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Don't Forget To Wash Behind The Years

With the modern convenience of indoor baths and showers, it's hard to imagine life without these little luxuries. But if the current difficulties with water shortages and restriction of supply continues, then we might all have to take a leaf out of our ancestors' books to keep ourselves clean. Before the advent of indoor plumbing the public bathhouse and the sea provided facilities for Dubliners to wash themselves.

The villages of Ringsend, Irishtown and Sandymount were popular as bathing places with the citizens of Dublin. John Rocque's map of 1773 shows a bathhouse for men at Ringsend and a bath for women at Irishtown.

The building of the South Wall transformed that area into a massive tidal bathing area. In the early part of the 19th century large numbers of Dubliners from all strata of society flocked to the shore at Ringsend to partake of the waters. It was widely believed at the time that the practice of bathing was good for one's health generally. Bathing was also believed to cure a variety of ills, including rheumatism and distemper.

One commentator made the following observations in 1818 about the popularity of sea bathing: "Every vehicle, both public and private, is seen filled with people crowding the avenues that lead to the salt water on both sides of the bay, particularly on the south. As the shore is flat and the period of bathing but short at each tide, they hasten to avail themselves of it, and rush altogether into the water. The swarm of naked figures thus seen on the shore from Ringsend to Sandymount is as singular as it is surprising, while the noise and sportive merriment seem to indicate that it is not practised so much for health as for festive recreation."

The same observer estimated that up to 20,000 people bathed at every high tide during the summer, with many continuing the practice during the winter months.

As well as sea bathing, there were privately owned bathhouses offering hot and cold baths. Two of the most popular were the Bayview Baths at Pigeon House Road and Murphy's baths for women at Irishtown.

The most famous was Cranfield Baths at Irishtown, and in 1882 the Merrion Promenade Pier and Bath Company opened for business near the Martello tower in Sandymount. The company had planned to build a three-mile long pier, but eventually settled for one that extended 300 yards out to sea. Along with the bathing facilities, it was possible to take refreshments on the pier while listening to bands during fine weather.

A century before that, a character by the name of Doctor Achmet Borumborad appeared in Dublin. He was a large man with a black beard and moustache, and was always attired in traditional Turkish dress. He persuaded the Irish House of Commons to fund a Turkish bathhouse at Bachelors Walk in Dublin City. The funding stopped abruptly after a drunken party at the baths, during which several prominent members of Parliament had to be extracted from the cold bath. It emerged later that Dr Borumborad was a Kilkenny man named Patrick Joyce.

Also on the north side were the Clontarf Baths, built in 1864. Hot seawater baths were provided in 1886 and two pools -- for men and women -- were provided, and there were also bathing facilities at the North Wall and Annesley Bridge. Other southside bathing facilities were provided at Dalkey, Sandycove and Dún Laoghaire.