A Portrane asylum patient: ‘Hopes of my discharge I have consigned to oblivion’

This is the story of Gerald, from a fluent but sad letter dated September 1st, 1912. He was admitted on April 17th, 1901

St Ita’s Hospital, Portrane, Co Dublin, 1993. Photograph: Paddy Whelan

St Ita’s Hospital, Portrane, Co Dublin, 1993. Photograph: Paddy Whelan

 

Dear Father,

I was very much disappointed you did not come to see me today. In previous letters I intimated to you my anxiety for a visit. For that visit would have determined in great measure my future career.

About two months ago, I wrote, at Dr Donelan’s desire, a letter to you, desiring you to arrange for my withdrawal from the asylum. Five weeks later I interviewed Dr Donelan. He expressed lively satisfaction about my letter to you. He told me, though, that you had not corresponded with him. That interview I considered eminently unsatisfactory.

It does not require any exceptional perspicuity on my part to perceive that you view the proposed discharge with exceeding distaste. The careful avoidance of any allusion to that subject in your letters, the cold and studied indifference you assume when I tell you how glad the doctors say they would be to see me restored to the bosom of my family, and lastly, your words to me nine years ago, “If you will stay altogether in the asylum, I will get you many privileges, such privileges as no other patient has.”

All this convinces me that if my discharge is dependent on you, then farewell my freedom, for ever and a day!

I now regard myself as entering on a new epoch of my existence. Hopes of my discharge I have consigned to oblivion. I see the years before me and my soul shrinks at the appalling prospect, the prospect of an acre of ground, three dry meals a day, and a roof to shelter me.

But I turn to your words: “if you will stay altogether in the asylum, I will get you as many privileges, such privileges as no other patient has.” You will remember indignantly I refused your insidious offer, and that I affirmed, with an oath, my determination to keep on asking you and the doctors to let me out.

The years have gone by since that memorable visit. The grief-maddened and fiery-tempered boy has become the cold and calculating man of business. My present circumstances have opened my eyes to the possibilities of the asylum. I take the privileges you offered me, whatever they are. I would certainly like to take a walk to the seashore every fine day and lolling on a seabank, give myself up to the delights of Shakespeare, Lord Lytton and the other stars of English literature.

I have also become epicurean in my tastes, a chicken and beer would be acceptable. I am very keenly interested in football. A few trips to Dublin with the home team would help to brighten the tedium of my existence.

It is a great thing, the sacrifice of my rightful liberty, but needs must when the devil drives. The privileges mentioned by me appear poor and insignificant compared to the loss of all that makes life dear to man. But I am a man of moderate pretensions, so father dear, make things right for me and you shall always have the filial regards of

Your Affection Son, Gerald

Gerard died in winter 1949, unsung, no fuss, a little wooden coffin, no relatives present

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