ON THIS DAY: 22nd May 1866: THE OPENING OF THE DONEGAL DISTRICT LUNATIC ASYLUM
It was revealed that it was 150 years ago today that St. Conal’s Hospital (or the Donegal District Lunatic Asylum as it was known then) was opened.
George Wilkinson, who had also designed the Workhouse, drew up plans for the building of a new hospital in the early 1860s for the Lunacy Board and Matthew McClelland, a Derry man from a Letterkenny family, was chosen as the contractor. Construction began in 1862, and was completed by 1866 at a cost of £37,887.5.3. A letter to the Londonderry Sentinel in 1865 gave a description of the new building:
“The Asylum is situated about a quarter of a mile on the road leading from Letterkenny to Dunfanaghy. The site is on a gentle eminence, and the building runs from east to west, commanding fine views of the surrounding scenery, which is here both bold and picturesque. The first sight of the structure impresses the spectator with a feeling somewhat akin to wonder – the front presenting a noble façade three storeys in height…the people of Letterkenny feel a little pride that Mr. M’Clelland, the contractor, is a townsman of their own, and that his name is associated with a building of which the entire County feels proud.”
The hospital was originally designed to accommodate 300 patients but by 1883, the number of inmates had risen to 354, exceeding its capacity and two expansions of the building took place. By 1900 though, the numbers had increased to 596 and so accommodation for an extra 250 patients was completed by 1904. The building continued to serve as a hospital for people with a mental illness for a further 100 years but the process of phasing out the numbers admitted began in 2006 with the last patient leaving the hospital on 18th June 2010. Today, the large building houses various offices of the HSE.