The naturist trail: ‘Once you try it, there’s no going back’

Pat Gallagher, president of the Irish Naturist Association, and his wife, Mary, are among the few in Ireland willing to speak publicly about the lifestyle. They started off by accident, says Pat

Mon, Aug 25, 2014, 01:00

You might think that nudists would be fairly visible and easy to track down. Isn’t there a latent exhibitionism in casting your clothes to the wind and stepping out mother-naked into the sunshine? An out-and-proud statement of personal freedom? But when I set out to find them, it turns out that many Irish naturists are keen to keep their identities, if not their bodies, firmly under wraps, and at least some of them are as slippery as eels.

A prospective encounter with a secret group of nudists from north Co Antrim looks promising until it becomes clear that the price of meeting them was the surrender of my own clothes, in the interests of creating “a level playing field”.

“Go on: dare to bare,” they repeatedly urge me. When I decline, pleading a preference for private nudity – I have no problem leaping naked into the surf on a remote Donegal beach, and have done so, but I don’t want anyone else around to watch me do it – the trail suddenly goes cold.

Or perhaps the Antrim naturists simply got cold feet. It wouldn’t be surprising, given the punitive attitude towards nudity in the North. Last month, following the apprehension of two skinny-dippers who were caught cooling down in the sea in Holywood, Co Down, during a heatwave, the PSNI warned anyone else thinking of stripping off that they could end up with a criminal record and a place on the sex offenders register. It seems that the sight of a naked body, particularly if it is male, is still regarded as an affront to decency by many, carrying the power to shock, traumatise and corrupt the innocent. No wonder the nudists are lying low.

Then I hear about a man called Pat Gallagher, president of the Irish Naturist Association. Pat is one of the few nudists in Ireland who is willing to speak publicly about his preferred lifestyle, to put a face, indeed a whole body, to his name. He lives with his wife, Mary, in the green depths of Co Roscommon and he’s happy to meet and talk. “Great,” I say, “I’ll take a trip down to see you.” We arrange to meet outside a bar in a tiny village, because he says I’ll never find his house if he doesn’t show me the way.

 

Country roads

Finding the village, let alone the rendezvous point at the bar, requires much confused driving up and down identical-looking country roads, criss-crossing the county borders between Leitrim and Roscommon, reversing to check signposts and staring at the “no service” message on my mobile, while trying – fruitlessly – to access Google maps.

When I finally get there, Pat is waiting patiently in his car by the side of the road. He is wearing his Irish Naturist Association T-shirt. “Keep close behind me,” he says. “It gets a bit wild and woolly on the way to the house.”

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