History of Naturism in Ireland

Thursday, the 30th July 2020

AN INTERVIEW WITH PAT GALLAGHER (INA PRESIDENT) REGARDING:

THE HISTORY OF NATURISM IN IRELAND

  • HI PAT! WE UNDERSTAND THAT IRELAND WAS A CONSERVATIVE PLACE IN THE PAST SO PLEASE EXPLAIN HOW NATURISM IN IRELAND BEGAN. HOW FOR EXAMPLE DID PEOPLE WHO WISHED TO PRACTICE NATURISM HERE FIND PLACES TO PRACTICE IT IN A COUNTRY WHERE NUDITY WAS NOT ACCEPTABLE? DID THEY JOIN OTHER NATURIST ORGANISATIONS TO BE ABLE TO VISIT NATURIST RESORTS ABROAD?

As you say, Ireland was indeed a very conservative place in 1963 when the Irish Naturist Association (INA) was founded.  My understanding is that the original INA committee were members of the Central Council of British Naturism (CCBN) as British Naturism was then called, and John Conlon was one of these early members. Indeed, the original address for the INA was John Conlon’s personal home address. Advertisements were placed in the British Naturist Journal. Back then the publication was simply a typed magazine on A4 paper distributed quarterly to members only. The original INA was also a very small organisation; indeed, it was somewhat secret, and its members were encouraged to use their first names only.

  • INA WAS FOUNDED IN 1963. HOW DID THE ASSOCIATION COME INTO BEING AND WHO WERE ITS PRINCIPAL FOUNDERS? IS IT TRUE THAT THESE FOUNDER MEMBERS MET ON A NATURIST HOLIDAY IN CORSICA? WHERE AND HOW DID THEY MEET AND TAKE PART IN NON-SEXUAL SOCIAL NUDITY IN IRELAND?

Our original belief was that the INA was founded in 1965 as was seen on our webpage, but when John Conlon gave me some of its old documents he had, I found the original notebook with the inaugural meeting in Loughshinny in 1963! And what is interesting is that it seems these original members met while on holiday in Corsica and decided to form an association in Ireland when they returned home from this no doubt naturist vacation.  Later INA committee meetings took place in a pub which was owned by one of the original committee’s members, and most original member meetups were in each other’s homes.

  • DURING THE PERIOD 1970 – 1980 PAUL MOYNIHAN AND HIS WIFE BARBARA WERE INVOLVED IN THE ASSOCIATION AND PAUL’S ANTIQUE SHOP IN FRANCIS STEET IN DUBLIN BECAME THE CENTRE OF THE INA IN IRELAND. HOW DID HE AND OTHERS MANAGE TO BRING INA OUT INTO THE OPEN AND PUBLICISE ITS EVENTS? TELL US ABOUT THE FIRST NATURIST HOLIDAY FAIR IN IRELAND. CAN YOU CONFIRM THE FIRST MEETING OF THE INTERNATIONAL NATURIST FEDERATION WAS TO BE HELD IN IRELAND?

Brian and Winnie Murdock in particular were involved in the Association in the 1970s. I’m not too sure when Paul and Barbara Moynihan joined the INA but to the best of my recollection, they only became members shortly before my wife and I, possibly in 1978 / 1979. Paul Moynihan quickly joined the INA committee. It was thought that as he was in the antiques business and a member of the business community, that he was a great spokesperson for the organization as it tried to promote the naturist lifestyle in the early 1980s. Paul was much more of a go-getter and wanted to open up the INA to all Irish people interested in trying naturism, which was a change in policy to that of previous INA committee members who had a rigorous and more conservative admissions procedure. Paul placed naturist material in his antique shop window in Dublin, and it was a walk-in shop for naturist information. He also gave out British Naturist magazines and general information on naturism to whoever had the nerve to walk in and ask about them. He was approached on more than one occasion by the Gardaí, but he still insisted he was doing no wrong and would not remove the material. Whenever anyone asked Paul and Barbara about naturism, they both tried their best to encourage people to try it and worked tirelessly to try get a clothing optional beach designated in Ireland. As a result of these actions Paul received all sorts of threats, including being burnt out of his building, to being regularly accused of being a pervert among other things.

