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Learning disability and forensic mental healthcare in 19th century Ireland

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 June 2014

Brendan D Kelly*
Department of Adult Psychiatry, University College Dublin, Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, 62/63 Eccles Street, Dublin 7, Ireland
Correspondence E-mail:


The Irish College of Psychiatrists recently reported that “the needs of people with learning disability and offending behaviour pose a huge challenge to service providers. The vulnerability of people with a learning disability who come into contact with the criminal justice system is well described and noted.” The College noted that “the population with learning disability who offend does not easily fit into existing services” and reported that “the majority of service providers strongly supported the urgent development of a forensic learning disability service.”

The challenges presented by individuals with learning disability and offending behaviour are not specific to Ireland or to this period in history. The purpose of the present paper is to explore issues related to learning disability and offending behaviour in 19th- and early 20th-century Ireland.

More specifically, this paper presents original, previously unpublished case material from the archival medical records of the Central Mental Hospital, Dublin in order to illustrate specific aspects of the institutional experience of individuals with learning disability who were charged with offending behaviour in nineteenth-century Ireland.

The Central Mental Hospital, Dublin was established as the Central Criminal Lunatic Asylum in 1845 under the provisions of the Lunatics Asylums (Ireland) Act (1845). Individuals were to be committed to the Central Criminal Lunatic Asylum if they were declared ‘guilty but insane’ at time of trial or offence, or if they developed mental illness and became difficult to manage while in detention elsewhere. The Central Criminal Lunatic Asylum opened its doors to admissions in 1850 and by 1853 there were 69 male and 40 female inpatients.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

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