Irish Journal of Medical Science

, Volume 179, Issue 3, pp 409–416 | Cite as

Intellectual disability, mental illness and offending behaviour: forensic cases from early twentieth-century Ireland

  • B. D. KellyEmail author
Original Article



The history of institutional care for individuals with intellectual disability is under-researched, complex and troubling.


To explore the experiences of women who may have had intellectual disability and/or mental illness and were admitted to forensic psychiatric care in early twentieth-century Ireland.


All female case records at the Central Mental Hospital, Dublin from 1910 to 1948 (n = 42) were studied for evidence of possible intellectual disability and a series of five cases is presented in detail.


These committals occurred in the context of adverse social conditions, over-crowding in asylums and a belief that rates of mental illness were rising. Particular challenges included diagnostic issues (especially in relation to intellectual disability), adjustment to asylum environments, mental illness and physical ill-health.


The institutional experiences of individuals with intellectual disability represents an important area for further historical research, using larger and more varied forensic populations.


Learning disability Mental health Forensic psychiatry Hospitals Psychiatric History Twentieth century 



The author is grateful for the support of Professor Harry Kennedy (National Forensic Psychiatry Service, Central Mental Hospital, Dundrum, Dublin 14) and the comments of the anonymous peer-reviewer.


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Copyright information

© Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Adult PsychiatryUniversity College Dublin, Mater Misericordiae University HospitalDublin 7Ireland

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