Connacht District Lunatic Asylum / St Brigid’s Psychiatric Hospital, Ballinasloe, Ireland
An abandoned asylum in Ireland with many items remaining, plenty of decay and a lot of history.
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The Connacht District Lunatic Asylum opened in 1833 with accommodation for 150 patients. Many commentators at the time thought the asylum would never reach capacity, and in fact feared it wouldn’t ever be even half full. Promotional advertisements were created ready to entice patients to the new asylum. These turned out to be redundant, however, and the asylum actually suffered with overcrowding throughout the years, despite being expanded many times. Poor Law Workhouses at the time were overcrowded, as was the prison system in Ireland, and both were relieved to be able to offload some of their more difficult inmates to the asylums. Connacht, like the other asylums at the time, was unable by law to refuse entry to anyone referred to them, and soon found they were filling up with long-term or incurable patients. Around the same time, emigration to America seemed a good option for many Irish people, however anyone exhibiting strange behaviour would likely mean refusal of entry into the USA for the entire family. Those family members were simply sent to the asylums where they would likely spend the rest of their lives while their families emigrated.
Designed by William Murray, based on an earlier design by Francis Johnston, Connacht was built with an X shape layout and cost £27,000. The plan was based on the “panoptic” concept for prison layouts whereby the governor and his staff would occupy the central structure, easily able to monitor the entire institution with the wings radiating outwards.
In 1850 the Sligo Asylum was built to cater for the counties of Sligo and Leitrim, and Connacht was renamed Ballinasloe District Asylum, to serve the counties of Galway and Roscommon only. The asylum gained a reputation over the years as a place of cruelty and deprivation. Harsh treatment, imprisonment and the threat of a future spent in a straightjacket or padded cell was common. The popular perception of the hospital for the mentally ill was not a favourable one even in the 1970s.
In its later years, the building became St Brigid’s Psychiatric Hospital. The change in name represented a modernised approach towards the treatment of people with mental illnesses. Long stays in institutional settings was gradually phased out and community based approaches were developed. This ultimately led to the eventual closure of St Brigid’s, a building that was designed to keep people restrained was no longer suitable in a time when rehabilitation and reintegration with the community was becoming priority. The hospital closed its doors for the final time in 2013.