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The Man Who United Ireland
Kenny Moore
June 25, 1979
Though he didn't win, Eamonn Coghlan had all his countrymen cheering him on for four minutes at Montreal. Now as he heads for Kilakee—and Moscow—he again carries the fervent hopes of the Irish
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June 25, 1979

The Man Who United Ireland

Though he didn't win, Eamonn Coghlan had all his countrymen cheering him on for four minutes at Montreal. Now as he heads for Kilakee—and Moscow—he again carries the fervent hopes of the Irish

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Mist floats through the woods of Newlands Golf Club outside Dublin, making the heavily leafed trees two-dimensional, dulling the muddy green of the fairways. Irish golfers are out in force this late spring morning, quietly moving about the course, peering intently after each shot in hopes of catching at least a glimpse of the general direction of the ball's flight before it is erased by the fog. Ahead, however, there is some kind of disturbance. Shouting. A man running. The golfers nearest him are raising their clubs as if apoplectic. Their calls come clear. "Ah, you're a hard man, Eamonn Coghlan."

Running lightly, Coghlan smiles, for this is homage. "You're a great bit o' stuff and God bless," he hears. "Run like hell and get us a gold next year in Moscow," comes another. "Or a silver or a bronze. Anything, as long as it's for Ireland."

For four years Coghlan has carried such fervent hopes onto the track, and just now, soon after demolishing the world record for the indoor mile with his 3:52.6 in San Diego and then winning the European Indoor 1,500-meter championship in Vienna, Dublin is making much of him. He accepts praise gracefully, not trying to deflect or deny it—for if an observer is moved, can that be denied?—yet Coghlan's pleasure at recognition often seems less personal than communal. When he says he is proud of what his father was told after the Montreal Olympic 1,500, in which Eamonn finished fourth—"He may not have won, but, by God, for four minutes he united Ireland"—he seems simply to be sharing in the common wish that the nation prevail. Indeed, Coghlan's ties with Dublin are so close that a study of him must encompass the history and people of his native city, each illuminating the other.

Leaving the golf course, Coghlan runs down a busy road past the grounds of Belgard Castle and reaches home, half of a Georgian duplex, part of a large development of modern, white two-story houses with black tile roofs. The Coghlan residence is distinguished by a huge tree just over the wall of the garden, enabling Coghlan to pick it out from miles away.

After a fast shower, Coghlan emerges for breakfast elegantly dressed in a gray double-breasted suit, a pearl-gray shirt and blue tie. He is a handsome man, saved from prettiness by the runner's tautness of skin. His eyes are clear blue and seem rather small for being set so deep. Photos of him at 17 show the gorgeous dimpled youth he was when, on a bus to a track meet in Tipperary, he met the dark-haired woman who now places bacon and eggs and tea before him. Yvonne Coghlan, who bears a resemblance to Liza Minnelli, is calm and quiet. "It was five months to our first date," says Eamonn. "She always considered me a flirt." He wishes he could avoid the truth of that judgment, but all he can say is, "She always was the sensible one."

Less so himself, Coghlan often spent all his money on the movies with Yvonne near her home in Santry, and then had to run the six miles back to his parents' house in Drimnagh. The courtship was rocked only once. After four homesick months at Villanova University in 1971, Coghlan came home to recover from mononucleosis and the following fall didn't care to return. Yvonne, who was still only 16, said he either went back or they were through. "He wasn't being reasonable," she says simply. He obliged her, prospered, and they were married in 1976. Last October the third member of the family was born. Suzanne at eight months is a sober child with black onyx eyes. Her attention span seems inordinately long for an infant. A breakfast guest must squirm under an unrelenting gaze before her small, neat mouth breaks into an abrupt grin, adorned with her father's dimples. Both Yvonne and Suzanne were with Coghlan when he raced on the U.S. indoor circuit this winter. "Suzanne hasn't adjusted back to European time and doesn't sleep through the night anymore," says Coghlan. "She's made my morning runs quite consistent."

Off to work in his new Capri, Coghlan drives swiftly past factories and then blocks of gray cement houses in the neighborhood of Drimnagh, where he grew up. Near his parents' home stands Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children.

"I was there for 10 days when I was four," Coghlan says. "It was Ash Wednesday; I remember it clearly. I was scutting a turf truck—that's peat to you—on a dare. I climbed on when it was stopped and fell off on my head right in front of the hospital. A bus driver scooped me up and carried me straight in. I was always a lucky little devil." The first day of first grade, at the first opportunity, Coghlan ran home and put up such a protest that he was allowed to stay out of school for six months, until his best friend started. "I seem to have had to ease into these things," he says.

A triangle of green among the row houses, known only as "the field," was where Coghlan hung out as a youth, playing football and sneaking cigarettes. "But when the toughs from Crumlin [an adjoining neighborhood] came over with hurling sticks looking for trouble, I was no hero. I ran."

He slows the car on Long Mile Road as it passes Drimnagh Castle School, run by the Christian Brothers, where he received his secondary education. The red-brick buildings flank a 12th-century Danish castle. Most of its stone tower is closed, but the school uses part of it as a changing room. Coghlan began his daily training by trotting across a bridge over a frog-filled moat. "The only castle in Ireland still with a moat," he says, his gaze rising to the crumbling battlements. "More stones have fallen. They say it would take �85,000 to restore it, and who's going to give that?

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