The ‘report of a nightmare’
Hallucinating conflict in the political and personal frontiers of Ulster during the IRA border campaign of 1920–22
in Medicine, health and Irish experiences of conflict 1914–45
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The influence of the ‘new psychology’ was less notable in early-twentieth-century Ireland than elsewhere. Nonetheless, the personal narratives of patients can be used to unravel the meaning of warfare and conflict. This chapter exploits a 1940 article published by the former medical superintendent of the Downpatrick District Asylum, Michael J. Nolan, of a ‘case of acute systematized hallucinosis’. His article provided a detailed journal account of an extended period of hallucination authored by a patient in the immediate aftermath of his disturbance during the War of Independence. Nolan’s article was also distinguishable by its focus on the actual substance of hallucinatory experience. The patient recounted a hallucinatory episode in which a battle took place in his sickbed between an army of cockroaches and an army of hairs. These phantasmagorical battalions clearly functioned as proxies for the participants of the ‘real’ conflict raging beyond the doors of the asylum. His hallucinations were also deeply coloured by his personal relations with, and violent impulses towards, two women, one Protestant and the other Catholic. This chapter critically analyses in an ethnographic frame this account of a hallucinatory episode and the psychiatric discourse which enfolded and structured it.

Editors: David Durnin and Ian Miller


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