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Inside Our Lunatic Asylums.

In early 19th Century Ireland, mental illness appeared to be rife, or was it? Some reasons for being admitted to your local asylum were; 'Moral Causes, Physical Causes, Hereditary and Not Known'. Moral causes included 'poverty, reverse of fortune', 'grief, fear and anxiety', 'religious excitement', 'domestic quarrels', 'ill-treatment', 'pride', 'anger' and 'love, jealousy and seduction'. If these were some of the conditions to gain entry, that would explain why they were over crowded.

There were also adverse treatments that the patients had to suffer, one was known as the "Circulating Chair", the patient was tied to the chair in a seated or lying position. The chair would then be rotated at a high speed, sometimes up to 60 times a minute. Witness reports described it as "obstinate and furious", the swing "generated a sufficiency of alarm to ensure obedience, in the melancholic it provoked a natural interest in the affairs of life.

For people living in the asylums the conditions were harrowing The cells had stone floors, with next to no heating or ventilation. With the asylums being so overcrowd patients (or inmates as they were known) were exposed to epidemics and dioceses. Corpses would lay for days without being removed. Patients were restrained with manacles locked on their ankles by a chain and these were attached to their beds, they were also subjected to daily bizarre experiments, some of these are thankfully now discredited medical procedures to include lobotomies – which involved removing parts of the brain – and insulin coma therapy, where patients were repeatedly injected with insulin to induce a coma.

Some of these asylums were still in operation until 2013.

Corridors of cells.

Corridors of cells

Inside a cell.

Inside a small cell


Ward rounds.

Ward Rounds

Patient wheel chair lies in the flooded corridor.


Staff uniforms still hang from the last shift.

Nurses uniform

The laundry.

Industrial Washing Machines

Admission notes.

Admission notes

East Wing.

East Wing

Front admission.

Front Entrance

These asylums loom over the city, I can only image how frightening these were in the early 1800s. The red building on the right has recently suffered an arson attack with two thirds of the building now destroyed.

City Asylums

This huge asylum complex is almost one mile long making it the longest in Ireland and possibly even Europe!

From the rooftops

A tunnel connecting each asylum.

Patient questionnaire.


Part of this complex has been restored and turned into luxury apartments.



“The patients inside, expectant, waited for the letters and the visits, until finally, one day, they would find themselves rejects, outcasts, and no explanation given. Sometimes a crushed spirit breaks, from mental agony and anguish, when she understands at last she is captive in a free society.”

At the time there were more than 20,000 patients confined behind mental hospital walls across the State, or 0.7 per cent of the general population.

In fact, Ireland led the world locking people up in institutions, with inpatient admission rates that were multiples of other countries – even ahead of the Soviet Union.

These images appear from several asylums across Ireland.

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