Northern Ireland

The Letterkenny Scandal – On This Day in 1924

Walk-out at former Letterkenny Lunatic Aslyum over wages left patients virtually unattended

The former Letterkenny Lunatic Asylum, black and white image, with man standing in front of its walls
The former Letterkenny Lunatic Asylum
April 4 1924

All the North American continent except Mexico and a few adjacent areas was inhabited by savage tribes of copper-coloured people when Columbus discovered the West Indies, and for a few centuries thereafter.

Those aborigines, erroneously called “Indians”, were wild and warlike races. They fought fiercely, they burned and tortured prisoners – just like civilised peoples; they had no letters; their art was rudimentary – where a semblance of it existed; they did not till the soil; and their clothing of rough animal skins was scanty. But they had many humane and chivalrous customs and laws that had lapsed amongst the inhabitants of Europe with the advance of “civilisation”.

When there appeared amongst the “Red Indians” of the plains and forests an unhappy fellow being afflicted with loss of mental power by the will of the Great Manitou whom they worshipped after their fashion, the fiercest tribesmen regarded the poor victim with respect and affection: a man or woman thus stricken was tended and watched with a care never bestowed on persons able to “fend for themselves”.

Has there been in any country a recorded precedent for this week’s occurrence at the Letterkenny Lunatic Asylum?

Not in Ireland, certainly. Such happenings would have been impossible in any part of our island four or five years ago. The staffs of an institution like that at Letterkenny would have made an effort to lynch any reckless barbarian who suggested that they should, over a question of wages that could have been adjusted somehow, abandon their posts at once and together, and leave 600 helpless men and women to starve or to slay one another, to burn the building, to do one or all of the deeds of terror possible in a house inhabited only by irresponsible victims of mental disease in various stages of idiocy or insanity.

But, unfortunately, there is no conceivable depth of demoralisation that may not be reached when sections of a people lose their grip of Christianity’s essential principles and learn to interpret the difference between right and wrong as callous self-interest or uncontrolled passion dictates.

What a commentary on the revolting behaviour of the strikers was the action of the asylum patients who took charge of the institution, re-lit the fires, re-started the engine, provided their more helpless fellow-sufferers with food, attended to their wants, and secured their safety!

Irish News editorial lambasting the “uncivilised” actions of striking workers from Letterkenny Lunatic Asylum who walked out over pay reductions and left patients virtually unattended.