Richmond Lunatic Asylum

Richmond Lunatic Asylum

In Brief

The Richmond Lunatic Asylum, a psychiatric facility in the northwest Dublin suburb of Grangegorman that in 1904 was the largest and most important in Ireland, comes up several times in the novel. In Telemachus Mulligan refers to it mockingly as "Dottyville" and mentions "Conolly Norman," who superintended the Asylum from 1886 until his death in 1908. In Circe Bello notes that "Keating Clay is elected vicechairman of the Richmond asylum," and in Oxen of the Sun one of the medical students speculates that the man in the macintosh has been released from this hospital.

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Mulligan mentions the asylum in connection with his taunting suggestion that Stephen has "g.p.i."—general paresis of the insane, a consequence of tertiary syphilis. Joyce's fictional interest in insanity parallels Ireland's therapeutic interest in it. The country has a long history of building hospitals for the care of the mentally ill. It also has a long history of excessive consumption of alcohol, which has been responsible for many referrals to mental hospitals.

As for the name "Dottyville," it is no child of Mulligan's teeming brain. Harald Beck notes on JJON that "The popular caricaturist Phil May (1864-1903) drew a number of cartoons for Punch that refer to a lunatic asylum he called ‘Dottyville’ (dotty as a colloquial adjective for someone feeble in mind or silly was in popular use in English by the 1880s)." Those cartoons in the 1890s gave rise to a cultural meme. Beck quotes uses of the name in Frank Richardson's 1905 novel Secret Kingdom, in a 1913 children's game ("Any player alighting on 'Dottyville Lunatic Asylum' must wait there in accordance with instructions"), and in a 1917 reference by Siegfried Sassoon to the "Craiglockhart War Hospital, where he had been sent by the authorities as an alternative to a court martial."

Later in the 20th century the Richmond Lunatic Asylum became known more respectfully as the Grangegorman Mental Hospital, one part of a complex of buildings called St. Brendan's Psychiatric Hospital. The hospital complex has been progressively decommissioned in the last two decades, however, and much of it either lies in ruins or has been demolished.

John Hunt 2011

2010 photograph by Quasihuman of the Richmond asylum, designed in the 18th century by architect Francis Johnston. Source: Wikimedia Commons.