Paul also did a lot of media interviews when no one else would put their head above the parapet, in an attempt to get rid of the secrecy and bring the topic out into the open (he even appeared naked in a RTE documentary on naturism in Ireland at that time). Indeed, the current INA P.O. address was opened by Paul Moynihan after he became involved on his first INA committees. I also think Paul was instrumental in placing ads in the well-known Health &Efficiency (H&E) magazine, which helped open up the INA membership to more Irish people. Indeed, I myself joined INA around 1980 having seen one of these adverts in H&E.

Paul started to attend international naturist meetings and brought in 1986 an international naturist meeting, involving other European naturist associations, to Ireland. In my perspective this meeting seemed to be a very low-key affair and was held in a hotel on the North Circular Road near the gate to the Phoenix park. At a later stage Paul approached the organisers of a Holiday Fair in Ballsbridge to ask to for a stand at it, but this request was refused outright. He then approached Buswell’s Hotel and the manager of that establishment gave permission for the INA to hold its own Naturist Holiday Fair. Paul wrote to naturist holiday firms and organisations offering stands for hire, in order for them to sell their products / services in the Irish market. INA and Club Aquarius also had stands along with a multiple of foreign naturist federations and holiday companies. It was a great success. In order to advertise it locally, Paul put out flyers on just about every lamppost in Dublin, and it got a lot of national publicity with Paul appearing on TV and in the national papers!

  • IN THE DECADE 1980 TO 1990 CLUB AQUARIUS WAS CREATED TO CATER FOR NATURIST COUPLES AND FAMILIES. WAS THIS CLUB SET UP BY PAUL, BARBARA AND BY YOU AND YOUR WIFE MARY? AND ARE THERE SOME OTHER PEOPLE THAT DESERVE MENTION FOR THEIR TIRELESS WORK ON BEHALF OF THE NATURIST ASSOCIATION?

During a sauna pool meeting in a venue in Butterfield Avenue, there was a discussion about the proprietor wanting to raise the rent at that venue and the committee were unwilling to spend more for this location. INA committee members Paul Moynihan and Brendan Ward put forward an idea to hold an ad hoc meeting to form a Dublin-based club. Neither Paul nor Brendan would go forward for the committee of this new club so myself, Jim Mulvaney, Kieran Slater, Pauline Fitzgerald and a number of others decided to hold a meeting in the Butterfield Inn the following week. We met and formed a special committee to advance this idea with Jim as Chairman, and myself as treasurer. The next week, Jim took a courageous step and phoned the Sports Department of Dublin Corporation and arranged a meeting with them. The Corporation decided somewhat reluctantly, that we could have a trial run in the pool in Crumlin (indeed we ended up using that pool for more than 30 years, usually on Sunday mornings). Later I approached the Corporation for an extra hour on a different day. As a result of that discussion, Tuesday evenings became available, which I opened to all INF/INF members, as Club Aquarius was only open to couples and families. Later Club Aquarius went on to hire a variety of venues, probably the best of these back then was on Richmond Road. This venue really put Club Aquarius on the map!

After the success of this venture, Club Aquarius purchased a 10-acre site in Meath, and we organized regular weekend camping outings there in the 1990s.

  • WHEN DID YOU BECOME PRESIDENT OF INA (A ROLE YOU CURRENTLY STILL HOLD)? WHAT ENCOURAGED YOU TO TAKE UP THE ROLE IN THE FIRST PLACE? I HAVE LEARNT THAT YOU MANAGED TO GET AN INTERVIEW WITH THE RECENTLY DECEASED GAY BYRNE ON HIS MORNING RADIO SHOW SOME YEARS AGO. DURING THAT INTERVIEW WHO WAS NAKED WITH YOU ON CORBALLIS BEACH?

I can’t remember when I actually became President. My first years were spent building up and maintaining Club Aquarius, first as Treasurer and then as Chairman. I had a break around 1986 to go abroad for work, and other committee members ran the club. I was asked back onto the committee in 1987, to help bring the INA in a new direction. Around 1994 I put forward the idea of approaching councils to allocate beaches for clothing optional use. Another committee member Colm O’Keeffe, along with the then INA President Stephen Matthews, and I spent many hours in Colm’s house typing and retyping submissions to numerous local authorities. Many letters went back and forth, but still we managed to get no beaches allocated as clothing optional. Nevertheless, this activity did bring us much publicity.

