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The archives contained within the hospital represent a rich and, as
far as we are aware, unique collection of material relating to the history of mental health in Ireland. The combination of exceptionally detailed and well-preserved documents, together with diverse materials left by patients is probably without parallel for any other institution of its type.

The backbone of the archive is the Registers of Admissions, which span the period from 1814 to 1987. They offer tremendous scope for longitudinal analysis of admissions over an exceedingly long time period, as well as rich data concerning occupation, reasons for admission and so forth. Historians will therefore be able to discern periods of treatment, as well as to build up a social profile of those admitted to the hospital. They will also be able to gain much from the male and female case books, which cover the period from the late 1880s to the late 1950s.

The Registers of Admissions also contain photographs of the vast majority of patients admitted from the late 19th century onwards. The early use of photography within the discipline of psychiatry has been the subject of historical study, but rarely has such an intact photographic and documentary archive presented itself. The photographs fit into a genre of ‘psychiatric photography’ wherein physicians attempted to document ‘types’ of patients and in some cases to depict the appearance of symptoms. Although photography was used, and has been catalogued for such notable institutions as Bethlem Hospital in London, this is the first such significant photographic collection for an Irish hospital that we are aware of.

Other notable features of the collection include the Register of Criminal Lunatics and the case books of the Richmond War Hospital, the latter providing some important insights into what happened to soldiers suffering from ‘war neuroses’ during the Great War.  Among other things, these case books show that many of those diagnosed with mental diseases during the war had in fact suffered from malaria rather than battlefield trauma.  The archive is also fortunate to have many administrative records which give details of meetings, social events, and so forth, together with a collection of objects that significantly illuminate psychiatric practices within the hospital and the day-to-day life of the patients and staff.

The archives mentioned above are all in excellent condition and are well catalogued, however the hospital also contains a large mass of ephemera left behind by patients. While most of these objects are of little historical value, a search revealed a number of items that would be a significant addition to any archive and which would be fascinating to professional historians and the general public alike. These included a short, hand-written account of admission to the hospital and of the patient’s feelings at the time, and a book of poetry which appears to have been written by a patient at the hospital. It is likely that the material in this wing will yield many more important finds, providing rare glimpses of patients’ perspectives on a psychiatric institution.

Overall, the archives at Grangegorman have the potential to illuminate most aspects of the history of psychiatry in Ireland, and not least the place of the institution within the local community. It will provide excellent subject matter for exhibits in the proposed museum and the rich archive is likely to form the basis of a number of historical research projects in the future.