Bringing down the asylum walls: buildings and landscapes at Purdysburn, Belfast (1902-1913)
The Victorian asylum is perhaps irrevocably associated in the popular imagination with high walls, bars and physical restraint, but such markers of the asylum as carceral space began to jar uncomfortably with ideals of patient liberty as the 19th century came to a close. In the early twentieth century, three asylums were built in Ireland, two were of a traditional design, also common in England and Wales, in which large pavilions were arranged in a symmetrical layout surrounded by fenced boundaries. Purdysburn, near Belfast, was influenced by German asylum design and was a new departure for Irish asylums – buildings were distributed informally around the estate in the manner of a village or suburban settlement and visible boundaries and markers of restraint were minimised. Despite the attempt to create an environment that was open and ‘free’, the buildings and spaces of Purdysburn show a concern with more subtle attempts to manipulate patient movements and patient control over the spaces they inhabited. This presentation will explore some of the contradictions between the attempt to create a suburban ‘villa colony’ for the insane poor and the realities of a powered environment where the boundaries between sane and insane, male and female, working and middle class, powerful and powerless were sometimes blurred but ultimately reinforced. Comparisons will be drawn between Purdysburn and the styles of asylum that were more typical for the period, as well as the German asylum that provided the model for Purdsyburn.
Patient voices at the Central Criminal Lunatic Asylum, Dundrum
Letters from a patient addressed to the Dundrum asylum’s Resident Medical Superintendent are preserved in a Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers (CSORP) file. The contents of the letters vary from frivolous flirting to violent threats of revenge for the sexual and emotional abuse she allegedly suffered while a patient. The correspondence reveals a lonely, distressed and increasingly desperate woman battling real or imagined enemies in Dublin Castle with only her mother for support. The file also shows the inability of the authorities to either readmit her, even though they believe her mental illness had returned, or to get her affluent family to take responsibility for her. The CSORP file also reveals that at no point does the Resident Medical Superintendent ever believe her allegations of abuse but believes they are symptoms of her returning mental illness. She lived a reclusive life in Dublin with her mother, aware she was under surveillance by undercover police and plotting how to avenge her abuse. In 1909 her mother tragically murdered her and then took her own life leaving a note stating she did it so that ‘no one would get her’.
Aspects of the Salvation Army in Ireland, 1880-1980: A different Institutional ‘Care Model’
The focus of my research to date has been the development of The Salvation Army globally, but primarily in Ireland within the context of religious and political differences, north and south from 1880-1980. Particular attention will be paid to gendered meanings of work within the Army and an examination of services provided to the wider community by them, particularly rescue work. Evangelical historical sources provide us with a rich vein of material about the lives and experiences of women, men and children and how Evangelicalism shaped their lives. More importantly, despite the ‘religious’ constraints and preference for stereotypical gender roles, Evangelicals also offered women, in particular, a less proscribed role in life than previously available. Under the mantle of Evangelicalism the world was open for conquering in the name of the Lord. Public activity in the name of religion became more respectable, and allowed a departure from previous stereotypical roles for women and men, especially the working classes. Overall such discussions add depth to the history of charitable assistance and the social and economic changes in Ireland between 1880 and 1980. This was a period of huge social, political, religious and economic change. The Army’s active role, especially in Ireland, has to be seen against the sectarian nature of both political and social changes. The foundations of philanthropy in Ireland in the nineteenth century were sectarian in nature and development mirroring society’s fundamental beliefs. Women’s work in philanthropy, especially with children, further fuelled the debate. It was into this heated battle for souls that the non-denominational Salvation Army marched into Ireland, initially to Belfast and Derry in 1880 and Dublin by 1881.
Without a friend to mourn or cry: institutional burials in Cork city 1860-1950
Many people breathed their last in Cork city’s nineteenth-century institutions. Soldiers and their families died in barracks, the destitute expired in the workhouse hospital, the poor died in charitable infirmaries and many inmates perished in the District Lunatic Asylum. This paper will outline the fate of the claimed and unclaimed corpses leaving the institutions of Cork city. Although the poor were disproportionately represented among the institutional dead, a surprising portion were claimed for private burial, leaving the corpses of the friendless dead to be buried by the institution in which they died. Institutional burial practices were influenced by the burial landscape which posed practical problems such as convenient consecrated ground and cost per burial. Determining where the institutional dead were interred reveals that burial expressed family ties, denominational identity and institutional priorities. A hierarchy of burial places emerges with old churchyards and newly established cemeteries preferred to institutional burial grounds. Unfortunately, institutional source material on burial is not rich. Workhouse inmate registers tracked the living and recorded death, but were silent on burial. Military personnel records did not note where a soldier was buried. However, records of institutional burial in parish and cemetery registers show that the burial landscape beyond the walls was inextricably linked to institutional practices. By tracing the institutional dead from mortuary to grave, we can discern the social and spatial concerns of communities and churches, as well as the institution.
Family Care Provision in Post Institutional Ireland
The wide scale use of institutional settings for human care needs, (for example intellectual disability, ‘insanity’/mental health issues, and care of the ageing) has been a prolific, problematic and now discredited feature of Irish social policy up until the late twentieth century. The scaling down and closure of these institutions is a most welcome development. The reduced reliance on institutional care settings since the late twentieth century has been paralleled with an increased social policy prioritisation of the ‘family’ as the principal context and location for care giving. As such, this contemporary ‘post-institutional era’ has shifted the context of care provision from institutional to domestic settings, primarily the family home. A complex interplay between macro and micro societal factors impacts directly on caring capacity within family/domestic settings, which remains difficult to predict and measure. While care provision within family settings is a profoundly private, intimate and interpersonal process, it is shaped by large-scale social dynamics including gender, family, housing, care system typologies and the wider political, economic and philosophical orientation of the state. This post-institutional context raises substantial, theoretical, societal, socio-economic, and social policy challenges. Specifically, there is an absence of conceptual clarity regarding the extent to which the contemporary post-institutional social policy expectations of care provision within family/domestic settings are matched with the capacity of families to provide such care. This paper will provide an insight into the relationship between the individual, the family and the state in post-institutional Ireland.
