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Sweat Houses in Ireland.


The Irish sweat house was the forerunner of our modern sauna, the area around Lough Allen is regarded by many as the home of the sweat house, there are reckoned to be the remains of 78 in County Leitrim. The sweat house is built of stone with a small low door in the roof is a hole to allow the smoke from a turf fire to escape, the structure is covered with sods to insulate it. A large fire is lit in the centre of the house and allowed to burn for several hours, when the temperature is sufficiently high the fire is removed and the person or persons crawl in and sit on rushes or straw. When those inside feel they have sweated sufficiently they would emerge and immerse themselves in cold water.

The sweat house was considered a cure for many ailments, particularly pains and aches of the joints. There is a long history of their use in Ireland, the Celtic people certainly used them, possibly attaching some ritual or religious significance to their use, indeed it may have been them who introduced them to Ireland.

At Sliabh An Iarainn Visitor Centre in County Leitrim you can see a reconstruction of a sweat house, and visit a real one in the area. Sweathouses were not much used after 1851 when the first dispenceries were introduced, although a few as said to have been used up to the 1930's.