In 1849, the building of St Finan’s Hospital begun in an elevated area in the northeast of Killarney town. The hospital is in a glorious position, overlooking the mountains and forests of the Killarney National Park. It was initially built to house 250 patients and was designed by Woodward and Deane as a Gothic Revival style institution using a complex asymmetrical plan and local stone and limestone. It was regarded as one of the most architecturally distinguished asylums of the 19th century.
St Finan’s Hospital has had numerous titles in its history. Killarney District Lunatic Asylum was its original title and it opened to the public on the 30th of December 1852. It initially housed 135 patients but in the latter half of the 19th century, the Killarney asylum continued to expand both in numbers and premises, predominantly due to chronic overcrowding. This expansion continued up to the mid twentieth century when over 1,100 patients resided in the institute. By this stage, according to the World Health Organisation, Ireland had the highest rate of individuals locked away in the world, with seven out of every 1000 citizens residing in a psychiatric institution. Gradually, mental health policies changed, reducing the number of residents, until in 2012, St Finan’s Hospital finally closed its doors. Over its 160 years of operation, St Finan’s Hospital, became closely interlinked within the framework of local social life and to an extent, employment.
This webpage aims to give some further insight into its history and will initially have a strong focus on the period between 1900-1930, an era of significant political and social change, including WW1, the struggle for independence, civil war, chronic poverty, and unremitting emigration. There will also be a broad overview of other periods and eventually a wider perspective of the history St Finan’s and mental healthcare in Co Kerry.
This digital artifact was undertaken by Patricia O Sullivan in relation to her thesis research for an MA in Digital Arts and Humanities, University College Cork. Acknowledgments to Shawn Day (UCC), Christine Carroll (HSE) and Mike Lynch (Kerry County Archivist, Tralee Library) for their support with this research. Numerous resources have been used to inform this site, including archival material from St Finan’s Hospital, the Census, Parliamentary Papers, Inspector Reports and research from leading figures in the field of history of medicine and mental healthcare.
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