7th August 2004

An Irish soldier awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry during the Indian Mutiny in 1857, has been commemorated by the Irish and British governments in Westport, Co Mayo.

A local company, Military Heritage Tours of Castlebar, Co Mayo, led by Captain Donal Buckley, was instrumental in locating and identifying the exact burial plot of Sergeant-Major Cornelius Coughlan in Aughavale Cemetery, and who was also responsible for raising the necessary funds for a headstone.

Coughlan died peacefully at his home in Westport on the 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 nobody got around to erecting a headstone. In 1916 the Easter Rebellion took place, the political wind changed, and soldiers who had worn the uniform of a British regiment, no matter under what circumstances, were no longer welcome. As a result, Cornelius Coughlan continued to lay in an unmarked grave for the next eighty nine years.

Michael Smith, the Irish Republic's defence minister, unveiled the headstone dedicated to Cornelius Coughlan, sergeant major with the the Gordon Highlanders, and said the very idea of the ceremony "would probably have been unthinkable" for much of the last 60 years. Smith said: "In fairness to Coughlan, and to the 60 other brave Irishmen who were awarded the Victoria Cross during the military campaign that followed the Indian Mutiny, we should consider his actions in the light of the time in which he was living, rather than seek to judge him through the steely eye of complacent retrospection."

Mr Smith dedicated the headstone in the presence of Stewart Eldon, the British Ambassador to the Irish Republic, representatives of twelve British army regiments, many direct descendants of Cornelius Coughlan and other family members and friends. The Connaught Rangers battle re-enactment club provided the firing party and a volley of three shots from their muskets was fired over Coughlan's grave.

Cornelius Coughlan was born in Eyrecourt, Co. Galway in 1828. He joined the 75th ( Stirlingshire ) Regiment ( later the Gordon Highlanders ) and served with the regiment for 21 years. He was destined to become famous during the Indian Mutiny in 1857 and was awarded the Victoria Cross for bringing an injured Private Corbett, who lay severely wounded, to safety under fire.

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.

For the award of the Victoria Cross.

[ London Gazette, 11 November 1862 ], Badle-ke-Serai & Subzee Mundi, Delhi, Indian Mutiny, 8 June & 18 July 1857, Colour Sergeant Cornelius Coughlan, 75th Regiment.

"For gallantly venturing under a heavy fire, with three others, into a Serai occupied by the Enemy in great numbers, and removing Private Corbett, 75th Regiment, who lay severely wounded. Also for cheering and encouraging a party which hesitated to charge down a lane in Subzee Mundee, at Delhi, lined on each side with huts, and raked by a cross fire; then entering with the said party into an enclosure filled with the Enemy, and destroying every man. For having also, on the same occasion, returned under a cross fire to collect dhoolies, and carry off the wounded; a service which was successfully performed, and for which this man obtained great praise from the Officers of the Regiment."

Cornelius Coughlan was invested with his Victoria Cross by Major General Sir William Hutchinson at Devonport on the 31st January 1863.

Coughlan served for a total of 13 years in India with the 75th Regiment and after his return to Ireland, transferred to the 3rd Bn, Connaught Rangers, settling in Westport, Co Mayo. The 3rd Bn was the reserve ( part-time ) Battalion. He also later in life served with the South Mayo Rifles, a militia regiment. He lived for forty years on Altamount Street in Westport until his death in February 1915.

Medal entitlement of Colour Sergeant Cornelius Coughlan VC - 75th Regiment ( Gordon Highlanders )

  • Victoria Cross
  • Indian Mutiny Medal ( 1857-58 )
    • 2 clasps:
    • "Delhi" - Relief of Lucknow"
  • Army Long Service & Good Conduct Medal


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Iain Stewart, 9 August 2004