Throughout the early to mid-1800s, there was a rapid growth in the development of mental asylums worldwide, with Ireland leading the way.
A total of 22 new Irish asylums sprung up between 1810 – 1870, one of which is the now derelict St. Brigid’s Hospital, formerly known as Connacht District Lunatic Asylum (CDLA).
The Connacht Asylum’s doors first opened in 1830 and very quickly, hundreds of people were being admitted under the Dangerous Lunatics Act.
Most spent the rest of their lives in the asylum once they were confined within the x-shaped prison-like walls and thousands died from tuberculosis even though the Ballinasloe Fever Hospital was right beside it.
The asylum’s sheer size and formidable, military-like design, not to mention the adjoining graveyard where former patients are buried, is a stark reminder of 19th Century Ireland.
The History of Connacht District Lunatic Asylum/St. Brigid’s Hospital, Galway
Back in those days there was no such thing as a voluntary addmission to a psychiatric hospital, meaning every person who was sent to CDLA was done so against their will.
Men, women and children as young as 2 were sent to the asylum and according to the Irish Times, it was common for families to send members to the asylum if they held rights to property. Once the family member was admitted, the rest of the family would acquire the property rights and to ensure they retained control, the family would tell the CDLA that they didn’t want the person to return home.
“Difficult” inmates from the surrounding gaols and workhouses were too sent to the asylum.
Not long after and similar to many other mental asylums that opened up during the 1800’s in Ireland, the CDLA became significantly overcrowded. With a capacity for only 600 patients, the CDLA struggled when they reported housing over 1500 people by the end of the 1800’s and over 2000 by 1950.
The Closure of St Brigid’s Hospital, Galway
St Brigid’s Hospital closed its doors in 2013 despite the fact that the HSE had just pumped €2.8million into upgrading it. In fact, after the upgrade, it was known as Ireland’s most modern psychiatric facility.
The closure of the asylum, which at that time was being referred to as St Brigid’s Hospital, came as a shock to the staff, patients and local politicians.
According to an article published by the Irish Mirror, local TD Denis Naughten said there was no rationale for the decision after the revamp. He added: “It makes absolutely no sense. It is probably the most modern facility in the country. There’s no logic to it. The cash was used to make the wards the best.”
Shortly after rumour spread the hospital was shutting its doors, hundreds of locals took to the streets of Galway and Dublin to protest.
A group called Save St Brigid’s Action Group was also established which to this day, is still petitioning for the closure reversal.
In 2021, spokesperson for the group, Dean McGrath, told Tipperary FM the following:
“Currently we’re over 6,000 signatures which is an incredible statistic and it just goes to show the depth and the emotion that the people of Carrick on Suir and the surrounding areas have for the retention of the respite and palliative care services in that particular unit.”
Since it’s unexpected closure in 2013, the hospital/asylum has been abandoned ever since.