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Madness, Migration and the Irish in Lancashire, c.1850-1921

 Professor Hilary Marland, Dr Catherine Cox (UCD) and Sarah York (Warwick and UCD)

One of the ongoing challenges within history and psychiatry is to explain high rates of psychological disturbance amongst migrants and minority ethnic groups more generally. In the historic and contemporary literature, the relationship between migration and mental illness has been variously linked to exposure to new social demands and cultures, dislocation, isolation, trauma, discrimination, and deprivation.

Our project takes the particular case study of migration to Lancashire from the final years of the Great Famine to Irish Independence to explore the relationship between Irish migration and mental disorder. During this period, Irish patients presented huge management problems to asylum superintendents, local government and welfare agencies; care systems, in a similar way to health and welfare services today, were overstretched and under-resourced.

The project examines whether there were particular stereotypes concerning the Irish which influenced their admission to the asylum and experiences of care, and how concerns about the very visible rise in their numbers were linked to changing debates about insanity, including the impact of degeneracy, race and gender, at a time of massive growth in asylum numbers overall. Uniquely, this project will situate the experiences of Irish pauper asylum patients and those treating them within a broader canvass of efforts to manage perceived and real problems of disease, poverty, and intemperance amongst Irish migrants. The researchers on the project will undertake innovative historical research, based on a close survey of asylum records, and, through events and publications, inform and engage with current debates and policy-makers on high levels of mental illness amongst Irish people, and the relationship between mental health problems, ethnicity and migration. The main outputs comprise articles,a workshop, conference and public engagement activities.

Public Engagement

A Malady of Migration



'Migration, Mental Illness and the Management of Asylum Populations' Workshop 24 September 2010.



‘Health, Illness and Ethnicity: Migration, Discrimination and Social Dislocation’ Conference (UCD) 10-11 June 2011

Conference Videos (Video clip)

Conference Report (PDF Document)