Norman, Conolly (1853–1908), psychiatrist, was born 12 March 1853 in Newtown Cunningham, Co. Donegal, fifth of six sons of Hugh Norman, rector of All Saints Church, and Anne Norman (née Ball). He was educated at home before studying medicine at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), the Carmichael School of Medicine, and the Richmond Hospital, graduating licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and (Royal) King and Queen's College of Physicians ((R)K&QCPI; forerunner of RCPI), and licentiate in midwifery of the Rotunda Hospital (1874); he was subsequently elected fellow of the RCSI (1878) and a member (1879) and fellow (1890) of the (R)K&QCPI. From the beginning of his career he specialised in psychiatry. He served as assistant medical officer (1874–81) at the Monaghan district asylum, and studied at the Bethlehem Royal Hospital, London, before being successively appointed medical superintendent of the Castlebar district asylum, Co. Mayo (1882–5) and the Monaghan asylum (1885–6).
In 1886 he was appointed resident medical superintendent to the Richmond district asylum, Dublin. This was Ireland's largest asylum, and Norman's aspiration was its transformation from a gloomy prison into a hospital with a humane regime. In his first annual report he emphasised that the asylum was essentially a hospital, and spoke of the mentally ill, who not only ‘suffer from the most dreadful of all human ailments’ (Reynolds, 157), but are further subjected to loss of liberty and separation from home and family. He maintained that they should be denied nothing that would contribute to their restoration into society and their physical health and comfort, or lessen the tedium of their confinement. While overcrowding, a low staff to patient ratio, inadequate funding, and reluctance on the part of the hospital governors prevented the complete fulfilment of these aims, many reforms were introduced during his period of office.
Whereas inmates in most asylums were regarded as offenders, treated punitively and restrained, Norman continued the enlightened methods of his predecessor, Dr Joseph Lalor (qv); discipline was relaxed, occupational activity was increased, and workshops opened, so that by the late 1890s seventy five per cent of the patients were employed in more varied forms of industry than in any other asylum in the British Isles, according to a report by the 'lunacy inspector' (1901). Stylish individual clothes, made by patients themselves, contributed to their self-esteem; their diet was improved and wards were refurbished and decorated with pictures and flowers. The grounds of the hospital were opened to the patients on a daily basis, and sports, picnics, and entertainments were organised to relieve the monotony.
The overriding problems of the Richmond were overcrowding and insanitary conditions, which during Norman's period of office proved to be insoluble and rendered the hospital vulnerable to dysentery, tuberculosis, and to four outbreaks of beri-beri between 1894 and 1898. Norman repeatedly attempted to tackle these problems by improving sanitary arrangements, and (when the problems seemed intractable) tried to persuade the governors to move to a healthy site in the country. Attempts to overcome overcrowding resulted in the acquisition of Grangegorman Female Penitentiary (1897), and the building of an auxiliary hospital at Portrane, Co. Dublin (renamed St Ita's in 1958); begun in 1893, it reached its full capacity of 1,200 patients in 1904, but the Richmond remained an overcrowded institution.
Norman criticised legislation concerned with 'dangerous lunatics' (Journal of Mental Science, xxxi, no. 136 (Jan. 1886), 459–67), maintaining that it confounded mental illness with crime and that its principal object was the custody of dangerous individuals and not the care of those requiring treatment. He believed that large asylums were ‘gigantic mistakes’; he was the first Irish doctor to campaign publicly against asylum detention as an effective therapy for all patients. He argued that they inhibited the individual treatment which was essential to patients, engendered a discipline and routine that were often inappropriate, and imposed confinement and isolation, which could exacerbate mental illness. One solution he repeatedly advocated from 1890 was the boarding out of some patients into family care, an arrangement practised in Scotland, Belgium, and Berlin, which he argued would be beneficial to twenty per cent of the patients and reduce overcrowding and expense. In pursuance of this policy he persuaded the hospital management to send a deputation (1901) to the lord chancellor of Ireland, Lord Ashbourne (qv), to press for legislative change; he subsequently appeared before the viceregal commission on poor law reform in Ireland (1906) and published The domestic treatment of the insane (1906), but many years elapsed before this practice was adopted. Another of his imaginative proposals, which proved to be unacceptable, was the discharge of selected patients on trial under medical supervision for a month, to alleviate overcrowding and benefit the individual. He also campaigned for the specialised care of alcoholics and for the intellectually disabled.
A highly respected psychiatric clinician, he introduced courses in 1894 preparing staff for certificates of proficiency in mental health nursing, accredited by the Medico-Psychological Association of Great Britain and Ireland (MPA). A member (1880), secretary to the Irish division (1887–1904), and president of that association (1894–5), he maintained in his presidential address (Journal of Mental Science, xl, no. 171 (Oct. 1894), 487–99) that every public asylum should become a recognised centre of instruction, and argued for greater professionalisation among asylum staff, whose career subjected them to a ‘peculiar combination of worry and monotony’, and who needed to recognise and guard against these injurious influences. He admitted that on occasion he identified with the cry of one of the earliest of reformers: ‘In things essential all men desert me.’
He published a variety of papers in professional journals and contributed articles to D. H. Tukes (ed.), A dictionary of psychological medicine (1892), T. C. Allbutt (ed.), A system of medicine (1869–99), and the Dictionary of National Biography. He was joint editor of the Journal of Mental Science (1895–1908), the organ of the MPA, and during his presidency he nominated the first female member to the society, Eleonora Lilian Fleury (qv), MD, a clinical assistant at the Richmond. He was selected as the accredited representative of the RCPI and Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland (RAMI) to the first international psychiatric congress in Amsterdam (1907), and was secretary and vice-president of the Section of Psychology at the annual meetings of the British Medical Association (BMA) held in Dublin (1887) and in Newcastle, England (1893), and was censor and vice-president of the RCPI (1907). Elected member of the Royal Irish Academy (1903), he was conferred with an honorary MD from TCD (1907).
Enjoying wide interests, a linguist, and well read in European literature, he would probably have enjoyed the reference by James Joyce (qv) in the first chapter of Ulysses to himself and ‘Dottyville’, his hospital; he was an astute collector of prints, antiques, and antiquarian books, and a keen traveller and botanist. He died 23 February 1908 at his home at St Dymphna's, North Circular Rd, Dublin, and is buried in Mount Jerome cemetery, Dublin. A memorial medallion portrait in high-relief bronze by J. M. S. Carré (fl.1900–14) was placed in St Patrick's cathedral, Dublin (1910) and a portrait by Sarah Cecilia Harrison (qv) was presented to the RCPI. He married (6 June 1882) Mary Emily Kenny; they had no children.