Soak up the benefits of an Irish seaweed bath on Ireland’s west coast.
An argument is brewing as we drive towards Strandhill, a seaside town on the Coolera Peninsula eight kilometres west of Sligo. My spa-phobic husband, who has just discovered that we’re booked in for a seaweed bath, has a look of horror on his face. I, on the other hand, am convinced that after the long flight from Australia and several days on the road, we’re both in need of some therapeutic pampering. Even the practical Irish argument of flushing away the extra toxins created by the sudden increase in intake of Guinness, is not compelling enough to convince Roger to accompany me.
The Irish themselves have no such reticence to romp among the seaweed.
Ireland’s west coast has a long tradition of using seaweed baths as natural therapy to unwind, de-stress, detoxify and moisturize the skin. The seaweed purifies the body by releasing toxins from the tissues, while at the same time nourishing the body with depleted minerals like potassium and iodine.
Talk to regular bathers and many will tell you that seaweed baths cure circulatory problems, skin conditions, heal burns, as well as relieve symptoms of rheumatism and arthritis.
I’m shown to a private bathroom dominated by a claw-foot Victorian bath filled with hot Atlantic seawater and seaweed of the fucus serratus variety. This seaweed is harvested from a local reef and thoroughly cleaned of clinging sea creatures before being used in the baths. After being used once for each client, the seaweed is sent to the Kilmacowen vegetable farm and used as organic fertiliser.
After a quick steam in the steam cubicle to open up my pores, I lower myself into the tub. A brownish-green mass of seaweed floats around me providing the water with a rusty tinge. I gently rub my skin with the leaves, smearing the slippery gel-like coating all over my body and hair. The slippery sensation of the seaweed does take a bit of getting used to, as does the absence of perfumed bath scents.
I close my eyes and imagine that I’m floating in a lake of hot silk, while listening to the rhythmic crashing of the waves across the road. At the end of my private hour, after washing the slippery gel off (many locals like to leave it on), I am convinced that my skin feels softer and my hair silkier.
Wetsuit-clad surfers ride the wild Atlantic waves at Strandhill Beach, while an athletic surfing instructor puts a group of self-conscious beginners through their paces. Many would argue that Strandhill Beach is one of Ireland’s best surfing spots, attracting surfers from all over Europe.
Locals walk their dogs along the beach while on the other side of the road the 18-hole golf course is popular with golfers. The beginners’ surfing class looks like it’s much more physical than the seaweed bath I’ve chosen to experience, which is by far the more tranquil local activity.
We walk along the promenade to a colourful row of buildings that create a typical picturesque Irish scene. I one of the buildings, the Strandhill Surf School has a rack with wetsuits for hire; next to is a small family pizzeria, an amusement parlour and the popular Strand pub.
Knocknarea, a romantic Gaelic name that means Mountain of the Moon, provides Strandhill with a picturesque backdrop and scenic walking trails. At the top of the mountain, there is a huge stone cairn that is believed to be the tomb of legendary warrior Queen Maeve, the ruler of ancient Connaught. This mystical landscape inspired the poetry of Ireland’s most celebrated poet and Nobel laureate – William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), who spent a great deal of his childhood in the area.
Christina Pfeiffer was a guest of Tourism Ireland