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Castlepollard honours Mons. John Coghlan (1887-1963)

A commemorative ceremony was celebrated on Tuesday 30 May 2017 in remembrance of Castlepollard native Monsignor John Coghlan in his home parish.

Born the third son to Hugh and Kate Coghlan, Monsignor Coghlan started his education at Castlepollard Boys NS and went to St Finian’s College, Mullingar before going to Maynooth to study for the priesthood.

Ordained at St Mary’s Church, Collinstown on Sunday, June 29, 1913, a few days before his 26th birthday, Fr Coghlan celebrated his first Mass the following day in his native Castlepollard.

Fr Coghlan was ordained by Dr Patrick Clune CSSR (1864-1935), then Bishop, later Archbishop of the then Australian Diocese, later Archdiocese of Perth, and a native of Ruan, County Clare.

Appointed to the Parish of Castletown/Kilpatrick, Fr Coghlan volunteered to serve as a British Army Chaplain, 4th Class, in France in 1915.

Fr Coghlan served in both France and Flanders during World War I.

Fr Coghlan, who was mentioned in dispatches, was wounded in 1917 – as a report in the Westmeath Examiner dated Saturday April 14, 1917, stated.

Under the headline ‘Westmeath Priest Wounded’ it reported, ‘Tuesday night’s list of casualties among the officers includes among the wounded, the name of the Rev Father J. Coghlan, Army Chaplain’s Department, who was attached to the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on active service.

‘Father Coghlan is a member of an old Castlepollard family. Exact information as to the occurrence is not to hand and hopes are entertained that his wounds are not of a serious character.

‘He has been in France for over a year and his daring in the face of great dangers in carrying out his spiritual duties ministering to the wounded and dying won the admiration of his fellow countrymen.’

Fr Coghlan subsequently made a full recovery from his wounds.

Remaining in the British Army following the end of WWI, Fr Coghlan served in Egypt and Mesopotamia and then in Shanghai and at Malta.

Monsignor, as Fr Coghlan was to become, was promoted to Chaplain, 3rd Class, in 1931, Chaplain, 2nd Class, in 1932, and eventually Chaplain, 1st Class, in 1938. 

Following the outbreak of World War II on September 3, 1939, Monsignor Coghlan was appointed Assistant Deputy Chaplain-General of the British Army and the principal Roman Catholic Chaplain to the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), that sailed to France to serve alongside the French Army.

Some months later, in the summer of 1940, the BEF retreated to Dunkirk, where Monsignor Coghlan was one of the last members of the BEF to be evacuated, having attended to British and German wounded alike.

He was mentioned in dispatches and decorated for attending to wounded military personnel under heavy gun fire.

On returning to Britain from Dunkirk, Monsignor Coghlan was appointed to the rank of Vicar General of the British Army, becoming, in effect, the commanding officer of 700 Roman Catholic Chaplains who were serving in the British Army.

He was based at the British War Office in London. After 30 years of unbroken service, he retired from that capacity in 1945.

Monsignor Coghlan, who was Knighted, was awarded the CBE in 1940, and the Croix Militare De Guerre, First Class, in 1948. 

He was then appointed parish priest of Multyfarnham, a post he stood down from in 1953 due to ill health.

Retiring from active duty as a clergyman, Monsignor Coghlan took up residence in Dublin. He died at the Bon Secours Hospital in Glasnevin on Tuesday, April 16, 1963. Two days later his funeral Mass was at Our Lady of Dolours Church, Glasnevin.

Bishop John Kyne presided at Monsignor Coghlan’s funeral Mass.

Among the clergymen in attendance was the then serving parish priest of the Castlepollard, Fr Matthew Gilsenan PPVF. The British Embassy in Dublin was represented at Monsignor Coghlan’s Funeral Mass by its Military Attache, Brigadier RN Thickness. Also in attendance was Captain JJ McKeever, then president of the British Legion (Royal British Legion from 1971 on), Monsignor JM Clarke, CBE, a former chaplain to the British Armed Forces, and Monsignor JJ O’Mahoney, a then serving chaplain to the British Armed Forces. Present also were General Sean McEoin, TD, and MJ Kennedy TD (1987-1965) – the latter a Castlepollard man, paying his respects to a fellow Castlepollard man.

Monsignor Coghlan is buried at Glasnevin Cemetery.

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