In 2011, the Health Service Executive (HSE) deposited over one hundred and sixty years of medical archives from St Finan’s Psychiatric hospital, Killarney, to the Kerry County Library Archives in Tralee. St Finan’s Hospital records are of great historical interest and archival records are available from its opening in 1852. St Finan’s holds a very well-preserved set of archives from the early 1900s. Records from 1852 to the mid-1890s are sparse and vary in readable condition. However, by 1900, records became more comprehensive and give an excellent insight into the workings of the institute, treatments, diagnosis and the patient’s history.
When the Lunacy Act of 1845 was passed, all district asylums were obliged to provide records of their patients (see image from Winslow LS (1874) Manual of Lunacy: A Handbook relating to the Legal Care and Treatment of the Insane in Public and Private Asylums of Great Britain, Ireland, United States of America, and the Continent).
Admission books documented the details of every patient admitted to the asylum; their number in order of admission, number on the registry, date of admission, name, age, religion, marital status, occupation, address, whether county or town (union, district or parish), by whose authority sent to the asylum, date of medical certificate and by whom signed, form of mental disorder, supposed cause of insanity, bodily condition and nature of the disease, epileptic, congenital idiots, duration of existing attacks, number of previous attacks, age of first attack, date of discharge or death, recovered, relieved or improved, died, age and observations. The admission books were an addition to the individual committal forms allocated to each patient.
Information from the archives have contributed to data visulisation which allows us to explore the patient profile.
As the material is sensitive in nature, access is restricted and data protection of the patients is strictly enforced. Unlike the UK, where digital versions of asylum archives are available online, Irish archival records of the asylums are not.