The Irish are known for their unabashed love of life and its pleasures - verse, music and fine wine (or Guinness), whiskey and laughter. It may come as a surprise to learn they are also earning a reputation for seaweed. No, this isn't another Irish joke. And the fact seaweed is often green is merely a coincidence. The republic's Coolera Peninsula on the northwest coast has a long tradition of using seaweed as a spa therapy - perhaps to wash away the toxins produced by all that merriment. Seaweed baths have been used as a natural way to unwind, de-stress, detoxify and moisturise the skin for centuries. The seaweed is said to purify the body by releasing toxins from tissue while nourishing it with depleted minerals such as potassium and iodine. Talk to regular bathers and many will tell you seaweed baths cure circulatory problems and skin conditions, heal burns and relieve symptoms of arthritis. The Celtic Seaweed Baths in the seaside town of Strandhill, 8km west of Sligo, are immensely popular with locals from all walks of life. Women with contented expressions on their faces float out of the centre as a well-groomed gentleman driving a top-of-the-range Mercedes-Benz arrives ahead of us. Decades ago, visiting the baths was common. The original bathhouse was built in 1912 but, like many traditional European bathing retreats, it was neglected and fell into disrepair until its destruction via the powerful force of Hurricane Debbie in 1961. 'There were once hundreds of baths [in Europe], but they have mostly died out, leaving only a handful,' says Mark Walton, whose family runs the business. The Waltons decided it was time to revive the custom and reopened the baths in 2000. Like its restored European counterparts, such as the spa in Bath, England, it's a project that is paying off. The new Celtic Seaweed Baths receive more than 40,000 visitors a year, from 80-year-old farmers to movie stars. 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. It is harvested from a local reef and thoroughly cleansed of clinging sea creatures. After one use in the baths, the seaweed is sent to a vegetable farm in nearby Kilmacowen for use as organic fertiliser. Following a quick steam to open the pores, I slide into the tub. A brownish-green mass of seaweed floats in the water, giving it a rusty tinge. I gently rub my skin with the leaves, smearing the gel-like coating all over my body and hair. The slippery sensation of the seaweed and absence of perfumed bath scents make for a curious sensation. I close my eyes and imagine 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 dip, having washed off the slippery gel (many locals prefer to leave it on), I am convinced my skin feels softer and hair silkier than an hour earlier. Across the road, 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 the beach is one of Ireland's best surfing spots, attracting surfers from all over Europe. Although popular, it is not inundated. Locals walk their dogs along the sand while on the other side of the road is an 18-hole golf course. A walk along the promenade leads to a colourful row of buildings that create a typical Irish coastal-town scene. One of the buildings, the Strandhill Surf School, offers wetsuits for hire; nearby are a small family pizzeria, an amusement parlour and the Strand pub. Mount 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 peak is a huge stone cairn believed to be the tomb of legendary warrior Queen Maeve, ruler of ancient Connaught. And if the area's power to move should be in any doubt, this mystical landscape inspired the verse of Ireland's most celebrated poet and Nobel laureate, William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), who spent much of his childhood in the area. Getting there: Emirates ( www.emirates.com ) flies from Hong Kong to Dubai, from where Aer Lingus ( www.aerlingus.com ) offers connections to Dublin. Seaweed bath guide: Celtic Seaweed Baths, Strandhill Beach, County Sligo, Ireland, tel: 353 71 916 8686; www.celticseaweedbaths.com . A one-hour steam and seaweed bath costs Euro20/HK$210. Kilcullen's Seaweed Baths, the Bath House, Enniscrone, County Sligo, tel: 353 96 36238; www.kilcullenseaweedbaths.com . A steam and seaweed bath in an Edwardian atmosphere costs Euro17. Annaghdown Seaweed Spa, Corrandulla, County Galway, tel: 353 91 791 918; www.seaweed-spa.com . A steam and seaweed bath costs Euro30.