IT was a memory from over 40 years ago, but when finance minister Brian Lenihan recalled his brother's death from leukaemia on RTE radio last month he was overcome with emotion. Mark Lenihan lost his battle at just five years of age when his brother Brian was six.

Poignantly he recalled how Mark was quite sick the Christmas before he died and lamented the lack of medical advances in the 1960s that might have saved his life.

He was speaking to Miriam O'Callaghan on RTE Radio in a joint interview with his aunt Mary O'Rourke and cried as he remembered the sad time in his family's life.

"I just have so many happy memories of my early childhood. You've reminded me of a sad part of it. I used to sing the mass in Latin actually in the 1960s. Aside from that I played soccer and Athlone is a great soccer town", he added.

"When I moved to Dublin at 12, everyone called me a culchie and I'd a very heavy Athlone accent and I used always refer to lorries as 'lurries' throughout my teenage years, which is a very Midland accent."

Brian Lenihan is the grandson, son, nephew and brother of four Fianna Fáil TDs. He is the eldest of his generation of Lenihans born to Brian senior, who served in FF cabinets for over 25 years, and his wife Anne.

Born on 21 May 1959 in Dublin, he spent his early childhood in Athlone before attending secondary school at Belvedere College in Dublin. He was head boy there in his final year before studying law at Trinity College and Cambridge University.

His father Brian passed away on 1 November 1995 after a long and distinguished political career. His health deteriorated when he was Minister for Foreign Affairs and in 1989 he underwent a liver transplant at the Mayo Clinic in the United States. It later emerged that the late taoiseach Charles Haughey had raised money from businessmen to pay for the operation and that he may have redirected some of the funds to his own bank account.

In January 2007, Brian Lenihan's brother, junior minister Conor Lenihan publically thanked a surgeon who spotted a growth on his face during a television broadcast and alerted him to it. Doctors subsequently found a tumor which, although benign, required immediate removal.

He urged people to get even the smallest symptom checked by their doctor as soon as possible.

"I decided to go public because I think there is a tendency among men when something like that happens to ignore it," he said.

Lenihan was taking part in a studio discussion show, Prime Time, on RTE television in December 2006 when a viewer, a surgeon in Galway in the west of Ireland, was watching at home and spotted a lump on the left side of the minister's jaw.

The following day the surgeon rang Lenihan's office in the capital Dublin, and left a message asking him to call back about "a private matter". The surgeon advised him to see a head and neck specialist immediately.

Doctors discovered a tumour which, although benign, could have caused disfigurement and speech difficulties if it had gone untreated. The father-of-three said he was very fortunate: "It was a benign tumour, so to speak. God, I was terribly relieved, obviously, but I was a bit shocked when I got the call."

The minister had noticed a slight lump on his face, but said he ignored it because he was preoccupied at work.

It is understood that Brian Lenihan's diagnosis was made when doctors investigated a suspected hernia problem that had been bothering him. He admitted himself to the Mater private hospital on 17 December, earlier than his scheduled appointment for surgery. He is understood to have been suffering discomfort and had difficulty sleeping.

He was absent from the Dáil as his public sector pay cut was passed by the Government by 80 votes to 69. The minister has endured a hectic 20 months since taking over as finance minister, just as the economic crisis got going.