‘No easy escapes’: Prisons, healthcare and engaged history
Drawing on the range of public events developed as part of the Wellcome Trust Prisoners, ‘Medical Care and Entitlement to Health in England and Ireland, 1850-2000’, this paper reflects on the practice and ethics of pursuing engaged history, especially when working with vulnerable, institutionalised subjects. Reflections on the practice of ‘public history’ in Ireland have privileged the links with the state and official commemorations, with lip service paid to the integration of participatory practices and projects. This paper focuses on different forms of engagement, ranging from theatrical performances, museum exhibitions, and art installations, each of which involved close collaborations with fellow historians, visual artists and theatre groups, as well as with people with experience of working and serving time in Irish prisons. It reflects upon the different uses of historic research in these projects; in some instances, research was used to prompt men to reflect upon their own experiences of mental distress and health problems in the Irish criminal justice system. Other projects involved collaborations with visual artists, photojournalists and theatre groups but not the participation of the subjects of our research, prisoners. Each project prompted changes in the creative practices of those involved, including the historians. The paper asks why might historians participate in forms of engaged history that decentres them as primary authors and experts, and is not principally concerned with history telling? The presentation highlights the challenges and ethics of working with vulnerable populations, particularly of the potential emotional impact of the historic materials on the participants with prison experience. It reflects on the emotional toll, and the ethical dimensions of these activities and practices for historians, especially when interrogating Ireland’s troubled history of institutions.
Life at the Edge: geographies of institutional landscapes in 19th Century Ireland
As the British state attempted to come to terms with its new responsibilities in Ireland in the aftermath of the 1801 Act of Union, a suite of governmental techniques were introduced to actualise state control over the island. In an era of disciplinary power it is perhaps unsurprising that these techniques gave rise to the spread of institutions designed to control, regulate and reform non-conforming Irish citizens. As ‘the tentacles of the British Empire’ began ‘stretching deep into the remote corners of the Irish countryside’ (Whelan, 1983) a new landscape of prisons, workhouses and asylums appeared. These large, gothic-style buildings embodied the control of the British state in Ireland and for the first time made the state a reality for the average Irish citizen. This paper explores the geographies of the spread of these institutional landscapes highlighting their key role in urban development in the early to mid-19th Century often alongside the spaces of the newly invigorated Roman Catholic Church. In doing so the tensions of the siting of these institutions will be examined as well as their role in creating and developing geographies of stigma and social exclusion, the legacies of which persist in some cases to the present day. This paper will also highlight the need for a holistic view of institutional development in order to fully understand the contemporary impact of such a rapid landscape institutionalisation in the early to mid-19th Century.
The House of Correction in seventeenth-century Ireland
On the 18 April 1635, royal assent was given to ‘An act for the erecting of houses of correction and for the punishment of rogues, vagabonds, sturdy beggars, and other lewd and idle persons’. Whereas the ideas of punishment, social welfare, and societal views on poverty may well differ now from what prevailed in seventeenth-century Ireland, the three issues intersected then too. Although the early history of these institutions is difficult to fully understand for the usual reasons of the lack of institutional records, it may well be possible to construct at least a skeletal history of how they might have been instituted and used in the context of crime and punishment in the growing apparatus of the state in early modern Ireland. Working both from the aforementioned Act and other comparative or amending legislation, one can build an idea of the set-up for these institutions. Adding to this, occasional references in urban and other records and the limited records of sentencing in the criminal courts, a partial history of the development and use of the early houses of corrections can be traced. This paper will be an initial discussion of what this history might be.
From Incarcerator to Saviour: Richmond Penitentiary and the Cholera Epidemic of 1832
In March 1832, the cholera epidemic, which had spread rapidly throughout Europe, claimed its first Irish victim. The response to the epidemic was driven by an unrivalled fear, fuelled both by a lack of understanding of the disease, and by rumours of what was happening to those who fell foul, carted off behind closed walls, never to be seen again. In Dublin, victims of the cholera epidemic, having been refused treatment by existing hospitals, were sent to the ‘Dublin Cholera Hospital’. The hospital was hastily set up within the former Richmond Penitentiary, part of a large complex of industrial reform buildings. In the 1870s, the Midland Great Western Railway acquired the Richmond Penitentiary gardens to facilitate expansion of their railway line. Their work exposed the remains of the cholera victims, who were recorded as being reinterred ‘within a narrow patch of ground’. In 2015, Luas Cross City works, necessitating the redevelopment of an access lane to the new Technological University Dublin, Grangegorman Campus, exposed two charnel trenches. These contained the disarticulated remains of over 1,500 individuals, believed to represent the reinterred remains of those who had died during the 1832 epidemic. This paper will discuss the background to the cholera epidemic, and will provide an insight into the city’s institutional response, with over 11,000 infected and more than 5,000 deaths in Dublin alone. It will discuss the results of the archaeological excavation (led by Mark Moraghan of Rubicon Heritage Ltd.) and the results of ongoing analysis.
Introduction to the Prisons Memory Archive
The Prisons Memory Archive (PMA) is a collection of 175 filmed walk-and-talk recordings with those who had a connection with Armagh Gaol and the Maze and Long Kesh Prison during the conflict in and about Northern Ireland. The recordings were made in 2006 and 2007 and ancillary material includes photographs, site footage and paper documents. The range of participants includes prison staff, prisoners, relatives, teachers, chaplains, lawyers, doctors, probation officers and maintenance workers. The recordings capture how everyday life was impacted by the conflict and builds a rich tapestry of the story of the prisons, just one of the many aspects of the conflict. Our current project Visual Voices aims to make material more accessible and is delivered through a partnership of Queen’s University Belfast, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland and the PMA Management group, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. More information is available at www.prisonsmemoryarchive.com. When the recordings were made we set out to provide information on the human experience of conflict, relative to specific sites. Since its initiation, the PMA has been contributing to the debate on a shared history in Northern Ireland. The value of the collection to build empathy and understanding in a divided society is widely acknowledged locally and internationally as an example of best practice in storytelling from conflict and participatory documentary filmmaking
‘They are prison companions’: nineteenth-century imprisoned women’s relationships
Women did not enter the nineteenth-century Irish female convict prison voluntarily, but once there they inevitably formed relationships with those with whom their criminal careers overlapped. Those relationships shaped experiences in positive and negative ways. The out-of-turn conversations, singing, storytelling, laughter, name-calling, and verbal and physical arguments indicate the interconnectedness of women’s lives behind bars. This paper will examine how nineteenth-century imprisoned women forged, navigated and developed relationships during their years in the Irish female convict prison. It will consider friendships and rivalries between inmates, perceived romantic or physical connections, and contra-power relationships between prisoners and the staff members charged with their care and control. Surviving fragments of prisoners’ own words will be included where possible. Case study examples used throughout this paper demonstrate that experiences behind bars depended on the personalities of the women confined there at any one time.
