"Confinement of the Higher Orders": The Social Role of Private Lunatic Asylums in Ireland, c. 1820-60
- Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
- Oxford University Press
- Volume 67, Number 2, April 2012
- pp. 281-317
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The period 1820-60 marked an era of transition and diversity in Ireland that rapidly transformed the face of Irish society. Inextricably linked with these processes was the expansion of Ireland's private asylum system. This system diverged from its British counterpart both in the socioeconomic cohort it served and in the role it played within the mental health-care system as a whole. The implementation of the 1842 Private Asylums (Ireland) Act, the first legislative measure geared exclusively toward the system, highlighted the growing importance of private care in Ireland as well as providing for the licensing and regulation of these institutions for the first time. To date, historians of Irish medicine have focused almost exclusively on the pauper insane. This article aims to shift this emphasis toward other categories of the Irish insane through exploration of the Irish private asylum system, its growth throughout the period, and the social profile of private patients. I shall also interrogate the trade in lunacy model through exploration of financial considerations, discharge and recovery rates, and conditions of care and argue that while Irish private institutions were a lucrative business venture, the quality of care upheld was apparently high. Finally, I shall argue that Irish private asylums catered primarily for the upper classes and briefly explore alternative provisional measures for other non-pauper sectors of society.