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Home - Rules of an Asylum - Insane British - Curious Punishments


I have already spoken of the singular tradition which for so long a
period invested the Glen-na-galt, near Tralee, with the character of
possessing healing virtues in madness. The change which in our practical
age has taken place in Kerry, by the substitution of a well-ordered
asylum at Killarney, for popular superstitious practices, represents
what has been going on throughout the whole of Ireland during the last
half century or more. After examining all the Acts bearing on the
provision for the insane from the earliest period, and the evidence
given before Parliamentary Committees, I must say I find a very large
amount of strenuous effort and labour devoted to the improvement of the
condition of lunatics, miserably situated as they formerly were in
general, when confined in houses of industry or at home in hovels, where
their needs could not possibly be attended to, even when, as was
doubtless frequently the case, they were regarded with great affection.
Sometimes they were looked upon as possessed, and then the appropriate
forms of the Church of Rome were employed.

In the evidence given before the Select Committee on the Lunatic Poor
in Ireland in 1817, Mr. John Leslie Foster, a governor of the Richmond
Asylum,[251] stated that he had seen two or three lunatics in one bed in
the house of industry. There were fifty or sixty in one room. In the
same room a lunatic was chained in a bed, the other half of which was
occupied by a sane pauper, and the room was so occupied by beds that
there was scarcely space to move in it.

Mr. Rice stated that when he visited the Clonmel Asylum in 1814-15, the
patients were not clothed; some were lying in the yard on the straw in a
state of nakedness. At Limerick he found the accommodation for the
patients "such as we should not appropriate for our dog-kennels." There
was one open arcade, behind which cells were constructed with stone
floors, without any mode of heating or of ventilation, and exposed
during the whole of the winter to the extremities of the weather.
Thirteen cells were provided for thirty-three lunatics and idiots. As
some were furious, the usual mode of restraint consisted of passing
their hands under their knees, fastening them with manacles, securing
their ankles by bolts, passing a chain over all, and lastly attaching
them firmly to the bed. "In this state, I can assure the Committee from
my own knowledge, they have continued for years, and the result has been
that they have so far lost the use of their limbs that they are utterly
incapable of rising." The rooms over the cells were appropriated to the
sick. Mr. Rice found twenty-four persons lying in one room, some old,
some infirm, and in the centre of the room a corpse; one or two were
dying. In the adjoining room he found a woman in a state of distraction,
the corpse of her child left upon her knees for two days; it was almost
putrid. "There was not to be found one attendant who would perform the
common duties of humanity. The most atrocious profligacy in another
branch of the establishment prevailed."

The condition of a lunatic member of a family among the poor is thus
graphically described by a member of the Committee which prepared this
valuable Report: "There is nothing so shocking as madness in the cabin
of the peasant, where the man is out labouring in the fields for his
bread, and the care of the woman of the house is scarcely sufficient for
the attendance on the children. When a strong man or woman gets the
complaint, the only way they have to manage is by making a hole in the
floor of the cabin, not high enough for the person to stand up in, with
a crib over it to prevent his getting up. The hole is about five feet
deep, and they give this wretched being his food there, and there he
generally dies. Of all human calamity I know of none equal to this, in
the country part of Ireland, which I am acquainted with."

In the physician's report of one asylum for 1816, he speaks of the
miserable objects who wander over the face of the country, or are
inmates of jails and hospitals. Such do not appear to have taken refuge
in any Glen-na-galt.

The first asylum for the insane in Ireland (and the only one before the
Richmond Asylum) was that founded in Dublin by Swift, whose act would
probably have been little known or forgotten, but for the familiar lines
in which he himself has immortalized it:--

"He gave the little wealth he had
To build a house for fools or mad,
To show by one satiric touch
No nation needed it so much."

This asylum was opened in 1745, the population being then between three
and four millions. What really induced the Dean of St. Patrick's to
perform this act was the knowledge that there was no charitable asylum
for the insane--nothing more; at any rate, I am not aware that he
contemplated the introduction of any improved method of treatment, or
would have thought that chains were unsuitable means of restraint. It
appears that his attention had been called to the need of an asylum by
"The Proposal" of Sir William Fownes. Swift bequeathed the whole of his
estate and effects, subject to certain small legacies, to be laid out in
the purchase of land for a hospital large enough for the reception of as
many idiots and lunatics as the income of the said lands and effects
should be sufficient to maintain.

