Teacher and mentor who loved to sing

Born: January 6th, 1933
Died: July 10th, 2020

Dermot Hourihane, a doctor who strongly advocated for medical and social change in late 20th century Ireland, has died. Prof Hourihane was a founding member of the Irish Family Planning Association and founder of Doctors against the Amendment, a lobby group formed in advance of the first referendum on abortion in Ireland in 1983.

Right from his early days lecturing at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), he became involved in social issues. Appointed as reader (now associate professor) in pathology in 1966, he pushed for the lifting of the Catholic Church in Ireland’s ban on Catholics entering TCD. The 100-year-old ban was lifted in 1970.

He became the first professor of histopathology and morbid anatomy at TCD in 1973 and was dean of the faculty of medicine and dentistry from 1979-1983.

He was driven by a desire to improve the standards of medicine and health services

While on the academic staff at Trinity College, he was a key figure, with Ian Howie, Basil Chubb and others, in the consolidation of the Federated Dublin Voluntary Hospitals in the 1980s and early 1990s. This involved the closure of smaller hospitals and the building of the new Tallaght hospital and also the development of academic training links between Trinity College and St James’s Hospital.

His successful drive to consolidate the laboratories of seven small city centre hospitals into the new St James’s Hospital in 1981 showed many skeptics that such a merger could succeed.

His motivation was always to improve the pathology services in Ireland which included setting up rigorous postgraduate training schemes. He was head of the hospital’s histopathology department and director of the central pathology laboratory at St James’s Hospital for several years.

Prof Hourihane was also one of the early advocates in Ireland of multidisciplinary conferences. He was a founder fellow of the faculty of pathology at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in 1981 and its second dean (1984-1987).

Much appreciated as a colleague, teacher and mentor with a sharp intellect and academic vision, he was driven by a desire to improve the standards of medicine and health services. He was always outspoken and his criticism could be scathing but he was kind to those in difficulty.

Dermot Hourihane was born the second eldest of four children to Dr Des and Lia Hourihane (nee Flanagan). He spent the first six years of his life in Ballina where his father was the first county medical officer of Mayo. The family moved to the Dublin suburb of Donnybrook in the late 1930s when Dr Des Hourihane took up a post as a public health doctor at the Department of Health.

He attended St Xavier’s School on Morehampton Road, Donnybrook. He then went to study medicine at University College Dublin at the age of 16, becoming the youngest ever medical student at that time. An award-winning student, he graduated in 1955.

He and his wife-to-be Maura Brady (who was also from Donnybrook) started going out together in their teens and married in 1957. Their first born, Ann Marie, was born in Dublin and their other four children, Deirdre, Patrick, Jonathan and Paul, were born in London where the family moved so that he could pursue his studies in pathology.

This was a golden age of pathology in Britain and, while there, Prof Hourihane worked at Hammersmith Hospital and later at London Hospital (now the Royal London Hospital) with already world famous doctors such as Israel “Sonny” Doniach and John Dacie. Haematologist Victor Hoffbrand was a colleague and friend.

While in London, one of his pathology students was English theatre and opera director and actor, Jonathan Miller. Rewarded with tickets for the famous Beyond the Fringe stage show, in which Miller was appearing, Dermot and Maura attended the performance but to Maura’s chagrin, Dermot uncharacteristically declined an invitation to meet the cast backstage.

His other great pleasures were gardening, bird watching, opera, cinema and socialising, particularly at home, with a large and diverse circle of friends

Back in Dublin and living in Monkstown, Dermot and Maura joined the new lobby for non-denominational education, and moved their sons to the first Educate Together School in Dalkey. Their son, Jonathan, later followed in his father’s footsteps in medicine and is now a consultant paediatrician at Children’s Hospital Ireland at Temple Street and professor of paediatrics at the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland.

Outside of work, Prof Hourihane was a keen golfer, having been a member of Milltown Golf Club since childhood. His other great pleasures were gardening, bird watching, opera, cinema and socialising, particularly at home, with a large and diverse circle of friends. An evening was not a total success unless it ended with him leaning on the piano, singing an obscure song, and remembering all the words. He led memorable singing sessions, not least at lab parties, and these may or may not have been compulsory for his staff and students.

Healthy into his 80s, his last years were a struggle against the inevitable decline of Parkinson’s disease. For a man renowned for expressing sometimes unpopular opinions, readily sharing stories and songs, and counselling the uncertain, the enforced silence brought on by this degenerative disease was the hardest part of the condition for him to bear.

Prof Dermot O’Brien Hourihane is survived by his wife Maura, his sister Izan, his children, Ann Marie, Deirdre, Jonathan and Paul and five grandchildren. His brothers, Brian and John, predeceased him and his son, Patrick, died as an infant.

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