Mandy Hegarty goes well out of her element to brave a naked swim…
Johnny Depp does it on his own private island. Uma Thurman was photographed doing it on a beach. According to Style magazine, Kevin Bacon does it at home with his wife and kids but “not when the nanny is around”. And now I’ve done it in a suburban Dublin swimming pool. The glamour of my first naturist experience is not quite on par with these celebrities but it was unforgettable all the same.
I grew up in a fairly prudish Catholic family where nudity was something that only happened to very small children when they were being bathed. And no photos were taken. We didn’t walk around the house naked. We didn’t sleep naked. And having spent the last 23 years of my life in a climate that rarely demands flesh to be on show, I’m just not comfortable with nudity to any degree.
Associating adult nudity with sexual or medical contexts means it’s hard to imagine communal nudity as anything other than some sort of seedy orgy. But, according to the Club Aquarius website, it is “founded on the principle of naturism being a way to live in harmony with nature, characterised by the practice of nudity in common, which aims at promoting the respect of oneself, of others and of the environment”.
Club Aquarius is a naturist club based in Leinster that runs a weekly swim in a South Dublin pool from September to June. During my email exchange with the Club Aquarius secretary, I was informed that I should bring a friend to this swim. Having just come around to the thought of getting naked in front of a group of individuals whom I did not know and would most likely never see again, the idea of bringing a friend made me falter. But unfortunately for me Club Aquarius generally only accepts couples and families, in an effort to keep the group balanced and stave away any misgivings about the nature of naturists.
Having enlisted a friend, I arrived early and sat outside the leisure centre in my car trying to pinpoint the naturists entering the building. Swarms of teenage boys with a variety of sports equipment were entering and exiting the building. A wave of irrational dread began to sweep over me. What if these teenagers could see into the pool? What if I was at the wrong pool and proceeded to ask about a non-existent naked swim?
Once inside – reassured that I was at the right pool – I discovered that in the naturist club, men and women share a changing room. There is no need for gender division when all are naked together. Reluctant to be the first one to strip down, I had a brief escape to the toilet before rejoining the group which now consisted of a naked couple and a naked family. They assured me that the pool was very warm.
After the anticipation and apprehension that built up to the moment of baring all, when I eventually undressed it felt like no big deal. It felt free and mildly liberating – it was not an exhibition or a parade. When everyone around you is naked, it feels like no one is really exposed. All my irrational dread was misplaced about this benign social swimming club.
The concept of naturism is misjudged by the Irish public, in a country where to go nude in public is illegal. But despite the twin barriers of bad weather and unofficial facilities, members of Club Aquarius say that informal nudist beaches flourish during the Irish summer. Many of these are beaches we are all familiar with – Brittas Bay, a small spot out on the Vico Road and even Dalkey. But in these spots the naturism happens discreetly, in a separate area and usually in the early morning. If you can brave the cold Irish Sea in the nude, visit irishnaturism.org or clubaquarius.ie for more information on events near you.