Gender and Insanity in Ireland, 1800-1923

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The history of the treatment of mental illness in Ireland is a long one, and it is one that has consistently been inflected with gender presumptions and preconceptions. From the earliest myths and legends, to the sophisticated and medicalised twenty-first-century treatments for the mentally ill, biology has been a key determinant in efforts to cure men and women in great mental distress. In part a reflection of entrenched beliefs as to the relative capacities of either sex, which in the nineteenth century placed women in a subordinate, more vulnerable position, it inflected approaches to how women and men were regarded within and outside the District Asylums.

In this essay I will outline the process whereby Ireland moved from a position of having only one major public asylum that served the entire country, to a national system of District Asylums with an institution in 26 of the 32 counties. This extraordinary growth had gender at its core, not only in relation to the patient body, but also with regard to the men and women who staffed the asylums at all levels. This chapter speaks to several of the issues raised by Breathnach in relation to State medical provision, and by Buckley on institutional care.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGender and History: Ireland, 1852-1922
EditorsJyoti Atwal, Ciara Breathnach, Sarah Anne Buckley
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781003164944
ISBN (Print)9780367759728
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Insanity
  • Gender
  • Ireland
  • Mental illness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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