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Public attention for private concerns: intellectual disability parents’ organisations in the Republic of Ireland, 1955–1970
  1. David Kilgannon
  1. History, National University of Ireland Galway, Galway H91 CF50, Ireland
  1. Correspondence to Mr David Kilgannon, History, National University of Ireland Galway, Galway H91 CF50, Ireland; dmkilgannon{at}


This article examines the influence of intellectual disability ‘parents and friends’ organisations in the Republic of Ireland between 1955 and 1970, a period that coincided with the emergence of parental disability activism internationally. Drawing on their publications and activities, it argues that Irish groups adopted a significant, if circumscribed, response to ‘learning disabilities’ that was reflective of a broader political and social policy approach during the midcentury, with local organisations supporting parents of ‘deficient’ children and establishing key services across the country. It highlights the way in which these pioneering actions align with existing norms in the state and explores the effect of this voluntary-driven response for the intellectually disabled. Approached in this way, the actions of these learning disability organisations complicate international research on postwar disability activism while furthering an emergent body of research into the complex realities that precluded transformative change in Irish society during the mid-20th century.

  • history
  • disability
  • health policy

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  • Funding This study was funded by Wellcome Trust (grant number 108597/Z/15/Z).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement There are no data in this work. No data are available. Not Applicable.