Please scroll through the images above of Tirkane Sweat House.
Located in the townland of Tirkane, some 2.5 miles North West of the town of Maghera, Tirkane Sweat House is a well preserved 18th century example of an Irish sweat house (a cross between a Finnish sauna and a Turkish bath) and was considered highly effective in treating rheumatism and all types of aches and pains. It is constructed against the side of a steep bank, and located close to a stream to enable the user to complete their treatment by cooling off, or to use the plunge pool located near the sweat house entrance.
Tirkane sweat house has dry stone walls and a paved floor, with its roof lintelled using flat stones with a small air hole in one corner. The structure is covered in turf and looks like grassy mound except for the entrance which could be mistaken for a cave (or perhaps the entrance to the underworld!). It is very claustrophobic inside, just 1m wide and less than 2.5m long and about 1.7m high. Whilst this might seem small, this is about average for a sweat house, and certainly big enough for four or more people. Sweat houses exist in Germany, where they are known as Irish baths. This suggests that they were introduced to the Germans by the many Irish monks, scholars, teachers and missionaries that travelled throughout Europe in the so called Dark ages.
Tirkane sweat house was operated by lighting a turf or wood fire inside it. When the interior was hot enough the fire was raked out, and then green rushes or ferns spread thickly over the floor and water would be thrown over the floor to create steam. The person who needed to use the sweat house would undress and then crawled in. The entrance was closed up behind them, and the air-hole in the roof covered and so the patients were left to sweat it out in the dark. The air-hole could be uncovered to adjust the temperature if necessary. Patients who were infirm or already weak often fainted from the heat and had to be pulled out. After about half an hour (or as long as the patient could take the heat), the entrance was unblocked.