‘Encourage and Reward Virtue and you Strike at the Heart of Vice’: The Catholic institutional response to the Aged Single Female in Dublin 1836 – 1922.
This paper will interrogate the Catholic institutional response to the aged single female through the prism of one institution known as St Joseph’s Asylum for Aged and Virtuous Females. It operated as a self- contained mini-welfare system for its inmates, established prior to the advent of poor law in 1836. Underpinning the founders’ vision, was the notion of ‘rewarding’ the older single female through this unique form of Catholic institutional care in a bid to prevent such women from sinking into a world of vice and destitution. The presentation seeks to address the divergence between management’s idealised construction of the inmate and a profile of the institution’s patients arising from census material and inmate letters. It seeks to assess what such a construction reveals about female destitution, ideas about moral degeneracy, social class and old age in the society of the day and how this tied into management’s founding principle. It will also assess how the ethos cultivated by secular and religious management alike in tandem with the building’s architectural design, served to create a distinct religious space where religion, death and ageing became inter- linked. The primacy of religion was made apparent through the institution’s concepts and standards of medical care, predilection for Catholic Third Order applicants, daily rituals, prayer and practises as well as its ideas about the ‘good death’.
Re -branding the Misery: Some Connemara examples
Presenting the ‘Dark Heritage’ of former Institutions in a change of use context is a challenge for private developers, local authority planners, state bodies, tourism organisations, NGO’s and communities formerly within or outside of those institutions. This paper examines a number of former Institutions in Connemara, County Galway. These include The Clifden Bridewell, Clifden RIC Barracks, two Irish Church Mission Orphanages, Clifden Workhouse, Saint Joseph’s Convent of Mercy and Industrial School, Clifden and Christian Brothers-run Saint Joseph’s Industrial School, Letterfrack. An number of initiatives have resulted in the transformation of the Institutional spaces. The Bridewell is a Brewery, the Gaol Cell is a Gallery, an orphanage is a now a ‘Castle’ and Grade A Hotel. The manicuring and/or abandonment of Institutional Lands, the zoning of Institutional lands, buildings and features is also examined, particularly in the context of associated graveyards. The transforming role of art and poetry is also discussed in the context of the instructional legacy of Letterfrack.
The Case of Armagh Gaol: Northern Ireland’s Prisons, Heritage Dissonance & Contestation
In the centre of the Northern Irish border town of Armagh, the Georgian county gaol has lain derelict since its closure in 1985. Built in part to the designs of Francis Johnston and William Murray (later architects to the Commissioners for the Erection of Lunatic Asylums) the prison is a well preserved example of the evolution of carceral architecture in Ireland in the 18th-20th Centuries. It is however the site’s connection with the recent Troubles, playing host to a diverse spread of paramilitary inmates throughout the conﬂict, which sits squarely in popular memory. Despite its diﬃcult past, the site has now been leased to an English property development company who have secured all necessary statutory consents required to transform this site of ‘pain and shame’ into a luxury hotel and spa. This redevelopment, currently stalled for lack of funding, inevitably poses questions over the ethics and eﬀectiveness of so-called ‘dark tourism’ in the post-Troubles era. This paper proposes to examine the architectural remnants of Armagh Gaol as an example of both heritage dissonance, as deﬁned by Tunbridge and Ashworth, and contested heritage, expounded by Silverman. The dissonance of the site stems from the erasure of the heritages of many subsidiary groups connected with the gaol – women, guards, prisoners of war, ‘Ordinary Decent Criminals’ and others; whilst recent proposals to demolish or redevelop the site have brought to the fore its contested nature as a powerful symbol of legacy politics. Finally, by critiquing the proposed hotel scheme and proposing a community focused alternative, the paper will ask how these heritage narratives are to be navigated in contemporary NI.
Craftwork, Cooperation, and Community: Loyalist Handicrafts and Welfare in the Maze/Long Kesh Compound Prison System
Within the organizational structure of the Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando (UVF/RHC) compound prison experience, two forms of handicrafts existed. Prisoners produced items either for their own personal benefit (psychological and monetary) or for a cooperative system used to raise funds for prisoner welfare. Though little scholarship exists on either form of handicraft production, this paper will examine the development of the cooperative system as a key factor of the communal prison environment. Making handicrafts represented part of the larger ethos demonstrated through the cooperative, namely the importance of communal living to strengthen group identifications and bonds. Furthermore, UVF/RHC prison leadership sent cooperative handicrafts to members of the organization outside the prison, who sold the items to fund prisoner welfare organizations across Northern Ireland. This paper will briefly introduce the communal nature of the compound experience – as evidenced by the autonomy of special category status and the physical and organizational structure introduced by paramilitary leadership within the compounds. It will further analyze narratives of cooperative production, demonstrating how handicrafts were used to create community and provide prisoner support. Examining the cooperative system of handicraft production provides significant insight into narratives of loyalist imprisonment, the structure and operation of the compound prison, and the importance of craftwork in solidifying individual and group identities, while creating a material link between communities both inside and outside the prison
Hutchinson, Jayne and Kelly, Michelle
Board of Guardians and Asylum records in PRONI – Jayne Hutchinson and Michelle Kelly (PRONI)
PRONI holds the surviving records of 28 Poor Law Unions and six Asylums which operated in Northern Ireland. The running of these institutions was recorded in meticulous detail, with over 140 types of records associated with the Boards of Guardians alone. The surviving records of workhouses and asylums go beyond administrative detail and the names of individuals who were admitted there. The records held by PRONI can reveal the lives and stories of people connected with these institutions. From diet books to punishment ledgers, and from infirmary records to visitors’ books, the records in PRONI are rich in detail of the histories of the inmates (as they were termed), the regime they experienced, the people who were charged to look after them, and the care they received. This presentation will showcase the different types of records in these collections, and show how they can reveal details of the lives and stories of the people who lived and worked in workhouses and asylums.
