b. 27/06/1828 Eyrecourt, County Galway, Ireland. d. 14/02/1915 Westport, County Mayo, Ireland.
Cornelius Coughlan (1828-1915) was born on 28th June 1828 at Eyrecourt, County Galway, Ireland. He was the son of Edward and Catherine Coughlan. He was educated locally in Eyrecourt, and soon after his schooling, he decided to join the Army. He enlisted with the 75th Regiment of Foot (Stirlingshire) (now the 1st Battalion, Gordon Highlanders) and would remain in the Army for 21 years.
Coughlan was posted to India at the outbreak of the Mutiny in 1857. For his services in the Mutiny, he would be awarded the Indian Mutiny Medal with two clasps for Delhi and the Relief of Lucknow, along with the award of the Victoria Cross. Coughlan (on his citation misspelt Coghlan) was awarded the Victoria Cross over 4 years after the end of the Indian Mutiny on 11th November 1862. His citation notes two separate incidents of gallantry, the first on 8th June 1857 and the second on 18th July 1857.
On the 8th June 1857, he volunteered with three other men, to go out under a heavy fire, into a enemy occupied serai to rescue a badly wounded Private Corbett of the 75th Regiment of Foot. Coughlan was wounded in the knee during this action. Later, during the siege of Delhi, when his officers were killed and he found himself in command, he encouraged his wavering men by word and example to return to the attack. This engagement resulted in victory and the Kabul Gate was stormed and taken. This achievement was so noteworthy that a memorial tablet and monument were erected over the gate and included in the inscription was the name of Colour Sergeant Cornelius Coughlan. Queen Victoria wrote a personal letter to him complimenting him on his bravery and lamenting the fact that she could not personally award him with his VC.
Coughlan was invested with his VC on 31st January 1863 at Devonport by Major General Sir William Hutchinson, who was representing the Queen. Coughlan served for a total of 13 years in India with the 75th Regiment of Foot, and after his return to Ireland, and transferred to the 3rd Battalion of the Connaught Rangers, setting in Westport, County Mayo. The 3rd Battalion was the reserve (part-time) battalion. He also later in life served with the South Mayo Rifles, a militia regiment. He lived for over 40 years on Altamount Street in Westport before his death. He was also a very keen angler.
He died at home in Westport on 14th February 1915. His funeral was a big affair comprising a firing party of the Royal Field Artillery, the Fife, Drum and Bugle Band of the 10th Hants Regiment, and many relatives and friends of Coughlan attended the service. However, a year passed, and no headstone had been erected on his grave. In 1916, the Easter Rising occurred and soldiers who had worn the British uniform were no longer welcome. As a result, Coughlan would remain in an unmarked grave in Aughavale Cemetery in Westport for over 89 years. In August 2004, the Irish Defence Minister, Michael Smith unveiled a new headstone on the site of Coughlan’s final resting place. Coughlan’s medals are held by the National War Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NATIONAL WAR MUSEUM OF SCOTLAND, EDINBURGH.
BURIAL PLACE: WESTPORT OLD CEMETERY, WESTPORT, COUNTY MAYO, IRELAND.
Andy Wright – Image of Coughlan’s VC medal group at the National War Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.