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Beyond the walls: the mentally ill in Ireland outside the institutions in 1901

  • B. D. Kelly (a1) and N. Sherrard (a1)

Ireland’s rates of psychiatric institutionalisation increased rapidly throughout the 1800s and early 1900s. This paper provides a systematic analysis of individuals with mental illness who were not resident in psychiatric hospitals, workhouses or other institutions in 1901.


We examined the online census records of all individuals described as ‘lunatics’ on the island of Ireland, not resident in psychiatric hospitals, workhouses or other institutions on census night, 1901.


There were 482 individuals described as ‘lunatics’ and not resident in psychiatric hospitals, workhouses or other institutions on 31 March 1901, yielding a point prevalence of 10.6 per 100 000 population. The lowest prevalence (7.8) was in Leinster (possibly owing to provision of workhouses and asylums); the highest prevalence was in Connaught (17.5) (p=0.013). A majority of them (60.4%) were women. Mean age was 45.7 years. In addition, a majority were single (never married) (63.7%); 33.3% of women were married, compared with 14.1% of men (p<0.001). The most common relationship to the head of the household was child (32.8%), although some were boarders or lodgers. The majority were Roman Catholic (82.0%) and could ‘read and write’ (64.5%). Among those for whom ability to speak Irish was recorded, 74.4% spoke both Irish and English.


There were significant geographical and gender differences within the population recorded in the 1901 census as mentally ill and outside institutions. This group merits further study, especially with regard to their distribution in relation to asylum locations, and the extent to which they were cared for in communities, possibly prefiguring later models of community care.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Professor B. D. Kelly, Department of Adult Psychiatry, UCD School of Medicine and Medical Science, University College Dublin, Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, 62/63 Eccles Street, Dublin 7, Ireland. (Email:
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Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0790-9667
  • EISSN: 2051-6967
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