St Patrick’s in Dublin is the oldest psychiatric hospital in Ireland. It was founded by the author of Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift, who left his money after his death in 1745 “To build a house for fools and mad”.
Swift was most famous for his satire and it is no surprise that his founding of St Patrick’s was a satirical nod towards his native Ireland.
Famously, he described his gesture in a poem entitled On the Death of Dr Swift:
He gave the little wealth he had
To build a house for fools and mad,
And showed by one satiric touch
No nation needed it so much.
The hospital was intended as more than just parody, however, as Swift was also genuinely committed to the care of people with mental illness.
Swift had served as one of the Governors of Bethlem Hospital in London and, when he became Dean of the city’s cathedral, he began to realise the appalling conditions that mentally ill Dubliners had to endure.
The hospital still stands today, next to that other 18th century Irish institution, the Guinness Brewery, and is one of the leading centres for psychiatric treatment, teaching and research in Ireland.