Throwing the Book at the Records: Voices from the Prison Archives in PRONI
This paper is an archival exploration of historical prison records, charting the development of prisons in Northern Ireland across almost three centuries from the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). Beginning with the earliest 17th century prisons and ‘Bridewells’, through to the late 20th century ‘H Block’ prison at Maze, the paper touches on a wide range of important issues, from the experience of women in prison, the use of capital sentences, internment and political prisoners (in the 20th century), living conditions, education and rehabilitation. The paper will also explore ideas of prison architecture as heritage space. The paper covers some of the most prominent sites such as Armagh Gaol, Crumlin Road Gaol and the Maze / Long Kesh prison but also some lesser-known locations and prison concepts. The archives presented in the paper form part of the wider community memory and reflect the range of prison experiences for many people and its effect on families, communities and the wider political and societal landscape
Archiving Conflict: Challenges and opportunities of cataloguing the PMA Collection
The PMA Collection consists of 175 filmed audio-visual recordings, in addition to a selection of digital photographs, and associated paper material. As part of the Visual Voices of the Prisons Memory Archive: preservation, access and engagement project, it is hoped to make much of the Collection available for public access at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). A key part of this process is the cataloguing of the audio-visual recordings, to enhance accessibility and searchability, in order to encourage new audiences to engage with the PMA Collection and hopefully deepen understandings about shared heritage. This presentation will provide an insight in to the process of cataloguing the PMA recordings, particularly the challenges and opportunities of working with a collection relating to imprisonment in a Northern Irish context, and the personal and political sensitivities associated with this. Efforts have also been made to maintain the unique PMA ethical principles of Co-ownership, Inclusivity, and Life storytelling, and these have had an additional impact on the cataloguing process. Working collaboratively with archivists at PRONI, this project has established innovative guidelines for cataloguing this contentious material.
Landscapes to confine and discourage: Institutional buildings on the Ordnance Survey map
The Ordnance Survey of Ireland mapped the buildings and landscapes used by authorities to confine the criminal, the insane, and the poor in Belfast. This paper will introduce four creative tensions that spark debate on the impact of institutional building upon our local landscape. Nineteenth and early twentieth century Ordnance Survey maps – depicting residential institutions such as Clifton House, Crumlin Road Gaol, and the Guardians’ complex in South Belfast – will be used to evaluate the perceptions of people who were living in close proximity to these arresting environments. While examining how landscape experience was transformed through the edifice of enclosure, this paper will present institutions in Belfast as a cultural expression of material anxiety where the prison, asylum and workhouse embodied the performance of seclusion and discouragement.
Psychological effects of the Easter Rising on female patients admitted to Richmond Asylum
The Easter Rising brought the violence of the First World War to the streets of Dublin, transforming the city into a unique, and uniquely stressful battlefront and home front. Indeed, historians allege the first case of ‘shock’ in the history of Dublin’s Richmond Asylum came as a result of the Rising, when a female patient was admitted to the asylum during the ceasefire. This diagnosis indicates how traumatic the events of April 1916 were for civilians, specifically women yet, no history has dealt specifically with psychological effects of the Rising. My paper focuses on the case notes of women who were admitted to Dublin’s Richmond Asylum as a result of traumatic experiences during the Easter Rising. I utilize both women’s descriptions of their experiences and doctor’s diagnosis in order to consider the traumatic experiences of civilian women during the Easter Rising, and to interrogate the interpretation of women’s symptoms to understand how patients’ treatment fit into a gendered system of health within Irish culture. Finally, I examine the manner in which the asylum used medical authority to enforce and uphold traditional gender norms. Ultimately, my paper argues that the Easter Rising was an especially traumatic event for civilian women who were trapped not only by the violence erupting around them, but also by patriarchal systems of control that punished verbal and behavioral transgressions, even those that were beyond their ability to control.
Workhouse burial grounds, 1847-2019: History and continuing significance
In 2014 the Tuam workhouse burial ground made international headlines when local historian Catherine Corless claimed that 796 bodies were buried on site dating from the period when the workhouse buildings were used as a Catholic-run Mother and Baby Home (1925-1961). A government Commission of Inquiry is attempting to establish burial practices in that institution among others. But this paper will focus on the history of this site as a workhouse burial site prior to 1921, placing it in the overall context of similar sites across the country. The paper will trace the history of these sites from their establishment at the height of the Famine in 1847, their management and mismanagement by Boards of Guardians, the profile of those buried within, and their position within the commemorative landscape as they relate to these welfare institutions.
What role do archives play in societal participation in the peace process?
Connecting the archival theory of Anne J. Gilliland and Sue McKemmish to processes of making democracies more inclusive, Rancière’s extension of the public realm, builds understanding of inclusive mechanisms for ‘dealing with the past’ in peace processes. In The Politics of Imprisonment, Vanessa Barker argues that imprisonment sheds light on social ordering within the democratic process and the relationship between a population and the political structures of the State. In a conflict situation, there is often some kind of discord between variations portions of the population and political structures. Looking at how political structures practice incarceration can help shed light on this discord. By drawing on theory that understands incarceration as restricting the rights of citizenship. I will discuss the importance of democratizing mechanisms for ‘dealing with the past’ in the peace process space and why the Prisons Memory Archive is particularly illustrative of this process both due to its participatory ethos and its focus on spaces of incarceration.
