Patients, doctors and politicians united yesterday to pay tribute to former heart surgeon Maurice Neligan who died unexpectedly in Dublin.
Mr Neligan (73), who died at the family home in Blackrock, was Ireland's best-known medic who, although retired from surgery, was a regular media commentator on health issues.
He worked as a cardiac surgeon at the Mater Hospital in Dublin from 1971 to 2002 and at Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin from 1974 to 2002.
He carried out Ireland's first coronary artery bypass graft in 1975 and performed the first heart transplant in 1985.
Educated in Blackrock College, he qualified as a doctor in 1962 and was a co-founder of the Blackrock Clinic.
His colleague of more than two decades, heart surgeon Freddie Wood, last night described him as a "professional big brother".
"One of his finest attributes was his humility and the way in which he was so approachable for his patients.
"People forget that 30 years ago a consultant was like a god; you carried their coat, you did what you were told," he said. "Maurice was not like that. Surgically we got up to a lot of mischief together."
Mr Neligan is survived by his wife Pat, also a doctor, and six of his seven children. His daughter Sarah was stabbed to death in 2007.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen extended his sympathies to the Neligan family. "Mr Neligan was a distinguished practitioner of medicine, a distinguished surgeon and there are many families in Ireland today who are grateful for the lifetime's work he undertook. I knew him personally in my time as Minister for Health."
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny paid tribute to his gentle nature, realism and colourful opinions on health and politics.
"I spoke at length with Maurice only last week. He was the first superstar of Irish medicine, following his achievements as a leading cardiac surgeon. There are many who enjoy a normal lifestyle today because of his work. He was a deeply compassionate Irishman, proud of his profession and caring of his family."
In a statement, Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin said: "Maurice was a giant figure in the history of Irish medicine and made an extraordinary contribution to medical care in the hospital.
"He was a pioneer of children's cardio-thoracic surgery and was instrumental in the establishment of cardio-pulmonary bypass and intensive care facilities on site. His energy, enthusiasm, skill and dedication have left a lasting impact on the hospital and generations of children who have received their care here."
News of his death was greeted with shock in Glenbeigh, Co Kerry, where he was considered "just one of the lads".
He was a well-known face at Dooks Golf Club where he had been a member for 25 years. Former secretary manager of the club, Declan Mangan, a close friend of the Neligan family, said: "Maurice's daughter even got married in Cromane Church a couple of years ago. He loved the camaraderie and relaxed lifestyle here and used to come to Kerry to unwind."