Lalor, Joseph (1811–1886), psychiatrist, was born in 1811 in Freshford, Co. Kilkenny, fourth and youngest son of Richard Lalor, a landowner, and Mary Lalor (née Carroll). Nothing is known of his childhood. He received a licentiate in midwifery from the Dublin Lying-In Hospital (Rotunda) in 1837, and graduated licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI) and as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) from the University of Glasgow in 1838. He was senior medical officer of the Kilkenny Union workhouse and the Union fever hospital, and worked at the cholera hospital, before becoming first resident physician and manager at the newly established Kilkenny District Lunatic Asylum in 1852.
A deep believer in the power of asylums to cure, Lalor emphasised the importance of occupational and recreational therapy for inpatients, noting in 1855 that there had not been a single case of seclusion or mechanical restraint in the establishment. He believed in the use of shower-baths for mania, the curative properties of labour, and cultivating quiet, order and decorum among the patients. He ensured that all male patients took meals and recreation together as a group, and all female patients likewise.
Lalor retired from Kilkenny in 1857, when he was appointed resident medical superintendent of the Richmond Asylum at Grangegorman, Dublin, a post he held until shortly before his death in 1886. The Richmond, which opened in 1814, was in a state of decline when Lalor arrived. Lalor set about reforming the asylum and paid particular attention to the Richmond school, based on his belief that education was the fundamental basis of ‘moral treatment’ of the insane.
Lalor built on the work of Dr John Mollan who had been appointed ‘physician extraordinary’ at the Richmond in January 1836 and was involved in efforts to establish a school at the asylum in 1852. The school was expanded considerably, and Lalor ensured that a broad range of subjects were taught, including reading, writing, arithmetic, algebra, geometry, geography, drawing, needlework, and various arts and crafts. As a believer in the value of education, regardless of the age or condition of the patient, Lalor was keen to avoid monotony in lessons. With this in mind, he alternated periods of literary, aesthetic, moral and physical education with recreation and industrial employment. Professional teachers were employed, and the National Board of Education recognised the classes in 1862. Dr Daniel Hack Tuke (1827–95), a leading asylum doctor, visited the Richmond in 1875 and wrote approvingly of the asylum school in the Journal of Mental Science. Tuke noted that the patients stood in circles marked out by a chalk line and presented a very orderly appearance as the teacher asked them questions on geography and other subjects or gave them object lessons.
Lalor was extremely proud of the school. He discussed the initiative at length in a seminal paper, ‘On the use of education and training in the treatment of the insane in public lunatic asylums’, published in the Journal of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland in 1878. In that year, there were 479 male patients in the Richmond, of whom 400 were employed either at school or industrially, or both. That left only seventy-nine male patients who were wholly unoccupied owing to being under medical treatment or because of their state of mind. Of the 553 female patients, 448 were employed either at school or industrially, or both, leaving only 105 wholly unemployed for similar reasons.
In 1861, Lalor became the eighth president, and first Irish president, of the Medico-Psychological Association (MPA), forerunner of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The MPA held its annual meeting in Dublin that year, providing a significant opportunity for Lalor to promote the importance of resident medical superintendents (rather than ‘visiting physicians’) in the Irish asylums. This was one of many themes that exercised the energetic Lalor, another was, inevitably, the progressive approach to management that he practised at the Richmond. Notwithstanding this eminence, or possibly because of it, Lalor had a deeply complicated relationship with the governors of the Richmond asylum, who went as far as to exclude him from meetings in the 1870s. He had an even more conflictual relationship with the inspector, Dr John Nugent, who was unusually involved in asylum management at that time. Matters came to a head in 1883 when an inquiry vindicated Lalor.
Lalor married three times, to Mary MacEnery (who died around 1838), Mary Redmond (date of death uncertain), and Ann Bridget Duckett; he is thought to have had seven children (the exact number is unknown). He retired from the Richmond in June 1886, an occasion marked by the Irish Times, which noted that his achievements at the establishment included the development of the school, patient outings to the Phoenix Park, the Botanic and Zoological Gardens, and elsewhere, and various physical improvements at the asylum, including beautifying the grounds, placing canaries and finches in cages in dayrooms, and installing pictures and statuary on the corridors.
Having suffered from a weakness of the heart for some years, Lalor died on 17 August 1886 at his son’s residence in Co. Sligo, after a short illness. He was buried at Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin. Following his death, the Journal of Mental Science paid fulsome tribute to Lalor’s undoubted achievements at the Richmond, echoing the Irish Times by describing him as kind-hearted and noting that his tenure brought improvements to the asylum grounds, while he also introduced games, attended to the comfort of the patients, and developed the Richmond school to a high degree.
Over the course of Lalor’s career, the educational approach that he advanced, although novel, was not the only therapeutic paradigm in evidence at the Richmond or elsewhere. The use of education and approaches rooted in ‘moral treatment’ did not exclude the employment of various additional medicinal treatments that were less progressive, such as purgatives, blood-letting, and emetics, which continued until the late 1870s. Notwithstanding this persistence of these older medicinal paradigms in the asylums, Lalor was by no means alone in trying to improve matters for the mentally ill in a fashion that was as enlightened as the institutional framework of the times permitted, even if he and others failed to sufficiently challenge that framework. Lalor was succeeded at the Richmond by Dr Conolly Norman (qv), who maintained the atmosphere of reformist zeal established by his predecessor.