The lady vanishes: Dr Ada English, patriot and psychiatrist

A remarkable republican revolutionary and TD who went on to revolutionise mental health care in Ireland is rescued from history’s shadows

The history of Irish medicine does not lack for revolutionary women. In 1919 Dr Kathleen Lynn co-founded St Ultan’s Hospital for Infants in Dublin and became a Sinn Féin TD in the 1920s, while Dr Dorothy Price was a medical officer to a Cork brigade of the IRA and played a key role in the eradication of TB.

But what about psychiatry? The asylums cast a uniquely long shadow over 20th-century Ireland and, as a practising psychiatrist and historian, I’ve always wondered: where were the medical reformers seeking to revolutionise Irish mental health care? Who were the men and women, if any, who sought to build a better, fairer world for the mentally ill as the new Irish State emerged, with all its promise and possibility?

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