Hallaran, William Saunders (c.1762–1825), psychiatric pioneer, was the son of William Hallaran (d. 1794?) of Castlemartyr, Co. Cork, and was likely born in Cork in the early 1760s. After graduating MD from Edinburgh University (c.1788), he returned to Cork and served as a physician to the South Mall Infirmary and the House of Industry. Appointed the first medical superintendent of the County and City of Cork Lunatic Asylum (established in 1791) attached to the House of Industry, he served there for the rest of his life. Entry to public asylums being restricted to paupers, Hallaran opened and concurrently ran a private lunatic asylum at 'Cittadella', Blackrock Road, in 1799, which housed a small number of fee-paying inmates.
A member of the Royal Cork Institution (1807) and active in the local urban intelligentsia, Hallaran outlined his deliberative approach to the treatment of insanity and mental disorder in An enquiry into the causes producing the extraordinary addition of the number of insane, together with extended observation on the cure of insanity (1810). Part of the nascent reaction to the Enlightenment consensus which assumed insanity emanated from moral weakness, Hallaran harnessed extensive personal experience to offer practical guidance in managing insanity. He posited a definite rise in the incidence of insanity in the decade after 1799, partially attributable to the psychological convulsions emanating from the 1798 rebellion (like Pinel in France, assessing the psychological impact of the revolution there) and the increasing abuse of alcohol. Hallaran's reference to Pinel's work on the French revolution in correlating the impact of political and civil disturbance with the rising incidence of insanity was omitted from the expanded second edition.
The role of the mind and its involvement in disease was central to the pedagogy offered at Edinburgh, then a major centre of European medical education. There Hallaran likely met Joseph Cox (1763–1818). Hallaran described and praised Cox's 'circulating swing', which had been first suggested in Zoonomia (1796) by another Edinburgh alumni, Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802), and designed his own version of this. Hallaran proclaimed the benefits of his improved version deployed in Cork, in which patients were harnessed and rotated at up to 100 rpm. Inducing sleep in those suffering manic episodes, Hallaran observed that inmates often voluntarily mounted the swing for pleasure, and recommended it where insanity was not yet chronic, being beneficial in quelling the unruly. The swing, illustrated in Hallaran's retitled second edition (Practical observations on the causes and cure of insanity (1818)), enjoyed a vogue in asylums in the British isles during the early nineteenth century; aggressive use induced vomiting and bowel evacuation, emetic reactions then seen as therapeutic. However, it should be seen as among the more humanitarian contemporaneous psychiatric treatments.
Hallaran, breaking new ground in the aetiology (etiology) of insanity, clearly distinguished mental (hallucinations) and physical (corporeal delirium) forms of insanity (Laffey, 72). The latter could be induced by religious mania, the terror of conflict, excessive religious devotion and the abuse of spirituous alcohol. Discussing the use of emetics, purgation, digitalis and opium, Hallaran humanely urged the deployment of occupational therapy (farm and craft work) to engage patients. He outlined the benefits of meaningful conversation and social interaction with patients, the first such contemporaneous institutional response in the British isles. Emphasising the benefits of emotional support and kindness, minimising restraint and cultivating rational thinking, Hallaran prefigured modern approaches in recommending conversational engagement and individually focused treatments.
Thomas Spring Rice (qv) claimed in 1817 that the Cork asylum was the best managed he had ever come across. The report of Irish prison inspectors (who inspected Irish asylums until 1844) noted in 1824 that the Cork asylum was 'an establishment of the first class, in respect to order and utility' (Report of the inspectors general , 70). Patient numbers rose from about 50 in 1791 to around 300 by 1822. Rice, discounting restrained natural mortality or poor care, noted 'the establishment at Cork has gained so high a reputation, that there are a vast number of individuals sent to it from districts wholly unconnected with the city or country of Cork' (ibid., 12).
Hallaran, the first doctor to write on mental health in Ireland, certainly influenced the act making legislative provision for public lunatic asylums for the poor throughout Ireland (1817), which devolved governance in this area to the Irish administration. He died at his home on the South Mall, Cork, on 17 December 1825. His son William graduated BA from TCD (1816), and his daughter Jane married Robert Bennett, recorder of Cork; their son Edward Hallaran Bennett (qv) was a prominent surgeon.