The 19th century was a time of intensive legislative reform in relation to the management of mental illness in many countries, most notably, the passage of the Lunatic Asylums (Ireland) Act 1821, the Criminal Lunatics (Ireland) Act 1838 and the Private Lunatic Asylums (Amendment) Act 1842. Among the important initiatives taken in Ireland at this time, arguably the most enduring resulted in the establishment of an extensive system of public asylums which, in turn, heralded substantial changes to the conceptualisation and experience of mental illness in Ireland.

Up to 1780, so little regard was paid to mental affections, that there were scarcely 200 lunatics supported in our charitable institutions, whereas at present we have in District Asylums alone over 4,000, with an additional accommodation about to be effected for nearly 2,000 more.
Proposal to extend the benefits of Swift's Hospital

About the exhibition

The exhibition uses terms that you will find in the historical records. These reflect people's attitudes and language at the time and may now be considered derogatory or offensive. The word "lunatic" was used to describe a person who was "sometimes of good and sound memory and understanding and sometimes not", while "idiot" was used to describe "natural fools from birth". In 1880, the term "asylum" was used in place of the old word "madhouse", which went out of fashion during the 18th century.

Relief of the sick and destitute poor 1927

Report of the Commission on the Relief of the Sick and Destitute Poor, including the Insane Poor, 1927

The state of lunatic asylums 1862

Defects in the Moral Treatment of Insanity in the Public Lunatic Asylums of Ireland, with Suggestions for their Remedy and some Observations on the English Asylums, 1862

Maryborough District Lunatic Asylum 1833

Observations and Suggestions on the Management of the Maryborough District Lunatic Asylum 1833

Lunacy law reform 1885

The Lunacy Law: its Defects; and a Scheme of Reform 1885

The state of lunatic asylums 1808

Remarks on the Present State of the Lunatic Asylums in Ireland, and on the Number and Condition of the Insane Paupers in that Kingdom 1808

System of public medical relief 1836

Report Upon the Existing System of Public Medical Relief in Ireland 1836

Lunacy inquiry commission 1879

Lunacy Inquiry Commission (Ireland) 1879, Review of Report and Evidence