Boiling hot water and the Bath Hotel

County View

County View
John Healy

THE regretted death of Lol Staunton, last surviving member of his family, revived memories of the old Bath Hotel at Roman Island, where as youngsters he and his brothers would have been recruited as helping hands. The yellow and black painted hotel was itself an imposing structure, but it was the seaweed baths on the water’s edge which were the real attraction.
The baths consisted of a long, low building comprising - if memory serves - some eight or so cubicles. Each cubicle was fitted with a large, expansive bath into which copious amounts of seaweed would be placed, then filled with hot salt water, where the customer could enjoy all the therapeutic benefits of salt and sea. September was the busiest month for the baths, when clients would come from far afield to take the baths and gird themselves against the rheumatism and arthritis which the winter climate would assuredly bring. The cost of a bath was half a crown (too ancient to explain here) but what was a not inconsiderable sum, since four baths were regarded as the minimum required for maximum health benefits.
Josie Staunton - Lol’s uncle - was the proprietor of the Bath Hotel and baths. They had been owned by the McEvoy family, and had been bought under lease by the Stauntons. The water for the baths was heated by means of a huge boiler, centrally positioned, and powered by a roaring furnace. To save on fuel costs, the boiler was stoked with offcuts of leather which Josie would retrieve from the Reliable Shoe Company, bags and bags of which would be stored close to the boiler house and ready for use.
Each Sunday in September, it was the custom of my family to head for Roman Island, where my grandfather would make his way to the hotel bar for sustenance of the St James Gate variety. Meanwhile, my father and my uncle, both firm believers in the health benefits of salt water, would take to the bathhouse. My mother would take up a watching brief in the boiler room to ensure the adequacy of the hot water, and my earliest memory is of herself and Josie being involved in good natured argument, she waiting the opportunity to throw another bag of fuel into the furnace, and he insisting that the water temperature was already too high for human safety.
The Bath Hotel itself was something of an institution. It had ten bedrooms and a spacious bar, and a strong memory is that of an elegant piano in the bar which was often the focal point for Sunday sing-songs as the Guinness flowed. Another distant memory is that a regular group of four Castlebar men were in the habit of walking to Westport early on Sunday, spending a few hours in the Bath Hotel, and then walking home again, with only an outside chance (this being the traffic free 1950s) of being offered a lift en route. That they undertook the lengthy trek to Westport, rather than cry halt at the Halfway House, must have been a tribute to the ambience of the Roman Island hostelry.
The Bath Hotel ceased to trade in the late ‘50s. For a short period later, until the lease ran out, the Staunton family would, in order to meet the legal requirements then pertaining to licensed premises, open the hotel on one day in the year for the sale of liquor to the public.
Eventually, the building became neglected and was demolished, the only memory of its existence in the Lawrence photographic collection, a copy of which is on display in O’Cees Coffee Shop in Westport.