Saturday 17 November 2018

Hooray for cultural watershed that celebrated our nakedness

The photographer Spencer Tunick last week photographed thousands of naked Irishmen and women in Cork and Dublin. Not so long ago, the only people who would have turned up for such a shoot would have been (a) foam-flecked, crucifix-bearing crones denouncing as immoral even the possibility of naked flesh appearing in public, and (b) the garda vice squad. But this time, there was nothing -- just hundreds of people taking their clothes off and being natural about it.

In 1980, in one of my first ever newspaper columns, I described going to a naturist beach in France. It caused some consternation in the 'Irish Times', where I then worked. The deputy editor, the delightful Bruce Williamson, asked me was I sure that I was prepared to admit in public that I had been naked with strangers on a beach. I said, of course. "There will," he declared with stentorian relish, "be some consternation about this, my lad. Nudity is not a subject dear to the Irish Catholic breast."

Indeed. Nudity was not a subject dear to the Irish Catholic breast. I got a shedload of letters accusing me of being a pervert and an exhibitionist, but I also got a polite note from some Irish naturists. I was, they said, the first Irish person ever to admit in an Irish newspaper to baring all in a naturist resort. Could we meet? Of course. We did so in a house in Dundrum, all of us clothed; we who like bare skin are not compulsively incontinent about such matters. But the naturists were so nervous that they introduced themselves by their first names only. They felt that social and professional ridicule, or even ruin, would certainly befall them if it was widely known that they liked to spend their time with others, naked in the sun and sea.

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