History and Archives

The foundation of St Patrick’s Hospital was brought about by the will of Jonathan Swift, Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, noted satirist and patriot, who, upon his death in 1745, left £12,000 to ‘build a house for fools and mad’.

Swift was a pioneer in recognising that people suffering from mental health difficulties required a specialist service to provide care, treatment and a voice. A former governor of the infamous Bedlam asylum in London, he understood that there is a thin line between sanity and madness. One year after his death, in 1746, St Patrick’s Hospital was founded – not only the first psychiatric hospital to be built in Ireland, but one of the very first in the world.

The Governors soon realised that Swift’s bequest was inadequate to fund the intended free admission of all service users and they decided to cater partly for fee-paying boarders.

Throughout the 19th century the hospital grew significantly. By 1817, two building extensions saw the population rise to over 150 service users. By 1872, staff numbers were in the fifties, and such was the growing need for services that in 1898 St Edmundsbury in Lucan was acquired.

It was Dr Richard Leeper - appointed medical superintendent in 1898 - who was largely responsible for transforming St Patrick’s from an asylum for the maintenance of the mentally ill to a modern hospital for their treatment and cure. Dr Leeper’s accomplishments included the abolition of the use of restraints, the segregation of female and male wards and the construction of day rooms and bathrooms.

Leeper’s modern-minded initiatives were embraced by his immediate successor J.N.P Moore, who removed the old prison-like doors on the cells and continually challenged the assumption that all mentally unwell service users were a danger to themselves and society, and should be locked away.

In the century that followed many people worked together to ensure that St Patricks became a noted centre for teaching, research and innovation. 

In 2018,  St Patrick’s Mental Health Services is Ireland’s leading not-for-profit mental health organisation, with over 700 staff members delivering 12% of the country’s total inpatient care and treatment needs. It is a modern, efficient and growing mental health service with:

  • Two inpatient campuses that offer an array of services for adults with mood disorders, psychoses, addictions, anxiety disorders and eating disorders  
  • Adolescent mental health services at Willow Grove
  • Over 25 day services programmes
  • A number of Dean Clinics in the community, providing a network of care accessible to people in every county in Ireland 

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Archives and Museum