The Leitrim Sweathouse Project (2021) is a community heritage initiative to research Sweathouses across Co. Leitrim. There are two main parts to the project. The first is to collect and catalogue all existing information about the Leitrim Sweathouses, and secondly to gather oral histories about these sites. It is hoped that by engaging the community to help investigate these sites a more complete picture can be gained about who built and used them and raise awareness of Sweathouses as a heritage resource in Co. Leitrim.
Sweathouses are small stone structures, usually with a single low entrance, built into the slope of a hillside or covered with sods of earth. They tend to be in quite isolated locations, often near a stream (or other water source). There are more Sweathouses known from Leitrim than anywhere else in Ireland, and so this research is the best opportunity for us to understand more about these ancient structures that are seemingly unique to Ireland.
How Sweathouses were used was documented mostly during the late 19th century. From these descriptions we know that the Sweathouse was packed with turf or wood which was let burn for most of a day, before the hot ashes were raked out. The person using the Sweathouse would undress, sometimes blocking up the entrance with their clothes once inside. Then the patient ‘sweated’ inside for a designated time. It was commonly reported that on leaving the Sweathouse, the patient would immerse themselves in a nearby stream, well or pond. This ‘sweating’ cure was used to treat all sorts of ailments but commonly for rheumatism, arthritis, fevers, sciatica, sore eyes, gout, and to improve skin complexion.
It seems that the practice of using Sweathouses died out during the early decades of the 20th century, following the advancement of rural dispensaries. What is not clear is when they were first used, or where the tradition originated.
We need volunteers, both individuals and community groups, to come forward to undertake this research. There is a wealth of knowledge about Sweathouses online, in libraries and in the community. All volunteers will be asked to attend training sessions on how to go about collecting the information and gathering oral histories (i.e. stories). This information with be brought together, analysed, and mapped in detail, to further our understanding of the Irish Sweathouse.
The project will be co-ordinated by Aidan Harte, an archaeologists, who will deliver training to all community volunteers and support as the work progresses. The Heritage Officer for County Leitrim, Ms Sarah Malone, will be overseeing and supporting the project.
To participate in what should be an exciting and informative project, please contact either the Heritage Officer or Project Co-ordinator by email or phone (details below). You will also be able to contact and follow the project as it progresses on Twitter (@LSweathouse), Facebook (This project is funded by the Heritage Council and supported by Leitrim County Council.
Leitrim Sweathouse video with Dr Ronan Foley: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fj-4D59-lL0&t=57s
The Leitrim Sweathouse Project 2021 video outlining preliminary research results:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCq1HCQ4D-Y
Heritage Officer: Sarah Malone, Email: email@example.com, Tel: 071 9620005 Ext. 516
Project Co-ordinator: Aidan Harte, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel: 087 2963795