Memorial for towering figure in Irish medicine

A MEMORIAL service takes place today for a towering figure in Irish medicine who died before Christmas.

Family, friends and colleagues of the late Denis J O’Sullivan, Emeritus Professor of Medicine at University College Cork (UCC), will gather at the Honan Chapel for the service.

Prof O’Sullivan died at home on December 21. He was 85.

He was born in Carrigadrohid, Co Cork, and educated in De La Salle, Macroom, Presentation College Cork and UCC, graduating with a first class honours degree in 1948.

After qualification he opted for a career as a physician, starting in Truro in the south of England, then Wolverhampton and Birmingham, to be appointed as senior lecturer of medicine in Birmingham University, with a doctorate in medicine.

His appointment as professor of medicine at UCC in 1961 brought a new era to the practice of medicine in Cork, and brought the highest standards of scientific medicine to Cork, thereby securing the position of the Cork Medical School.

A brilliant clinician, colleagues say he applied exceptional standards of care and kindness to the clinical practice of medicine, first in St Finbarr’s Hospital and later in Cork University Hospital (CUH).

A charming man with a genuine interest in people, he was renowned for his genealogical memory which allowed him to place people within a wide network of relatives.

Prof O’Sullivan worked prodigious hours, seldom leaving the hospital before 8pm and he would often phone instructions through later to doctors.

One colleague recalled him coming into St Finbarr’s Hospital on a Sunday afternoon to see an old man who, although very ill, wanted to discharge himself from hospital.

“Nothing would convince him to stay except that the professor came in and had a drink with him,” the colleague said.

“Undaunted, Prof Denis arrived at 4pm and the last I saw of him was sitting drinking a can of Guinness on the steps up to St Patrick’s Ward with the patient, who duly agreed to stay.”

Prof O’Sullivan saw the need for a new multi-disciplinary hospital in Cork and played a leading role in the development of CUH, for which he was conferred with an honorary DSc degree from the NUI in 2000.

His medical teaching rounds on Fridays were famous, with doctors attending from all over Munster.

He published numerous articles in medical journals and was involved in medical policy making at a national level.

Upon his retirement from CUH in 1990, Prof O’Sullivan became clinical director at the Ibn al Bitar Hospital in Baghdad, and worked there during the height of Saddam Hussein’s rule. He returned to live in Baltimore, Co Cork, and began to write The Cork Medical School: A History, which was published in 2007.

He is survived by his wife, Joan and their children, Donal, Sheila, Sean, Fergus, Siobhan and Denis.

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