Published: 10 March 2014

Becoming an expert: Michael Robinson on the treatment of Irish Great War participants

Michael Robinson

Michael Robinson, from Sunderland, is in the second year of his PhD at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Irish Studies. His research project is investigating shell-shock, trauma, and the treatment of Irish Great War participants, between 1914 and 1939:

“Little is known of the fate of Irish men who served during the Great War and suffered from psychological problems. My thesis breaks new ground by analysing the experiences of shell-shocked Irish Great War participants by examining their treatment and recovery both during the war and in the turbulent post-war years of the newly-founded Northern Ireland and Irish Free State.

“It is quite startling that, despite extensive studies of Britain’s experience with shell-shock, and English language studies into French, German, Russian and Italian troops who suffered from psychiatric trouble, Irishmen are largely airbrushed out of the secondary literature.

“My study is structured around three main chapters, however, it is my second chapter which I most enjoy engaging with.

“Relying almost exclusively on primary material, this chapter focuses on the psychological legacy of the First World War, and the impact the war had on hundreds Irish Great War participants who required asylum care in the aftermath of the conflict.

“By utilising never before accessed material, including lunacy reports, Ministry of Pension reports, and asylum casebooks, this paper will discuss how these men’s war experience did not end with the signing of the Armistice and the cessation of hostilities. In particular, the asylum casebooks help to reveal the mental and physical condition of a man on admission and his progress, or the lack of progress, usually in the form of weekly or monthly updates, until their discharge from, or death within, the asylum.

“Finally, by utilising some detailed individual casebook records, and the correspondence of family members, I will assess the notion that a number of patients’ mental condition had little or nothing to do with their war-time service, but, instead, their personal and medical histories which made them wholly unsuitable for active service.

“As a result, my research will introduce another under-researched topic: the system of medical screening during enlistment. Indeed, another subject I am keen to address is the role of the family, and how mothers, fathers, siblings and partners were affected, as hundreds, possibly thousands, of Irish men returned home from the war experiencing varying degrees of psychological torment.

“Ultimately, my research will demonstrate that these unfortunate men’s war experience did not end with signing of the Armistice. As we have entered the centenary year of the First World War, I am excited by the prospect of publishing my timely research and telling these forgotten men’s stories for the first time.”

Visit our Study pages to find out more about studying at University of Liverpool.

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2 thoughts on “Becoming an expert: Michael Robinson on the treatment of Irish Great War participants

  1. Pauline R

    Would be very interested to know how Michael selected the asylum records. This looks like very interesting and timely resarch and I’d like to read it. When will it be published?

    1. Joanna (Administrator) on behalf of Michael Robinson Post author

      Thank you Pauline. Asylum records are located across Britain and Ireland in a variety of archives and private collections. However, access to the records came with strict confidentiality and accessibility conditions and, as of yet, access to the records are not available to the general public. I’m hoping to submit my thesis in the next 12-18 months and will pursue publication avenues after that, although I’m hoping to do so within the next two years.

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