From its historical associations I was interested in visiting this
asylum some years ago, but there is nothing otherwise of special
interest in the institution. Writing in 1861,[252] the Inspectors of
Irish Asylums observe, "Though subject to our inspection, it is not a
regularly licensed asylum, being on a charitable foundation. It is
unfortunately situated in a most inappropriate locality, and very
deficient, from its original construction, in many necessaries." And the
Lunacy Inquiry Commission of 1879 observe, "We feel ourselves compelled
to state that St. Patrick's Hospital, though possessing an ample
endowment, with an accumulated fund in bank of L20,000, and situated in
the metropolis, is yet in many respects one of the most defective
institutions for the treatment of the insane which we have visited....
The patients wash in tubs in the day-rooms, the water having to be
carried all through the house, as no supply is laid on; the hospital is
not lighted with gas 'for fear of explosion'! and passages nearly four
hundred feet long have, on winter evenings, no other light than that
which is afforded by three or four small candles." The house was badly
warmed, and the ventilation far from satisfactory.

Further, while the Dean's will did not contemplate the payments of
patients, boarders were admitted at an early period, and this policy
went to such a length that while in 1800 there were a hundred and six
free and only fifty-two paying patients, there were in 1857 eighty-eight
paying patients, and only sixty-six free. As the Commission naively
remark, "if the diminution of free patients and the increase of paying
patients are to continue, it may one day result that no inmates of Dean
Swift's Hospital will be maintained entirely out of his bequest, which
certainly does not appear to have been in the contemplation of the
founder."[253] A somewhat brighter picture might have been expected when
one reflects that, according to the original charter, the government of
the hospital was vested in the Primate, Lord Chancellor, Archbishop of
Dublin, Dean of St. Patrick's, Dean of Christ Church, Physician to the
State, and Surgeon-General, and seven other persons whose successors
were to be elected by a majority of the governors, each of whom was
required to be a fit person.

An asylum was erected at Limerick about 1777, and at Cork in 1788.

The Cork Asylum was built on the strength of an unrepealed section in an
old Jail Act (27 Geo. III., c. 39. s. 8), which allowed of sums of
public money to be "presented" by grand juries for the use of lunatic
asylums, without limit, and permitted magistrates to commit to them any
individuals, if idiots or insane. It did not provide, however, for the
government of the establishment when formed, or for an account of how
the money was spent. No medical certificates were required--the
magistrate's power was unlimited. Fortunately, however, the Cork Asylum
was in good hands (Dr. Hallaran), thanks to which, and not to the law,
the institution was as well conducted as in those days it could be. So
much was this the case that Mr. Rice stated before the Committee of the
House of Commons in 1817, that it was the best managed he had ever seen
or heard of, realizing, he added, all the advantages of the York
Retreat. He, however, protested against the system under which it, like
other asylums, was conducted as radically wrong; its success was a
success of circumstances, almost of accident.

This Prison Act was at this date the only law which regulated Irish
asylums, the only statute by which they could be carried on. All, in
fact, depended upon the humanity, skill, and conscientiousness of the
superintendent.[254] I believe, as a matter of fact, Cork was the only
county which made use of it.

So far back as 1804, a Select Committee of the House of Commons was
appointed to consider the provision for the insane in Ireland, and
reported that the provisions of the Act 27 Geo. III., c. 39, empowering
grand juries to present the sums necessary for support of a ward for
idiots and lunatics, have not been complied with, and that the demand
for admission into houses of industry greatly exceeds the accommodation
or funds appointed for their support, and that it does not appear that
any institution, maintained in any degree at the public expense, exists
in any other part of Ireland than Dublin, Cork, Waterford, and Limerick,
for their reception. The Committee resolved that the attention and care
necessary for the effectual relief of these distressed objects cannot be
efficaciously extended to them whilst they are connected with
institutions of a very different nature, and that the establishment of
four asylums for idiots and lunatics, one in each of the provinces of
Ireland, would be a measure highly beneficial.

The result of this Report was that on the 21st of March, 1805, leave