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
Ada English: served with Liam Mellows in 1916 and Cathal Brugha in the Irish Civil War, and spent almost four decades as a reforming psychiatrist at Ballinasloe hospital
Staff at Ballinasloe District Asylum with Ada English at the front centre (circa 1917). Source: Mattie Ganly. Used with permission
Ada English, attending a Gaelic League national convention in Galway, 1913, in the second row from the front, without a hat, beside Máire Ní Chinnéide (with hat) and behind Eoin McNeill (seated in the front row, holding a book). Douglas Hyde is seated to Eoin McNeill’s right. Source: Courtesy of the Curran family.
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?