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Disease, danger and death: illness and injuries among staff of Monaghan District Asylum (1869–1950)

  • Anne Mac Lellan (a1)



The purpose of this paper has been to investigate the vulnerability of staff in an Irish district lunatic asylum (1869–1950) to infection and injury as exemplified by the records of Monaghan District Asylum (renamed Monaghan Mental Hospital in 1924 and St Davnet’s Hospital in 1954). Some comparisons with other Irish district asylums are included.


The Minutebooks of Monaghan District Asylum, located in St Davnet’s Complex, Monaghan, were sampled in December of each year from 1869 to 1950 with the sampling extended outwards as required. In addition, the reports on the District, Criminal and Lunatic Asylums in Ireland (1869–1921) and the annual reports of the Inspector of Mental Hospitals (1923–2013) were surveyed for comparisons.


Staff in Monaghan District Asylum were vulnerable to infection from contagious diseases including typhoid, tuberculosis and Spanish influenza. As with other Irish district asylums, overcrowding was the norm and isolation facilities were either absent or inadequate. The close proximity of staff to patients in an overcrowded and frequently insanitary institution placed them at increased risk of contracting disease. Moreover, staff at all levels, from resident medical superintendent to attendant, were, on occasion, at risk of injury from patients. The Monaghan experience would seem to indicate that any consideration of staff patient relationships within asylums should be nuanced by a consideration of the risks posed to staff due to their occupation.


Corresponding author

*Address for correspondence: Dr A. M. Lellan, Sleedagh, Murrintown, County Wexford, Ireland. (Email:


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Primary sources:

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