At this private swimming pool on the Southside, the air smells of damp towels and chlorine.
It is a blustery Saturday evening, about 6:30 pm, and a group of a dozen or so people is gathering in the reception area, ready for an hour-long swimming session.
Young and old, they are dressed in sports gear: tracksuits, hoodies, runners. Some know each other, shaking hands familiarly. Others just sit quietly, waiting to pass through to the changing rooms.
All are members of the Dublin-based Irish Naturist Association (INA). They’ll soon shed all their layers, and –together – take a dip.
Naturism in Dublin has for some time been the preserve of the individual swimmer, found in coastal pockets at Sandymount and Dalkey.
In recent years, the INA has been working to bring enthusiasts together. For the past week, starting on 22 March, members have gathered for a naturist blitz, in swims taking place across the country.
At that Southside pool on Saturday evening, the last members of Club Aquarius — a smaller naturist group, for couples — file out the door, and the new group takes over the changing rooms. It’s time for the INA men-only swim.
Only one woman, Leticia, who didn’t want to give her second name, sticks around.
As coordinator of the INA, Leticia helps to organise members. In just a towel, to shield her from the wind let in by arriving members, she chats in the foyer of the pool, next to the changing areas.
She’s the de-facto spokesperson for Ireland’s naturist movement; it’s her job to promote and demystify naturism.
“Most of the members have tried nudist beaches abroad,” says Leticia. “In Spain and France, especially in the hot countries, and everyone would agree that it’s natural to be naked when it’s over thirty degrees.”
Despite the Irish climate, she says, “You come back from those experiences and then you think, why not here?”
“Why Not Here?”
In some ways, Ireland is a hostile environment for those who want to strip off and jump in the sea. The INA was founded in 1963, yet today there still are no beaches that officially allow nude bathing.
When Leticia joined in 2014, that was something she wanted to change. “I soon saw a need for activism in Ireland,” she says. “It’s probably the last country in Europe without nudist beaches, officially.”
Monthly swims. Bringing naturists together. It’s all gone some ways to elevating Irish naturism, she says. But the laws haven’t changed.
The current legislation, Leticia says, basically concludes that “nudity’s not offensive in itself but if you expose yourself in order to provoke someone, that would be an offense”.
Public nudity falls under the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1935, which says that “every person who shall commit at or near and in the sight of any place along which the public habitually pass as of right or by permission, any act in such a way as to offend modesty or cause scandal or injure the morals of the community shall be guilty of an offence.”
Leticia, along with other INA members, has earmarked certain spots around Dublin and the country where, discreetly, they may gather and swim with freedom. It may be a small association, with just 200 members at present, yet there’s clearly a demand for it.
Cormac, who also didn’t want to give his second name, stands in the foyer awaiting the session’s commencement, and says swimming abroad was what first piqued his interest.
“I would have experienced it in Barcelona for the first time,” he says. “So when I came back I was interested in finding out more about it in Ireland.”
INA membership comes in at €55 annually – €40 if you’re over 65.
It’s not just about building a community of like-minded swimmers. Leticia and Cormac said there is a need for protection against representation, admitting that some people do go to beaches as swingers, not naturists.
Having to rent a private pool, tucked away on Dublin’s Southside – which also didn’t want to be named – is hardly the freedom they might desire, but, given the current legal climate, it’s perhaps the best they’re going to get.
Rising to the Task?
Surrounded by Dublin’s naturists, a nude debut is hardly a big deal right? And after all, we’re fired naked and bawling into the world, we shower naked and screw naked, though not exclusively.
Yet the gaze of others can terrify you and make you suddenly conscious of a vessel in need of some repair. Should I have manscaped? And what of the dreaded public erection? Suggestions from the INA are that you lie face down for a time and wait for things to pass.
In any case, the jocks are off.
There’s almost complete silence while we’re in the pool.
Although there is a social aspect to the INA swims, such as a pub gathering afterwards, many see it as a chance to peacefully unwind. Some paddle aimlessly or spend time in the steam room. Younger members front crawl, at speed, the length of the pool.
For others, like Cormac, it’s more about the experience itself. He likes the simplicity of being naked, of “getting in the water to swim and not having wet togs”, he says.
Leticia, the coordinator, joins for a swim and a steam. I’m curious as to why only 200 people have signed up for membership. She reckons it comes down to both the legal restrictions and the social taboo.
Ireland and Dublin are too small, she says. “People bump into each other all the time.”
This may explain why nobody wanted to give their surname, and why few swimmers were keen to chat with a journalist, even a naked one.
Another issue for Dublin naturism is the gender balance: it’s mostly guys in the INA, an imbalance that Leticia puts down to societal pressure and body image issues.
“Fashion and society puts so much pressure on women,” she says. “If I say I’m a naturist, people will look at me and wonder, ‘Does she have the body for that?’”
The session’s nearly up, and I decide to duck out early, but I’m not the only one.
Leaving the changing rooms, a naked Leticia bids me farewell as her fellow naturists paddle, stroke and enjoy the precious last moments of a trunks-free dip.