In 1978 on my first holiday in Greece I paid a short visit to the island of Mykonos. Walking around the harbour I saw a notice: “Bathing costumes must be worn at all times. By order of the Mayor.” Was there some danger of freak waves that the Mayor was so anxious for us? Then I realised that what the Mayor must mean was that bathing costumes were the minimum required. From which it followed that people had been known to wear less. From which it followed that nudists actually existed in the contemporary world and not just in jokes about “nudist colonies”. If I had ventured to one of the beaches away from the town I would no doubt have encountered some, but of course I was ignorant of this.
A couple of years later in Karpathos I met an Irish couple who had been to a beach in Crete where people were apt to sunbathe naked. Every day there was a police raid. And before the strenuous walk down the beach the police of course needed to take a coffee at the beach bar. So the proprietor could send someone down the beach with the message that the police were on their way. And the police could truthfully report to their superiors: “We inspect this beach every day and there is never anybody naked on it.”
I had never understood the need to cover up and liked the idea of nudity when it was warm enough, and had occasionally sunbathed naked in a place where I could be sure of not being observed. So I was interested, you might say. But I wasn’t sure that I would be able to take off my clothes in front of a crowd of people. Then in 1984 when I visited the island of Naxos I found that one of the trips advertised by boatmen from the town harbour was a trip to “Aghia Anna Nudist Beach”. Now what was this? Of course at this time there was no Internet, and such things were not mentioned in newspapers or guidebooks. And who could I ask without embarrassment? A Nudist Beach sounded a very organised affair. I had visions of some sort of invigilator greeting me when I got off the boat and demanding that I take off my clothes there and then. Would I be able to?
So I didn’t partake of the boatmen’s offered trip. But when I hired a car to see a bit more of the island, it appeared that one could go to Aghia Anna by road. So I drove there, parked the car, and walked on to the beach. There in front of me was a large notice : “Apoghorevete o Ghymnismos: Nudism is Prohibited.” How could this be? The boatmen could not be engaged in that much false advertising. Was I at the wrong place? No, down on the shore I could see the landing-stage which the boats obviously tied up to.
So, for want of anything better to do I started to walk down the beach. And when I had walked a couple of hundred yards, I realised that everyone around me was naked. So this was all that a Nudist Beach was! Now, if I remained where I was, it seemed to me I would be feeling like a voyeur. It was either retreat or take my own clothes off. So I took them off. It was excruciatingly embarrassing for the first ten minutes. Then I realised that everybody else was in the same boat and nobody was looking at me anyway. And having enjoyed a naked swim I could never look back, and since then when holidaying alone the availability of a naturist beach has been a deciding factor, and more recently I have stayed in naturist accommodation twice.
Back in the 1980s references began to appear In Irish newspapers about Corballis and the south beach of Brittas Bay. Over a few years I made several trips to Corballis and after isolated naked sunbathing I eventually discovered the area where there were others, and then seeing the accumulation of cars at Sallymount discovered that beach too. So I could be a naturist in Ireland as well as abroad.
(From subsequent visits to Greece I realised that those notices are best interpreted as “No nudity in this Immediate area, but you’ll probably find a nudist beach nearby”. And on a later visit to Naxos I found that the back of Aghia Anna beach is now entirely covered by the usual array of hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops, and the naturists have moved round the headland at either end of the beach.)