. So we’re losing out while there is nothing here in terms of (official) facilities for naturists.”
During his interview with the Irish Times Gallagher spoke about what’s behind the activity.
He said “There’s nothing in it, really.
“It’s something that you either find out for yourself and enjoy or you don’t. That’s pretty much it.”
He continued, “A good example was when Spencer Tunick came to Ireland a few years ago and he got 6,500 applications from people to go out on a cold morning to be part of something with no clothes on. In the end, they only went with 2,000 in one location and 2,000 in another.”
Despite this, public nudity remains one of Ireland’s last taboos and despite the fact that INA members and other naturists insist the activity has nothing to do with a reaction to morals of the Catholic Church or rebellion and the fact that average age of those who participate in Ireland is 29 it seems that it remains a “political hot potato,” as Gallagher once put it.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Ciara Meehan, a history lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire, specializing in the political and social history of modern Ireland, said the Irish mental block on nudity goes back to Victorian times.
She said, “When Victorian values were dying down in Britain, they held on in Ireland, and being dressed appropriately was a sign of proper living.
“The idea of Victorian values really appealed to the Irish when we were setting up the Free State as they sat well with Catholic teachings. After the fall of the Catholic Church's domination, consumerism and the media became the dominant voice.
“Nowadays (bashfulness about being naked) is probably more to do with the images projected by glossy magazines. Women are portrayed in those magazines as having slender figures and being flawless.”
For more information on the upcoming congress and the Irish Naturist Association visit www.irishnaturism.org.