The Art of Remembering: the role of artwork in an emotional history of institutions
I believe that the arts should have a role in exploring and trying to ‘make sense’ of the emotional history we share from Ireland’s institutional past. Art can help society understand the experiences of people who lived in institutions and can help to break down barriers in ways the written word sometimes cannot. Art can help disperse academic findings to a much wider audience – from young to old – and assist in truth telling, reconciliation, healing and memorialization. For people who have been traumatised, being heard and, crucially, believed, is incredibly important and an essential step in the healing process. For society, being able to bear witness and confront the past is vital in being able to engage with and accept our past. Academic papers and reports from Governmental commissions are essential for fact finding and justice, but a multi layered approach, using all appropriate artistic forms, can help bridge the gaps, bring the research to life and share it to a much broader and more diverse range of audiences. Using examples from my own practice, I will demonstrate how artwork can have the power to move us and help us recognise the abuses of the past for what they are. Institutions themselves have a role to play in dealing with these sensitive issues through providing a space where survivors can be given a voice and society can understand, empathise, grieve and finally accept our part in Ireland’s Institutional history.
‘Sleepy sickness spreads’: encephalitis lethargica in Belfast
First recorded in central Europe during the First World War, encephalitis lethargica was a devastating, mysterious, epidemic disease that may have killed up to 500,000 people globally between 1917 and 1940. Encephalitis lethargica is a largely forgotten epidemic and remains one of the medical mysteries of the twentieth century as its cause was and still is unknown. This paper will investigate the impact of encephalitis lethargica in Belfast, with particular emphasis on the acute 1924 outbreak. This will include progress of the disease, mortality and morbidity rates, theories on cause, symptoms, cures and age/social groups that were more affected. In particular, it will examine the aftercare of the chronic sufferers in Belfast, those who did not fully recover from the acute 1924 outbreak and suffered relapses throughout the rest of their lives. It will discuss the problems with providing suitable institutional care for these patients in Belfast and will consider if the Union Fever Hospital was the most appropriate place for their treatment and after care.
The contemporary politics of activist research on Magdalene Laundries
This paper will discuss a collaborative and loosely-defined project that has involved activist groups, archaeologists, museum curators, academics (particularly legal scholars), developers and most importantly survivors, that focuses on surviving Magdalene Laundry buildings in Dublin. While there have been many high profile attempts to uncover and publicly discuss the role of these gendered institutions in controlling and effectively imprisoning women in the Irish state (and we should remember that the final laundry closed in 1996) there has been little in depth dissection of their potential as archaeological and heritage sites. This paper will begin by providing a general overview of the heightened places of Magdalene Laundries in contemporary Ireland. It will then present some insights and findings from an ongoing collaborative project. Based in the disciplinary perspectives of contemporary archaeology and critical heritage studies, this project has approached extant Magdalene Laundries as potential sites of archaeological knowledge, site-responsive oral testimony and potential sources for heritagisation. In particular, using the former Magdalene Laundries at Donnybrook and Sean McDermott Street as case-studies I will discuss some of the potential difficulties and prospective ways to move forward with these loaded and important places.
Contemporary prison healthcare reforms in the north of Ireland
The history of prison healthcare in the north of Ireland mirrors developments in England where responsibility for prisoner health was initially given to trained guards before being transferred to NHS staff in the twenty-first century. The transfer of responsibility for prison healthcare to the NHS was seen as essential to the modernisation of prison healthcare and necessary to improve the health and well-being of prisoners. In my presentation I will present findings from a policy ethnography conducted in the north of Ireland. Through a critical analysis of policy documents and interview data I will examine the symbolic, material and practical consequences of the transfer of responsibility of prisoner healthcare to the NHS. I will argue that the transfer of responsibility of prisoner healthcare reflects the growing influence of ‘therapeutic authority’ within penal landscapes. Discursively this growth in therapeutic authority is found in the increasing salience of psychological therapies and psychiatric diagnosis in sentencing and sentence plans. Materially the expansion of therapeutic authority is shown to have altered the physicality and spatiality of contemporary penal architecture, with prison space being (re-)designed to serve therapeutic ends. The therapeutisation of penal discourse and materiality impacts on the embodied experiences of prisoners who are increasingly caught between the therapeutic gaze of health staff and the disciplining gaze of officers. To conclude, I will argue that the growth of therapeutic authority in prisons must be considered critically as on the one hand having potential to improve prisoner healthcare, while on the other further enmeshing prisoners in a web of institutional control.
‘Swarming with vermin’: Investigating and managing inmate death at the gaol (1846-52)
While the study of pauper management within institutions during the years of the Great Famine in Ireland has focused primarily on workhouses, an unprecedented influx of paupers and excess mortality in Irish gaols and the local management of those institutions has been under-researched by scholars. Unlike those who died in workhouses, each gaol death was required by law to be investigated by the coroner. The testimony of gaol inmates, gaolers and medical professionals captured in inquests, reveal the circumstances surrounding their death using the casebooks of William Charles Waddell (1798-1878), coroner for the northern district of County Monaghan. A traditional approach to evaluate these institutions imposes the ideology of punishment and discipline, but this paper uses Gray’s theoretical approach to institutional management as applied to workhouses and gaols to help test these views. It reveals the potential social good of the coroner’s attendance and interaction with inmates, as well as social reform and self-improvement for the poor into rural society. This study also considers how government legislation served as another method of social conditioning of local elite and how inquests might expose mismanagement. In the absence of gaol records and a paucity of studies on the Monaghan gaol, a new history was created using Waddell’s inquests, as well as newspapers and official papers, including Inspectors General reports, Irish Prison Registers and Chief Secretary’s Office Registered Papers. Individual inquests cover the destitute and notorious characters who were residents of the gaol and whose rare stories give a new voice to the inmates
From Workhouse to Mother and Baby Home: a County Clare institution
On the 23 July 1921, during the War of Independence, The Clare Champion carried a report from a Clare County Council meeting which proposed the closure of all Workhouses in County Clare and the disbandment of the Boards of Guardians. It proposed that the workhouses be replaced by the County Central Home which was to be located in the Ennis, the county town. This was to house the aged, infirm and what were referred to as ‘chronic hospital cases’. A county nursery for unmarried mothers and their babies was to be set up in Kilrush using part of the workhouse and the District Hospitals were to be retained at Ennis, Ennistymon, Kilrush and Scariff. The Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed on 6 December 1921 and, wasting no time, the County Clare Board of Health put the plans for the Amalgamation Scheme into action. This paper will concern itself with the town of Kilrush and the conversion of the once infamous famine workhouse into the County Clare Mother and Baby Home, later known as the County Nursery, which operated from January 1922 until March 1932. It will examine the process under which this conversion took place and how this new institution carried out its business of caring for vulnerable women and children of county Clare in the early years of the Irish Free State. Primary source material includes Clare County Council Archived minute books and local newspaper reports which carried verbatim reports of council meetings.
