TitleCollection of William Ireland
DescriptionIreland was born in Edinburgh on 27 October 1832. He was educated at Edinburgh High School and afterwards at Edinburgh University and in Paris, where he studied medicine, graduating MD from Edinburgh in 1855. He served briefly as resident surgeon at Dumfries Infirmary before becoming an assistant surgeon in the East India Company with the Bengal horse artillery in 1856. After seven months' service Ireland was seriously wounded by a bullet which destroyed one of his eyes and passed round the base of his skull to the opposite ear. A second bullet wounded his shoulder and back. He spent three years convalescing in India and was retired from the service with honours and a pension.

The next ten years of Ireland's life were devoted to convalescence in Madeira and travels in Europe. During this time he began his literary career. He published an eyewitness account, History of the Siege of Delhi (1861), Randolph Mephyl (1863), a novel based on his experience of Anglo-Indian life, and Studies of a Wandering Observer (1867), an account of his travels in Europe. In 1869 he returned to Scotland and to medicine, becoming medical superintendent of the Scottish National Institution for Imbecile Children at Larbert, Stirlingshire, where he remained for ten years. Ireland had no prior experience in this field, and institutional management may have provided a welcome opportunity for a man who had been seriously wounded and who had been absent so long from medical practice.

Ireland soon established himself as a leading authority on idiocy, publishing articles in the Edinburgh Medical Journal and the Journal of Mental Science, and contributing to Hack Tuke's Dictionary of Psychological Medicine. In 1877 he published On Idiocy and Imbecility, an impressive synthesis of existing literature on the subject, which became the standard text in English for the rest of the century. Much of the book was devoted to a system of classification based on pathology, and this was adopted in some of the early idiot institutions.

In 1879 Ireland retired from Larbert to open private homes for idiots, first at Stirling, and afterwards at Prestonpans, near Musselburgh, and Polton, near Edinburgh. Over the next decade he returned to his historical and literary interests, developing a new field in which psychology and the study of heredity were used to cast light on historical events.

Ireland remained active within the medical profession. In 1898 he had revised Idiocy and Imbecility under the new title The Mental Affections of Children. He was sceptical about the mounting alarm over degeneration, suggesting that any apparent increase in idiocy was most likely an illusion produced by earlier under-recording. He continued to contribute to medical journals, who welcomed his ability to review and translate publications in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Norwegian, and Hindustani.

Ireland was a member of the Psychiatric Society of St Petersburg, the New York Medico-Legal Society, and the Società Freniatrica Italiana. He died at Musselburgh on 17 May 1909.
[Source: Dictionary of National Biography]

Contents: 'On Inflammation', c1855
TermMental illness
Extent1 volume
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