The 34th International Naturist Congress opens in Leitrim tomorrow

(Photo from Flickr)

Anyone in and around Drumshanbo in Leitrim over the next few days should keep their eyes peeled for that most elusive of creatures - the Irish naturist.

They're not often seen but there will be a shot of them in Leitrim until Saturday as the 34th International Naturist Congress gets underway in the Lough Allen Hotel.

The Congress - which is being held in association with Fáilte Ireland - opens tomorrow with a press conference hosted by the Irish Naturist Association (INA) and the International Naturist Federation (INF-FNI).

While that will be open to the media, the rest of the three-day event will be private - allowing attendees to strip off - if they wish, there are no requirements - in the company of fellow naturists.

The Congress will finish up with a Gala dinner on Saturday evening - where presumably, the dress code will be quite relaxed.

Delegates from 30 international associations will be flying in from all over the world - including Canada, Brazil, South Africa and, of course, Europe.

Among the topics up for discussion is “Naturist Tourism” - an area many feel Ireland is missing out on as we don't have any designated naturist zones.

Pat Gallagher, president of the INA - which represents 300 Irish naturists - told the BBC that there is nothing sleazy about the naturist movement.

"We promote naturism as a legitimate lifestyle in Ireland, and try to have changes made in laws to enable people to enjoy the lifestyle," he said.

As Mick Ayers, the INF-FNI Vice President points out:

"Naturists are high spending, environmentally conscious tourists. The provision of officially approved naturist facilities would draw naturist tourists to Ireland. Even a small number of additional naturist tourists would have great benefits for Irish tourism”

And as an article in the Irish Times recently highlighted, it can be a lucrative tourism sector - it's worth €300 million to the French tourism industry with 3.5 million visiting their 397 naturist zones every year.

For people with no pants on, they sure seem to have deep pockets.

By Ciara Flaherty

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