Creating access to the Prisons Memory Archive Video Tours: Challenges and opportunities
The PMA has a selected number of video tours of the Maze and Long Kesh prison available online, which offer audiences access to parts of the prison that have since been demolished or rendered inaccessible. Information about the spaces featured in each video tour is minimal, which allows audiences to interpret each space on their own terms. Whilst this is a reasonable precaution, given the ongoing contention over the meaning of the prison, the exclusion of additional information on the spaces and buildings featured in each video tour risks excluding those who cannot access the recordings directly through the visuals. This includes those who have some form of sight loss. One of the primary aims of this research is to redress this lack of access by providing audio description (AD) to a selected number of video tours. AD is an assistive tool that uses descriptive techniques to make audiovisual content accessible to people who have some form of sight loss. This paper reflects on both the challenges and opportunities this presents to the PMA and to access to heritage, more generally, in regard to audience development and engagement outside of academia.
The Orange Cross, 1972-76: An Oral and Documentary History
This paper focuses on the early years of the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’ and seeks to examine the emerging culture and propaganda of loyalist prisoners’ welfare with a specific focus on the ‘Orange Cross’ movement. The research carried out for the paper utilises the complete archive of The Orange Cross magazine (1972 until 1975) as well as new interviews with the editor and co-founder of the magazine, Edward Spence. This is supplemented by new interview material with former Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando prisoners. Consequently, the paper will demonstrate the manner in which the Orange Cross sought to garner support among Belfast’s Protestant working class by highlighting the conditions of loyalist prisoners and the perceived injustices and inequalities of the Northern Ireland legal system against loyalists. The paper sheds new light on the role of Billy Spence, father of Edward and brother of the then imprisoned UVF ‘folk hero’ Gusty Spence, and examines how the campaign to clear the latter’s name over his conviction for the killing of Peter Ward in 1966 ultimately gave birth to the ‘Orange Cross’ movement.
World Within Walls – presenting the history of St Davnet’s Hospital within a local authority museum context.
The World Within Walls project was commissioned by the HSE in 2014 to explore and present the histories of St Davnet’s Hospital to the public through a range of approaches, including an oral history project, the development of a book, and a public exhibition produced in collaboration with Monaghan County Museum. This paper will describe the process of developing this exhibition, which was on show from May 2015 to February 2016. The paper will chart the process of developing key themes within the exhibition, the selection of objects from the site and their location within the exhibition itself, and our overall curatorial approach which focused on enabling meaningful encounters with objects, as opposed to focusing on specific narratives. The World Within Walls exhibition will be considered in the contexts of other public representations of the history of mental health history in Irish and international contexts.
The practice of creativity in a prison environment
This presentation will include an introduction to Robert Niblock’s prison experiences and motivations both for joining a paramilitary group and for undertaking creative writing while incarcerated. He will speak about the importance of writing to his own prison experience and how he benefited from the creative process. He will also include a brief reading from some of his prison work to illustrate the significance of creative engagement within the compound prison environment. This presentation will link the creative element of handicraft production to Niblock’s prison writings, showcasing how these endeavors solidified both individual and group identities within the prison environment.
The oral historian as ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’: approaches to researching mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries.
This paper looks at existing oral history projects (such as the UCD project on Magdalene laundries) and the role it played in the thinking about QUB research on the laundries. The UCD team were ‘outsiders’ in that they had no official role sanctioned by the state. We, however, are deemed by some as ‘insiders’ due to having been commissioned by the state and this creates issues for the oral historian. Oral historians, as a group, tend to self-define as practitioners of ‘history from below’ and to automatically seem themselves as ‘outsiders’. What happens when the oral historian is pulled away from their comfort zone and forced to confront a complex and controversial set of historical institutions and the individuals who were unfortunate enough to find themselves in them?
‘In my Father’s House are Many Rooms’:The Foundation of Roman Catholic Charitable Institutions in Eighteenth Century Cork.
During the resurgence of the Catholic community in late Eighteenth century Ireland, Dr Francis Moylan, Catholic Bishop of Cork, emerged from years of legislative, institutional and societal inequity as the lynchpin in an immense social engineering strategy. The custodian of Nano Nagle’s societal vision, his life and work are an insight into Cork’s ascending Catholic community and their guiding moral philosophy. This paper seeks to explore why, under the guidance of Bishop Moylan, the Catholic community sought to tackle the social issues of the day. It will explore how they approached giving assistance to the most vulnerable people in Cork City and to what extent the needs within society influenced the practices of Cork’s Catholic charitable societies. In an examination of the nature and extent of surviving records and correspondence regarding the establishment and growth of the city’s Roman Catholic Poor Schools and the foundation of St Ann’s Orphanage, this paper will evaluate how the ideals, philosophy and practices, implemented during this era, were instrumental in the development of these institutions throughout their lifetimes. Crucially, also, this paper seeks to investigate the establishment of religious orders solely governed by a charitable ethos. It will reflect how their constitutions, culture and governance left a profound impact on not only how Catholics were to view themselves but ultimately how Irish society would define and advance itself into the modern era.
A “disastrous outbreak”: The 1908 Food Poisoning Epidemic at Mount St Vincent’s Orphanage, Limerick.
