St Brigid’s Hospital
|St Brigid’s Hospital|
|Building Style||Echelon Plan|
|Architect(s)||William Murray / James F. Kempster|
The Connacht District Lunatic Asylum (CDLA, now St Brigid’s Hospital), opened in Ballinasloe, Co. Galway, in 1833 and one of the earliest of the Irish district asylums. It was intended for the care of ‘curable lunatics’ and opened in a spirit of optimism with regard to its progressive role in public health. Its history, however, is one of continual struggle: to prevent the admission of unsuitable cases, to secure additional funding and to offer reasonable standards of care under difficult conditions. In common with the majority of other District Asylums, the CDLA was continually overcrowded, housing in November 1900, for example, 1,165 patients in accommodation designed to hold 840. Its evolving role in Irish society throughout the nineteenth century, then, throws some interesting light on public perceptions of the insane, the authority of the medical profession and changing social mores.
The nineteenth century may fairly be described as the century of the asylum, with a worldwide growth in the institutional care of the insane. Within this large picture the Irish case is especially interesting. Ireland was one of the earliest states to embrace the asylum system, and by the end of the nineteenth century had experienced one of the most rapid proportionate growths in asylum admissions in the world. When one considers that Ireland’s population actually declined sharply from mid-century, this growth is all the more startling. Yet early advocates of asylums had neither proposed nor anticipated that institutional care should be made available on such a scale. Rather, it had been hoped that only nine 150-bed asylums would prove sufficient to care for the whole of the country, and indeed several commentators argued that this would prove a gross over-provision.