Pauline Prior – Asylums, Mental Health Care and the Irish (1800-2010)

31 Jul

Edited by Pauline Prior, Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at QUB, this fascinating book is a collection of historical essays from well known scholars on a wide variety of topics in relation to mental health services in Ireland during the past two centuries, with additional chapters on the Irish in Australia and New Zealand, poetry and prose from service users and a comprehensive chronology of mental health policies and laws since 1634.

For the twentieth century, Anton Mc Cabe (journalist) and Ciaran Mulholland (psychiatrist who also works at QUB) write about the major strike at Monaghan Asylum in 1919, when the nurses raised a red Soviet flag over the building and rallied leaders of the trade union movement to their cause, leading to improved salaries and conditions of service for psychiatric nurses throughout Ireland. Gillian Mc Clelland (QUB social policy) explores the Holywell Hospital magazine Speedwell published throughout the 1960s, looking for staff and patient views on psychiatric care of the time. For a critical discussion of trends in mental health services in the Republic of Ireland from the 1950s to the present day, we hear from one of the most influential doctors of his time, Dermot Walsh (psychiatrist and former inspector of mental hospitals in Ireland)

For the nineteenth century, Brendan Kelly (psychiatrist who also works at UCD) and Margaret Crawford (QUB historian and dietician) discuss new insights into the causes of death and of disease in the Richmond and Dundrum Asylums, within the context of current knowledge on TB and beri-beri. Oonagh Walsh (UCC historian) reflects on the role of doctors (Visiting Physicians and Medical Superintendents) in Ballinasloe Asylum, while David Griffiths (QUB historian) and Pauline Prior tell us about a major legal battle between the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and the governors of the Belfast Asylum over the appointment of chaplains in the 1850s. Pauline Prior also examines some of the issues that came to the attention of the Inspectors of Lunacy in their oversight of the asylum system – issues such as the growing demand for beds, the ever increasing cost of the services and unexplained or accidental deaths, which may have been caused by suicide or by abuse of patients by staff.

Moving beyond Ireland, and giving us another perspective on mental health and illness among the Irish, historians Elizabeth Malcolm (University of Melbourne, Australia) and Angela Mc Carthy (University of Otago, New Zealand), explore the stories of Irish emigrants who left Ireland during the nineteenth century to find gold or new opportunities but unfortunately succumbed to illness and institutionalisation on the other side of the world.

This collection of studies is complemented by an analysis of overall trends in institutionalisation within the mental health services by Damien Brennan (TCD sociologist), and of the laws underpinning these services in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland by Pauline Prior. A truly remarkable publication.

Radio interviews on Downtown Radio:Listen to Pauline Prior being interviewed by Bobbie Hanvey on ‘the Ramblin Man programme at 10.00 pm (after the News) on 12th and 19th August. You can listen to Pauline’s interview here. 

Details of book: (Available at any bookstore or directly from IAP):

Prior, P. M. (ed) 2012, Asylums, mental health care and the Irish 1800-2010, Dublin; Portland, Oregon: Irish Academic Press. ISBN 978 0 7165 31524.  

Read the Irish Times review:


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