Over the course of a few days in early November 1908, in the Mount St. Vincent orphanage for young girls in Limerick, ten girls died and over seventy were ill. Prof. McWeeney, Ireland’s first Professor of Pathology (Healy, 1989) conducted the investigations and determined the cause of death as cholera nostra traced back to a beef stew. Child mortality from food poisoning was not a common occurrence and so the event received widespread attention. Based on accounts obtained from a variety of archived sources, this paper traces the outbreak from a range of different perspectives including the Sisters of Mercy Annals. The event was well documented in newspapers. Mass outpouring of public sympathy was offered to the nuns from many quarters (including local business, minutes from council meetings, politicians, the Countess of Aberdeen and even a communication from the Pope). Thousands lined the streets of Limerick to pay respects to the funeral cortege of the young girls. In the aftermath of the outbreak, Professor McWeeney published his conclusions in the British Medical Journal as a learning opportunity ‘to bring the leading facts…of this disastrous outbreak before a wider circle of the professional public’ (McWeeney, 1909:1171). Subsequent medical textbooks referenced the case to contribute to learning for the wider medical community. In terms of the meat industry in Limerick, this outbreak appears to have been a catalyst for a review of the practice in slaughterhouses. This paper discusses this tragic event through epidemiological and sociohistorical lenses.
Hospital or Prison? Central Criminal Lunatic Asylum for Ireland, Dundrum
This paper will explore the published and unpublished sources of information on Dundrum Asylum in the nineteenth century. The published sources include the Annual Reports of Asylums in Ireland, House of Commons Select Committee and Commission Reports, Judicial Statistics, legal statutes, medical journals and newspapers. The unpublished material, held mainly in the National Archives of Ireland, Dublin, includes papers from the Office of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, police reports, court reports, convict records, and penal servitude files and also the less accessible hospital records from Dundrum itself.Three cases will be used to examine the sources used to build a picture of the people involved and the institutions to which they were sent. These are the cases of Dr Terence Brodie, who killed his wife in 1886, of Mary Reilly, who killed a man in her care in 1887, and of Margaret Rainey who killed her newborn baby in 1891, all of whom used the insanity plea successfully, and thus were sent to Dundrum instead of prison. These cases, will be presented against the wider context of social attitudes to crime and mental disorder and also to institutional confinement. Dundrum continues to function as the Central Mental Hospital for mentally disordered offenders in Ireland. In conclusion, the researcher will briefly refer to the accessibility of twentieth century sources related to mental health services in Northern Ireland.
Over the past decade the Irish Poor Law has attracted scholarly attention that has enhanced our understanding of how the workhouse was intended to operate and the principles that underpinned the provision of relief. New research is following developments in the welfare history of other countries in finding new ways to frame the history of the Irish welfare institution. This paper seeks to contribute to this by drawing on some of PRONI’s collections to explore how the poor law worked in practice in the context of the growing industrial city of Belfast. It will examine some of the spaces within which the urban poor encountered, engaged with, and even subverted the authority of the poor law, and those spaces within which the poor law facilitated the surveillance and regulation of the lives of the poor. And finally it will explore some new spaces within which we might explore the history of the Irish workhouse.
Paper 1: The Landscape of Ireland’s Pauper Lunatic Asylums
For most of their existence, lunatic asylums were sealed societies, enclosed behind high walls whose stated function was to protect the insane from the cruelties of an intolerant world, but whose greater impact was to convince the world that it needed to be protected from dangerous ‘others’ within. Yet behind these walls, historic maps portray many of the early asylums as miniature demesnes with ornamental planting, tree-studded parkland and elements of boundary woodland. That these features played an iconographic value in their presentation of the institution is clear, but the therapeutic value of landscape was also important. Summer-houses on several sites imply that pauper patients enjoyed a landscape of leisure and recreation several decades before the widespread development of the public park. The contrast with contemporary pauper institutions – houses of industry, union workhouses and prisons – is stark. Yet asylum landscapes share one telling feature in common with all three – unmarked burial grounds in discreet locations to the rear of most sites. The landscapes surrounding Ireland’s lunatic asylums were an important, multi-faceted resource, serving the functional and economic needs of the institution through a system of productive farms, walled gardens and glasshouses. Asylum landscapes over time were subject to less change and investment, but perhaps contributed more to the physical and mental well-being of patients than the enthusiastic embrace of architectural ‘best practice’ in the buildings of each generation. Today, the historic value of these landscapes is little appreciated and vulnerable to competing objectives and economic forces.Page Break
Paper 2: A Future for Ireland’s former Lunatic Asylums
The 2008 Government report, ‘A Vision for Change’, established a strategy to finally close all of the large psychiatric institutions – a longstanding national policy objective which for decades had been frustrated by local resistance. However, this centrally managed plan has created a legacy of redundant buildings for which no equivalent national strategy exists. Taken together, the asylum estate represents a rich legacy of historic buildings comparable in quantum and geographic distribution only to the workhouse system, and of considerably greater architectural interest, quality and variety. However, up to half of sites have no clear future and are currently at risk of dereliction. Several are already deteriorating at a rate which makes renders their future rehabilitation increasingly uneconomic. A prime example is Ballinasloe, which once accommodated over 2,500 patients and staff in a town with a population little over 6,500. Ballinasloe does not just have a problem with an empty building – it has lost the employer which was once the economic driver of an entire town. International precedent suggests that the decline towards dereliction and demolition of dozens of historic buildings is almost inevitable. Faced with difficult decisions, limited resources and economic reality, value judgements will have to be made. Informed by visits to every site, the author has sought to establish a hierarchy of significance both within and between sites, allied to an assessment of the vulnerability or adaptability of various features to change, tentatively establishing a framework around which the future of these challenging sites can be discussed.
Uncovering archives: Combining Oral history and private archives in researching Irish Republican prisoners in Portlaoise Prison, 1973-1985
Despite the recent debate over the use of interviews in researching the Northern Irish Troubles, oral history remains an essential source for scholars researching political violence in Ireland. Nonetheless, little emphasis has been put on the combined use of interviews and archival material in social movement research. To be sure, historians either focus on the one or the other source category. Hence, in this paper, I will describe how the combination of interviews and archival research throughout the field research process can uncover archival sources in two ways. To illustrate this methodological combination of two kinds of sources, I will examine the political education of IRA prisoners in the Republic of Ireland during the 1970s and 1980s, using the development of the Sinn Féin Cumann (local branch) in Portlaoise Prison as a case study. In the summer of 1986, three miontuairiscí (minute books) of this Cumann were removed from the prison and subsequently hidden by former inmates. These minute books include díospóireachta (debates), tairiscintí (motions), and cláir (programmes). Based on this unique source, as well as archival material and in-depth interviews with former Republican inmates of Portlaoise Prison, this paper evaluates the relationship between resistance and education of Provisional IRA prisoners in the Republic of Ireland during the 1970s and 1980s. In essence, in this research I uncovered archival material in two ways. On the one hand, I understand oral history as researching the memory archive of former prisoners; on the other hand, I illustrate how I combine these memories with previously unknown documents held in private archives of my narrators.