You asked about the Gay Byrne interview. By this time, I had my own shop in Kilmainham and used its phone number for our publicity campaigns. As a result of one of these campaigns, we got a letter from a businessman in Ballybunion, Co Kerry. This businessman suggested that the INA use a beach near this town which he felt was suitable for our use. He also told us that he had good contacts on the council etc. to get the beach designated as clothing optional. We travelled to Ballybunion to meet with him and look over this particular beach. It was called The Nun’s Strand and was overlooked by a nunnery (hence the name) with a high wall, next to another beach (Ladies’ Beach) that has a large rock colloquially called the Virgin’s Rock. In reality The Nun’s Strand is totally unsuitable for any recreational activity due to the steep climb down to it. However, it was great for publicity for the INA and the media loved it. As mentioned, Ladies Beach had a section of the beach where the local priest separated men from women near the Virgin’s Rock. What more could a budding journalist ask for, as any article on the area was sure to garner a lot of interest from readers! Unfortunately, it seems there were a number of very irate people in Ballybunion, who were opposed to having a naturist beach in their community. As a result of our meeting with the local businessman, a meeting of the local Chamber of Commerce was called to discuss this proposal after we left Ballybunion.

The next morning, I got a call from the Gay Byrne Radio Show, (the most popular national radio show in the mornings at that time). I made arrangements to meet whoever they sent with a mobile phone along the Donabate road. A car pulled up and RTE reporters Joe Duffy and Barbara Jordan got out. We headed over to Donabate Beach using the back way that I knew, climbed across the dunes to the front of the beach. It was a cool September morning but when we got there, Joe suggested we remove our clothes while Barbara took a photo as proof of our naturist credentials! I was then handed a phone with an aerial while Joe borrowed Barbara’s much smaller phone. We established communications with the studio, and Gay introduced us at the top of the show. During the interview he asked if anyone else was about, and Joe told him that there was a man (who turned out to be a priest) walking along the beach and waving at us! Gay was best pleased with this but was later annoyed that no members of the Ballybunion Chamber of Commerce would come on-air to discuss the results of their own meeting (on this idea to designate their beach as clothing optional)!

This interview was my own coming out as a naturist and following that most of my neighbours or family learned of my involvement in naturism.

  • CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT ALL THE DIFFERENT INA MILESTONES UP TO 2014 FOR EXAMPLE, THE MANY MEETINGS WITH LOCAL COUNCILS, MEMORABLE PRESS ARTICLES OR INTERVIEWS, AND ANY OTHER SPECIAL EVENTS?

Although we have had many letters back and forth to councils over the years, no council has ever suggested a meeting until recently. Many of the letters are signed by persons who went on to have political careers, and who seemed positive to our idea at the time, but soon were more interested in not been seen as too liberal.

As regards interviews, we have done many over the years with some of the more famous journalists both radio, TV and newspapers. One of the interviews which surprised me the most was an interview I gave with Newstalk’s George Hook. I was terrified regarding what he would say, but as it turned out, he was a real gentleman and a lovely interviewer.

As President of the INA, I also brought us into the International Naturist Federation (INF-FNI) again by attending meetings abroad (a practice which had stopped after Paul Moynihan had stepped down), including the 31st World Naturist Congress on September 2008 on Tambaba Beach, in Paraíba, Brazil.

  • WHAT SWIMMING POOLS DID INA MEMBERS USE FOR THEIR REGULAR SWIM SESSIONS IN THE EARLY DAYS (BEFORE MESPIL AND CRUMLIN)? WHERE ELSE DID SWIM SESSIONS TAKE PLACE AND HOW MANY YEARS DID INA ORGANISE MEETUPS IN EACH OF THESE PLACES?

Before the Mespil Pool, the INA used only the pool in Crumlin. Club Aquarius did use several locations over the years, one pool on Richmond road, one on the North Circular Road near Phibsboro and one in Bray among others.

Beach outings were also organised, especially on World Naturist Day in different locations, mostly in the Brittas Bay area.

  • IN 2014 THE 34th INTERNATIONAL NATURIST CONGRESS WAS HELD IN IRELAND FOR THE SECOND TIME. WHAT WERE THE BENEFITS TO NATURISM IN IRELAND THAT CAME FROM HOSTING THIS EVENT? AND WHAT HAPPENED IN 2015 THAT LED TO A CHANGE IN THE LAW IN RELATION TO AN OFFENCE INVOLVING NUDITY TWO YEARS LATER? HOW DID INA HELP SHAPE THIS LAW IN 2017?

