CREEVAGHBAUN SWEAT HOUSE

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If you are looking for a hidden gem of Irish history and culture, you might want to visit the Creevaghbaun Sweat House, a small but remarkable stone structure that dates back to the 18th or 19th century. The sweat house, also known as ‘teach allais’ in Irish, is located near the village of Barnaderg, about 10 km from Tuam, in County Galway. It is one of the best preserved examples of its kind in Ireland, and it offers a glimpse into a fascinating and mysterious tradition that has almost vanished from the modern world.

A sweat house is a small, dry-stone building with a low entrance and a domed or corbelled roof. It was used for therapeutic purposes, similar to a sauna or a steam bath. The interior of the sweat house was heated by lighting a fire inside and then removing the ashes. The person or persons who wanted to use the sweat house would enter through the narrow doorway, usually crawling on their hands and knees, and sit or lie down on the floor or on a stone bench. They would then cover the entrance with a blanket or a turf sod to trap the heat inside. The temperature inside the sweat house could reach up to 40 degrees Celsius, causing the occupants to sweat profusely. The sweating was believed to cleanse the body and cure various ailments, such as rheumatism, arthritis, skin diseases, colds and fevers. The sweat house session could last from 15 minutes to several hours, depending on the endurance and preference of the user. After leaving the sweat house, the user would cool down by plunging into a nearby stream or well, or by rubbing themselves with snow or cold water.

The origin and function of sweat houses are not fully understood by archaeologists and historians. They are found mainly in Ireland, Scotland and northern England, but also in other parts of Europe and North America. They are usually located in rural areas, near water sources and often associated with holy wells or ancient monuments. Some scholars suggest that they have pre-Christian origins and were used for ritual purposes, such as purification, healing or initiation. Others argue that they are a relatively recent phenomenon, dating from the 17th or 18th century, and were influenced by Scandinavian or Native American cultures. Some evidence suggests that they were used by both men and women, either separately or together, and that they had social as well as medical functions. They may have also served as places of refuge or hiding during times of war or persecution.

The Creevaghbaun Sweat House is situated about 100 meters east of Creevaghbaun Church, which dates from the 13th century. It is built of well-dressed limestone blocks, possibly reused from another building. It measures about 2.5 meters long by 2 meters wide by 1.5 meters high. It has a flat-headed doorway at the west end of the north wall, measuring 0.5 meters wide by 1.1 meters high. The roof is corbelled, meaning that each layer of stones projects slightly beyond the one below, forming a dome-like shape. The interior has a stone bench along the south wall and a small niche in the east wall. There is also a circular opening in the roof, which may have been used for ventilation or smoke escape.

The Creevaghbaun Sweat House is one of only two known examples of rectangular sweat houses in Ireland; most of them are circular or oval in shape. It is also unusual in having a corbelled roof; most of them have flat roofs covered with turf or thatch. It is not clear when or how often the Creevaghbaun Sweat House was used, but it is likely that it was abandoned by the early 20th century, as the tradition of sweat houses declined due to social and cultural changes.

The Creevaghbaun Sweat House is now a protected national monument and is accessible to visitors. It is surrounded by a low stone wall and has an information plaque nearby.

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Creevaghbaun Sweat House

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