Forgotten Fatalities of the Great War: Irish Asylums during the First World War, 1914-1918
This paper provides the first analysis of Irish district asylums and their institutionalised communities during the First World War. Utilising a host of asylum and military medical records of both Irish and British medical and medical records, it will demonstrate how the impact of total war reduced the number of fully-qualified medical staff working in Irish public asylums which also operated in a time of economic austerity. These two factors led to a decline in the standards of care contributing to a substantial increase in fatalities. Such reductions would prove fatal shaping in an increase in asylum fatalities multiplying across Ireland. This paper also seeks to speak to wider research on the history of Irish institutions and stigma. A comparison between the treatment of Irish lunatics in the district asylum with psychoneurotic Irish soldier-patients in military facilities established on asylum grounds foregrounds the elevated status of the serviceman in comparison to the highly-stigmatised lunatic. This difference in perception would prove significant. Mortality rates in the former intensified during the war period while deaths in military facilities remained negligible. J. L. Crammer contends British asylum patients who died in the wartime asylum were ‘casualties without any war memorial’. In the centenary year of the Armistice of the First World War, this paper argues that many Irish asylum patients who passed away between 1914 and 1918 deserve to share the same epithet.
‘Are the girls free?’: Containing ‘fallen women’ in post-independence Ireland
From their establishment in the late-1700s until the final decades of the twentieth century, Church-run Magdalen laundries existed alongside prisons, lay-run asylums, reformatories and industrial schools as part of what James Smith termed Ireland’s ‘architecture of containment’. The laundries were initially intended as temporary refuges for ‘fallen women’, including prostitutes, unmarried mothers, or those simply deemed wayward. Unless admitted to a laundry on probation from an industrial school or on remand from court, the women were ostensibly free to leave at any time. Yet many of the women remained institutionalised for a number of years, and often for life, and the laundries are now widely considered to have been prison-like institutions. This paper aims to establish why many women remained in Ireland’s laundries when they were there, in theory at least, on a voluntary basis. Drawing on survivor testimony, it will discuss how far the women were infantilised, stigmatised and demoralised, and thus came to believe they were incapable of leaving. It will also consider whether the residents of the laundries, separated from their families and rejected by a society preoccupied with maintaining an ‘Irish brand’ of moral purity, remained in the laundries as they felt they had nowhere else to go. Finally, it will consider how this issue was addressed in the McAleese Report which, despite including the testimony of survivors who felt imprisoned, paints a picture of relatively free movement, claiming that the majority of women who entered laundries in post-independence Ireland stayed for less than one year.
Writing the Asylum: Literary Lives and Afterlives
Alice Mauger’s book on nineteenth-century Irish asylums asserts the importance of primary source material such as ‘art and poetry […] diaries and memoirs and even fictional literature’. This paper therefore explores the potential of poetry and fiction to offer an emotional history of Irish psychiatric institutions. Literary texts contribute to this history in two ways: they preserve or imaginatively recreate patient experience, and they comment on the cultural and emotional resonance of the asylum, its place within the physical environment, in built heritage and cultural memory. Texts discussed in this paper also divide in two. A phase of writing in the twentieth-century modernist tradition presents patient experience in ironic, satirical or symbolic modes which allude extensively to Jonathan Swift, the founder of Ireland’s first dedicated psychiatric institution. Derek Mahon, Austin Clarke and Samuel Beckett present direct or indirect experience of St Patrick’s Hospital and Portrane asylum in this mode. Coeval with the dismantling of the Victorian asylum system and the transformation of Irish institutional life, a more recent spate of asylum-writing focuses on the recovery of lost lives and hidden histories in an essentially post-traumatic vein. I discuss Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture (2008) and Jo Spain’s The Darkest Place (2018) as examples of this second kind of text.
Darwin’s Epileptic Idiot and the Irish District Lunatic Asylum, 1827-1887
The records of St. Joseph’s Psychiatric Hospital, formally known as the Limerick District Lunatic Asylum, offer an insight into the psychiatric experience and outcomes of those admitted into such an institution. Erected in the final weeks of 1826 and opened for admissions in January 1827, the Limerick Lunatic Asylum was established with the intent of housing, treating and curing lunatics from the districts of Limerick, City and County, as well as counties Clare and Kerry. Its existence is considered to have brought Limerick to the forefront of the reformation concerning the emergence of what was to become, psychiatry, due to its historical connections with Charles Darwin, Society of Friends revolutionaries Joel and Hannah Bean, English prison reformer Elizabeth Fry and many more. However, although this institution was soon regarded ‘in official circles as a model institution’, its records present an alternative reality concerning its practices. The lunatic was a person who had the potential to be cured, and as stated, this asylum was erected for that specific endeavour. However, the idiot and the epileptic, whom were both incurable, were also received into the asylum very soon after its opening, and despite its original mission statement, this practice was essentially the catalyst for the asylum’s eventual demise. The curable and incurable patients of this asylum were faced with the daily battle of maintaining their in-patient status due to the excessive and constant levels of overcrowding. In order to ‘apply some remedy to that daily growing evil of which this Board has long complained, the increasing number of incurables,’ the next of kin, friends, other custodial institutions as well as members of the Clergy were all called upon to take responsibility for patient outcomes. The case of a Limerick patient, preserved by Darwin, will illustrate this interaction between the asylum and external agencies. This, in turn will bring to light the untold truths of the treatment of the mentally ill in Limerick City and County during this period. By reconstructing this history, the voice of the patient, or rather lack of voice, is shown in terms of their admittance, treatment, discharge, death or continued incarceration. This paper will delineate the history of the Limerick asylum over the course of six decades with regard to the struggles encountered in providing care for the mentally ill, and will elaborate on how and why incarcerating the incurable epileptic idiot took precedence over the treatment of the curable lunatic.