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Haunting photos in an abandoned Irish mental asylum

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These creepy images reveal the haunting remains of an abandoned Irish lunatic asylum which was once overcrowded with mentally ill patients who were forced into straitjackets and padded cells.  

The mental hospital in Ballinasloe, which opened in 1833 to take care of ‘curable lunatics’ and ‘dangerous idiots’ who were sometimes sent away from prisons and workhouses or abandoned by their families. 

Ballinasloe became a symbol of an era in which growing numbers of asylum inmates led to an ever-more draconian use of chains, sedatives and padded cells to keep the patients under control. 

What later became St Brigid’s Hospital finally closed its doors in 2013 and urban explorer Cathal Henry has since ventured behind its walls to capture the eerie remains of the unit. 

Doors open: Padded cells in what was once a secure wing of the hospital, which housed thousands of patients over a nearly 200-year history, including some who were sent from prisons and workhouses

Abandoned: A model of the human body, once used to teach anatomy at the mental hospital in Ballinasloe, keeps an eerie watch over a corridor in the now-closed institution which once symbolised the age of Victorian mental hospitals 

Lonely: A dark, decaying corridor at the mental hospital gives a sense of the creepy atmosphere in the abandoned building, which opened in 1833 and over the decades became far too crowded to accommodate the hundreds who resided there

Relic: A wheelchair sits empty next to a puddle in a corridor of the abandoned building, which remained open as a 22-bed mental hospital until it finally closed in 2013 

Creepy relics at the unit – often referred to by urban explorers as ‘Asylum X’ – include a model of the human body which was used to teach anatomy, as well as religious images and a bathtub containing debris with an alarming resemblance to human remains. 

Dark, lonely corridors filled with long-forgotten debris give a sense of the haunting atmosphere of the place, even many years after practices that horrify 21st-century medical experts came to an end.   

Ballinasloe Asylum opened in 1833 as the Connaught Asylum, to cater for the counties of Galway, Roscommon, Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim, and the town of Galway. 

The sprawling complex had an innovative design in which the governor and his family were based in the centre and the inmates lived in separate wings which radiated out from the middle – looking like an X from above. 

According to the photographer’s picture collection Uncharted Ireland, there was initially space for only 200 patients and promotional materials were sent around to encourage people to use the hospital. 

Like many Victorian asylums, it saw a steady growth in its population, and by 1900 there were 1,165 patients at a hospital which had been expanded to hold 840, according to the magazine History Ireland. 

Forgotten: A piano destined to remain silent sits in a room with boarded-up windows and decaying wallpaper in a hospital which housed thousands of patients at its height 

Stairs to nowhere: This staircase is in a state of disrepair – but a bottle of holy water was still lying around in the building 

Entrance: The exterior of the mental hospital, also known as Asylum X, which like many Victorian-era asylums saw a massive growth in its population during the 19th century 

From above: The sprawling complex had an innovative design in which the governor and his family were based in the centre and the inmates lived in separate wings which radiated out from the middle – looking like an X from above

Rotting away: Wallpaper is peeling off the walls in this corridor at the Ballinasloe institution, later renamed St Brigid’s hospital

District asylums in Ireland were attractive ways for prison and workhouse governors to offload some of their inmates, while other patients were committed to the asylum by worried relatives. 

However, the asylums also became known as places of cruelty and harsh treatment, where imprisonment in padded cells and the use of straitjackets to restrain people was common. 

Some Irish hospitals would later make use of lobotomies, which were used to treat people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or other illnesses but is now seen as barbaric and discredited. 

There were also cases of Irish families emigrating to America but leaving behind a mentally ill relative who they feared would wreck their chances of admission to the United States. 

With their family gone, these patients were left to fend for themselves and sometimes spent the rest of their lives in the asylum. 

The institution became a major part of the local town and economy, because of the large number of doctors, nurses and others who worked there, and inmates made up a large chunk of the local population. 

In the early 20th century, Ballinasloe had 5,600 residents, of whom 40 per cent were patients in what was later renamed St Brigid’s hospital.

Alarming: This bathtub at the empty asylum contained a pile of debris with an alarming resemblance to human remains 

Exit: The green fire exit sign is from a more modern age – but for many patients there was no escape from the mental hospital

By the end of its life, it was a mental health unit with only 22 beds and it was finally closed in 2013, only months after a multi-million pound upgrade.  

Cathal Henry, the photographer, said the institution was sometimes known as ‘Asylum X’ and took pictures of the empty building over four separate visits, one of which lasted nine hours. 

‘There’s a lot of sadness that’s felt in these places,’ Cathal said.

‘All it took in the early 1900s was a priest or a cop to sign off the document and you could easily be admitted to one of these asylums – never to leave again.

‘I visited with a friend of mine who is a paranormal investigator. There was something very draining about the atmosphere. I could barely talk. 

‘It’s certainly strange because as I said, I myself could feel the energy sapped out of me. After a visit like this, it can take me a few weeks to pick the camera up again. ‘It’s a harrowing place – very eerie, creepy, and oppressive.

‘There’s something rewarding in the idea of documenting Ireland’s history through the lens. These buildings might not always be there, but we’ve captured and shown people what’s inside.’ 

Recreation: This was thought to be a recreational room for some of the lower-risk patients in what was once a mental hospital 

No more cleaning: A laundry room with industrial-sized washing machines at the now-abandoned building in Ireland 

Scattered: Furniture including chairs and hospital beds now line the eerie corridor in the former Ballinasloe asylum 

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