Researcher: Peter Reid

Project: The care of children with mental deficiency in Dublin and Wexford c 1900 to 1912. 

This study will provide a qualitative and quantitative examination of the care provided to children with assumed  mental deficiency in specialist institutions in Ireland, c1900-1912.

In Ireland, until the twentieth century, contemporary discourse frequently conflated lunacy with mental deficiency. While seminal historiography has explored the understanding and management of lunacy in Ireland during the nineteenth and early twentieth century, there has been little comparative analysis of supposed mental deficiency as a distinct condition (Cox, 2012). In addition, the history of childhood in Ireland is in an emergent state.

In Britain, the early twentieth century was a period of anxiety and intense debate about the possible link between supposed mental deficiency, and crime, poverty, racial decline and sexual immorality. The appointment of a Royal Commission was the British government’s response to these apprehensions (Thompson, 1998). Although these concerns were less evident in Ireland, the Royal Commissioners also completed a comprehensive investigation of believed mental deficiency in Ireland. In timescale, the study design also allows use of comprehensive census information for 1901 and 1911.  

The study will describe the mixed economy of care in urban and rural Ireland during the early twentieth century for these children. It will explore their life cycles of care, their life circumstances and experiences, and those of their families and the factors triggering transitions between care settings. The study will examine how the history of their care can illuminate debates about religion, gender, childhood, welfare, medicine, social class, educational policy, urbanisation, politics and economics, in early twentieth century Ireland. The study will also provide a contrast with the richer historiography from Britain, Scotland and the United States (Jackson, 2000; Ferguson, 1994).

In Ireland, recent concerns about the quality and appropriateness of institutional care for people with intellectual disabilities and the adequacy of educational, respite, therapeutic and medical care for affected children gives the study a contemporary relevance.

Supervisor: Associate Professor Catherine Cox