The 34th International Naturist Congress attracted much publicity nationally and internationally.  Especially as it was held in a small village in the West of Ireland.

I think the long-term benefits of the Congress are the recognition among Irish people that naturists are an integral part of our society and have a legitimate right to practice their lifestyle in Ireland. Hence it is now much easier to hire venues and organise events both indoor and outdoor.

This Congress held in 2014 may also have contributed to subsequent changes in the law related to nudity in Ireland, as it may have influenced the mindset of those whose job it was to review The INA’s submission on legal changes to laws related to nudity in Ireland.

In 2014 the original 1935 law under which a person could be prosecuted for public nudity was struck down by the High Court in an appeal case. This gave the INA the opportunity to make a submission to Frances Fitzgerald TD, the Minister of Justice and Equality and to every member of the Law Reform Committee. You can see a portion of the reply to our submission on the law concerning public nudity here:

Note that the reference in the Department’ s letter to Section 39 of the original Bill was later written into Section 46 (1) of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 that was approved by the Dáil in that year. This new law, which is similar to the law on public nudity in the UK, states that for an offence to be committed the person exposing him/herself must intend to cause fear, distress or alarm to another person.

As a result of this change Irish law acknowledges that being naked in itself is not illegal in public places (in that for an offence to be committed the person exposing him/herself must intend to cause fear, distress or alarm to another person).

In addition to the enactment of the 2017 Act, the comments of Mr. Justice Richard Humphreys in the High Court on 18th May 2016 are also very relevant. He said that “[people] merely exposing themselves in a public place does not constitute an offence. There were many counter examples where to do so is manifestly not indecent. These ‘life affirming activities’ include use of certain bathing places, discreet skinny dipping, certain saunas, exposure for the purposes of theatre, avant-garde performance art, discreet artistic photography and so on.”

  • WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNT FROM OTHER NATURIST FEDERATIONS ABROAD THROUGHOUT THE YEARS? WHICH COUNTRIES DO YOU FIND THE MOST INSPIRING AND WHY?

Lessons learned from other naturist federations as to how they made naturism more acceptable in their countries, gave us and continue to give us ideas as to how we can promote naturism in Ireland. However, I still think the International Naturist Federation (INF-FNI) has a lot more to do to make naturism more acceptable everywhere. I believe that this organisation should not leave it to individual countries to fight government policies in relation to naturism. I discovered, contrary to popular opinion, that not all countries have an open policy on nudity. In most countries nudity is accepted only where local authorities designate naturist areas. Outside of these areas a person can still be prosecuted for being naked (Spain, Portugal, and France are examples of this). I find that the Netherlands is one of the countries that is the most progressive society for practicing naturism and public nudity in general.

  • WHAT DO YOU FEEL FROM YOUR MANY YEARS OF WORKING TO NORMALISE NATURISM IS INA’S MOST PRESSING ISSUE GOING FORWARD?
  • Getting beaches / bathing places designated as clothing-optional or naturist?

Designated beaches and / or outdoor areas make everyone more comfortable about using such areas.

  • Increasing the number of people practicing naturism?

Designated beaches and / or outdoor areas make everyone more comfortable about using such areas. The more people that practice naturism, the more acceptable it will become, and not necessarily as members of any organisation.

  • Creating a naturist center for people to visit and try out naturism, learn of its benefits and act as a base for naturist events?

Should the INA own it its own facility (be it a campsite with a clubhouse or an urban setting with a building in an urban setting where indoor activities could take place) this would be of great benefit for members to use. But more importantly it would provide a safe place to introduce new members into the naturist lifestyle, especially persons who may be somewhat nervous of being naked in front of others. It could also act as an Irish Naturism Headquarters and an office with a place where memorabilia could be stored. But in the real-world naturism is best practiced outdoor in public places such as beaches, parks, lakes or rivers and even gardens. And definitely not behind walls nor high hedgerows. And of course, the naked body should never be criminalised.

  • Or any other issue?

In my opinion all international naturist federations should be working to put themselves out of business. The day when it is acceptable to be naked anywhere is where we should be working towards.

Related entries in our blog:

A summary of the History of Naturism in Ireland

Paul Moynihan, a naturist life

Living the dream, by Pat Gallagher

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