Skip to main content

Homosexuality and Irish psychiatry: medicine, law and the changing face of Ireland

  • B. D. Kelly (a1)

Homosexual acts were illegal in Ireland until 1993. Between 1962 and 1972 there were 455 convictions of men for crimes such as ‘indecency with males’ and ‘gross indecency’. Homosexuality was regarded as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association until 1973 and by the World Health Organisation until 1990. ‘Treatment’ provided in various countries, including England and Northern Ireland, included psychotherapies (such as psychoanalysis) and ‘aversion therapies’ involving delivering emetic medication or electric shocks to homosexual men as they viewed images of undressed males; administration of testosterone followed by showing films of nude or semi-nude women; and playing tape recordings outlining the alleged adverse effects of homosexuality and alleged benefits of heterosexuality. In Ireland, homosexuality was regarded as a sexual deviation throughout the 1960s and some psychiatrists were involved in court proceedings and ‘treating’ homosexual persons with psychotherapy. Although there are some suggestions that ‘aversive therapies’ were used for homosexuality in Ireland, there is currently insufficient primary evidence to clarify this further. The history of psychiatry’s attitude to homosexuality is revealing for what it shows of the changeability of psychiatric diagnostic practices over time, and the extent to which certain psychiatric diagnoses are subject to social, political and various other influences. There is a strong need to enhance mental health services for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons who experience mental health problems.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: B. D. Kelly, Trinity Centre for Health Sciences, Trinity College Dublin, Tallaght Hospital, Dublin 24, Ireland. (Email:
Hide All
American Psychiatric Association (1952). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 1st edn. American Psychiatric Association: Washington, DC.
American Psychiatric Association (1968). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 2nd edn. American Psychiatric Association: Washington, DC.
Carlson, HM, Baxter, LA (1984). Androgyny, depression, and self-esteem in Irish homosexual and heterosexual males and females. Sex Roles 10, 457467.
Clare, AW (1990). Homosexuality. Irish Times, 9 February.
College of Psychiatry of Ireland (Public Education Committee) and Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (2011). Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual Patients: The Issues for Mental Health Practice. College of Psychiatry of Ireland, GLEN, Health Service Executive: Dublin.
Collins, E (2004). Back to the future. Gay Community News, February.
Commission of Inquiry on Mental Illness (1966). Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Mental Illness. The Stationery Office: Dublin.
Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution (1957). Report of the Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution. Her Majesty’s Stationery Office: London.
Dickinson, T (2015). ‘Curing Queers’: Mental Nurses and their Patients, 1935–1974. Manchester University Press: Manchester.
Dunne, J (1963). Diseases of the mind. In The Priest and Mental Health (ed. E. F. O’Doherty and S. D. McGrath), pp. 1325. Alba House: New York.
Egan, G (2003). Father and son II. In Coming Out (ed. G. O’Brien), pp. 4549. Currach Press: Blackrock, County Dublin.
Ferriter, D (2009). Occasions of Sin: Sex and Society in Modern Ireland. Profile Books Ltd.: London.
Fielding, WT (2012). Sissy Talk. William T. Fielding: Dublin.
Gallagher, R (1979). Understanding the homosexual. The Furrow 30, 555569.
Gillespie, E (1979). Gays reply to the Pope. Irish Times, 29 October.
Holmquist, K (1990). Why are we so intolerant of difference? Irish Times, 20 January.
King, M, Smith, G, Bartlett, A (2004). Treatments of homosexuality in Britain since the 1950s – an oral history: the experience of professionals. BMJ 328, 429432.
Lacey, B (2008). Terrible Queer Creatures: Homosexuality in Irish History. Wordwell Books: Dublin.
Lieberman, JA, Ogas, O (2015). Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry. Weidenfeld and Nicolson: London.
Manning, M (1976). Harassed gays fight for 20th century law. Community Care, 30 June.
Mayock, P, Bryan, A, Carr, N, Kitching, K (2009). Supporting LGBT Lives. Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) and BeLonG To Youth Service: Dublin.
McAleese, M (2008). Remarks by Mary McAleese, President of Ireland made at the International Association of Suicide Prevention XXIV Biennial Conference, August 31, 2007, Irish National Events Centre, Killarney, Co. Kerry, Ireland. Crisis 29, 5355.
McCafferty, N (1975). Two consenting adults learn that it’s an offence over here. Irish Times, 12 September.
McCann, E, Sharek, D (2014). Survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people’s experiences of mental health services in Ireland. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing 23, 118127.
McCann, E, Sharek, D, Higgins, A, Sheerin, F, Glacken, M (2013). Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender older people in Ireland: mental health issues. Aging & Mental Health 17, 358365.
McCarthy, D (2015). Let’s celebrate the next generation of Irish people who can marry whomever they love. Irish Examiner, 29 May.
McCormack, B, Tobin, J, Keeley, H, Yacoub, E, MacHale, S, Scully, M, Flannery, W, Ambikapathy, A, Monks, S, McLoughlin, M, Moynihan, G, Plunkett, R, Kennedy, H (2015). Marriage referendum – countdown to polling day. Irish Times, 21 May.
Murphy, C (1974). Homosexuals – an oppressed minority? Irish Times, 16 February.
Murphy, WJ (1973). Homosexuality. Irish Times, 13 July.
Norris, D (2012). A Kick Against the Pricks: The Autobiography. Transworld Ireland: London.
Norris, D (2015). Marriage referendum – countdown to polling day. Irish Times, 21 May.
Norris, DPB (1977). Booklet on sexuality. Evening Herald, 21 April.
O’Brien, E (1971). Dublin’s mental health needs. Irish Times, 16 April.
O’Doherty, EF (1963). Sexual deviations. In The Priest and Mental Health (ed. E. F. O’Doherty and S. D. McGrath), pp. 124135. Alba House: New York.
O’Shea, B (2014). The inconvenient truth around ‘lunacy’. Irish Medical Times, 7 June.
Patterson, DG, O’Gorman, EG (1984). Psychosexual study of patients and non-patient homosexual groups. IRCS Medical Science: Psychology & Psychiatry 12, 243.
Pietikainen, P (2015). Madness: A History. Routledge: London and New York.
Robson, C (1991). Homosexuality. Irish Times, 18 September.
Ryan, JPA (1963). Mental handicap and responsibility. In The Priest and Mental Health (ed. E. F. O’Doherty and S. D. McGrath), pp. 190197. Alba House: New York.
Ryan, P (2006). Researching Irish gay male lives. Qualitative Research 6, 151168.
Scull, A (2015). Madness in Civilization: A Cultural History of Insanity from the Bible to Freud, from the Madhouse to Modern Medicine. Thames and Hudson Ltd: London.
Shorter, E (1997). A History of Psychiatry: From the Era of the Asylum to the Age of Prozac. John Wiley and Sons: New York.
Simpson, K (1979). Forensic Medicine, 8th edn. Edward Arnold (Publishers), Ltd.: London.
Smith, G, Bartlett, A, King, M (2004). Treatments of homosexuality in Britain since the 1950s – an oral history: the experience of patients. BMJ 328, 427429.
Walsh, C (1984). Gay people don’t have two heads. Irish Times, 28 September.
Walshe, É (2009). Cissie’s Abattoir. The Collins Press: Cork.
Wise, S (2015). Curing queers. Guardian, 3 June.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0790-9667
  • EISSN: 2051-6967
  • URL: /core/journals/irish-journal-of-psychological-medicine
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed