Death of Maurice Neligan

  • Niall Hunter, Editor

One of Ireland's best known and most respected medical figures, retired heart surgeon Maurice Neligan, has died at the age of 73.

Mr Neligan worked for many years at Dublin's Mater and Crumlin Hospitals and performed Ireland's first heart transplant in 1985. He was also involved in the establishment of the Blackrock Clinic in the mid-1980s.

Maurice Neligan was always an active campaigner for improved health services and a frequent critic of much health policy and many policy-makers.

Recently, he called for a reversal of the decision to build a new children's hospital at the Mater.

He was highly critical of the health policies of Mary Harney and Brendan Drumm.

He wrote a regular column for the Irish Times, the content of which typified the erudition, wit and humanity for which he was well-known.

In his retirement, he divided his time between his home in Blackrock in Dublin and Co Kerry.

Maurice Neligan always enjoyed huge public popularity and many of his former patients kept in touch with him.

In a recent interview with, Mr Neligan recalled the events surrounding Ireland's first heart transplant at the Mater Hospital.

“We really did it off our own bat. We did not get any help from the Department of Health or anything like that. In fact, not long after we did the first transplants, the Mater stopped the programme during the cutbacks in the late 1980s.

“We got around that by doing transplants in the recently-opened Blackrock Clinic. Then we sent the message out through the media that the only way you could have a heart transplant in Ireland was if you were a private patient. The then Minister, Rory O’Hanlon, didn’t fancy that and rang the Mater and said put the programme back. Rory was a reasonable guy so it got back on track.

“But of course, this has been the recurring story of our lives in the Irish health service. Constant rationing of resources. And I think it’s getting worse.”

View the interview here

Paying tribute to Maurice Neligan, Fine Gael Health spokesman Dr James Reilly said he was deeply shocked and saddened to hear of his death.

"Only yesterday I conversed with Maurice on the national airwaves when I was, as always, impressed by his wit and intellect, which made him a highly entertaining but informed commentator."

“In Maurice, Ireland has lost a leading champion of the patient and the health service.  He pioneered developments in cardiac surgery and trained many of the current leading experts in that field."

“It is deeply sad that the country has lost a great servant to the public interest and medicine has lost a great pioneer and a leading thinker.  His friends have lost a close and cherished friend, but the greatest loss is to his wife Pat and their children, to whom I offer my sincere sympathy."

Fine Gael Leader, Enda Kenny said that he was deeply sorry to hear of the passing of Maurice Neligan and said his gentle nature, his realism and his colourful opinions on health and politics will be missed by all across Ireland.

Michael O'Shea, Chief Executive of the Irish Heart Foundation, said the Foundation deeply regretted the passing of leading heart surgeon and patient campaigner Maurice Neligan.

"Mr Neligan pioneered the development of cardiac surgery in Ireland and his contribution was outstanding. He will be remembered with great affection and admiration by all for whom he cared."

Maurice Neligan is survived by his wife Pat.  The couple had seven children.

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