What I Do: I’m the fourth generation to harvest seaweed for our family’s baths in Sligo

Cain Kilcullen is a seaweed harvester in Enniscrone, where his family have run a seaweed bath house for four generations

I live in Enniscrone, Co Sligo, where I help run a family business called Kilcullen Seaweed Baths. I’ve been harvesting seaweed for about 10 or 12 years, but I’ve been helping out in the baths since I was a kid. My parents were running it when I was growing up. I’m going to be the fourth generation to take it over and hopefully my son will follow. We want to keep it going in the family.

Kilcullen Seaweed Baths have been here on Kilalla Bay since 1912. Everything on one side of the building has been here since then: the tiles, bathtubs, taps, shower heads and steam boxes. The water for the baths is pumped straight from the Atlantic Ocean, then UV-treated and heated.

Our seaweed grows along the coastline just in front of the baths. We use fucus serratus or serrated wrack. It’s the best oily seaweed you can get. When you’re harvesting the seaweed, you want to cut it close to the root with a knife. It’s going to grow back better that way. We pick it on a daily basis, bring it back and cook it under steam. The heat releases the iodine, the oils and all the stuff that’s super good for your skin.

Before your bath, you sit into one of our steam boxes – your head comes out of the top, you shut the door, and the steam opens up your pores before you soak. The used seaweed is then reused. It’s an unbelievable fertiliser. People want it for their vegetable gardens. We’ll use it on our own land and locals will stop by and grab some for their gardens and polytunnels.


Some people just can’t get their head around it. They’re like, “Why do people want to go sit in a seaweed bath?” Some people get squirmy when they’re on a beach and feel a bit of seaweed on their foot. They can’t imagine getting into a big bath of it. But it’s very rare that people don’t enjoy it. People come in and you can see the uncertainty on their faces, but they leave refreshed and they’re happy they’ve come.

We get loads of tourists, but we also have local people who come constantly to use the baths. Some of our regulars have been coming here for the last 50 years. People with arthritis swear by it. They think if they don’t come, if they miss a week or so, their arthritis starts to flare up on them. It helps with their pain. It helps with skin conditions too, like eczema and psoriasis. People seem to get an ease off it.

I take baths all the time in winter because I surf quite a bit and a bath is a really good way to warm up. Surfers come all year round, but it starts to get quite busy in September and October – that’s when the Atlantic wakes up.

We’re blessed. Killala Bay is amazing, you can’t get any better, it’s a dreamy place to be. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. I love it. I went up to Dublin this weekend, I brought the kids to Tayto Park, and I was two days away from the sea and I felt like a fish out of water. When I got back, I was happy to see the coastline again. I just live by the tide. If it’s low tide, I know I’m picking seaweed, and I surf on a daily basis all year round, so I’m always working around the tide and I enjoy that. I just hope it keeps going for my son. It’s a really nice way to live.

In conversation with Kathleen Harris

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Kathleen Harris

Kathleen Harris

Kathleen Harris is a video journalist at The Irish Times