Father James Coigly

We mentioned again recently Newry’s Arch-Traitor Samuel Turner (The Glen on Newry’s Dublin Road was originally Turner’s Glen) – which brought to mind the tragic story of one of his victims, Kilmore’s Father James Coigly.

Since almost a century elapsed before Newryman Samuel Turner’s treachery against the United Irishmen – a body of which he was nominally a significant leader – was unearthed, it is impossible now to reveal the full extent of his betrayal or the cost in human lives; yet, without doubt one such casualty was local priest Father James Coigly (also Quigley).

James Coigly was born August 1761 into a small farming/weaving family a few miles north of Newry at Kilmore, County Armagh. During his formative years the worst effects of the anti-Catholic penal laws – still in force for a few more generations – began to be ameliorated and ‘middle-income’ Catholic families such as his could aspire to educating their sons locally. James was sent to Dundalk Grammar School for higher studies and despite this being a Protestant school he acquired a religious vocation – and an appreciation of the common interests of many Catholics and Protestants.

After Dundalk James entered the priesthood in the archdiocese of Armagh. In January 1785 he was ordained by the Coadjutor Bishop of Armagh Richard O’Reilly. He was sent for further studies – a common practice – to the Lombard College of Paris which had then become the sole college of France where Irish students, bound for careers in law, the Church, medicine or surgery, or army service in the Irish Brigade were taught. James became radical in France‘s new revolutionary atmosphere and may even have taken part in the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789. Much of what we know of him comes from his own memoirs written in prison as he awaited his execution in 1798. In this he tells of a narrow escape in 1789 from ‘lanternisation’ (being hanged from a street lantern) by an angry mob which mistook his clerical garb for royalist sympathies. He quickly returned to Ireland in October of that year.

… Fr Coigly executed …

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