Cohalan (Coghlan), Daniel (1858–1952), theologian and catholic bishop of Cork, was born at Kilmichael, Co. Cork, on 14 July 1858, and educated at national schools, St Vincent's Seminary, Cork, and St Patrick's College, Maynooth. Ordained priest in 1883, he was a curate at Kilbrittain, Co. Cork (1883–4), a professor at St Finbarr's College, Cork, and chaplain to the city's military prison (1884–5), and a curate at Tracton (1885). He returned to Maynooth in 1886 as professor of moral and dogmatic theology, a post he held until 1914. Of conservative views, Coghlan was ‘a guardian of orthodoxy, a man of the manuals’ (Corish, 251). Repeatedly he clashed with a colleague, another theologian, Walter MacDonald (qv), prefect of the Dunboyne establishment and founder of the Irish Theological Quarterly, always questioning his orthodoxy and denouncing ‘modernism’. On 25 May 1914 he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Cork (nominally as bishop of Vaga) to assist the ailing Thomas Alphonsus O'Callaghan (qv). On 29 August 1916, eleven weeks after the latter's death, he was made full bishop, at which time he changed the spelling of his name from Coghlan to Cohalan.
During the uprising of 1916 Coghlan acted as mediator between local Volunteers and the military authorities. By December 1918, when parliamentary elections were held, he appeared to be a supporter of Sinn Féin, which, victorious in the three southern provinces, chose to sit in Dublin as a separate Irish assembly – Dáil Éireann. During the ensuing Anglo–Irish war, in which Cork was a centre of violence on the part of the IRA and crown forces, his moral and political position was ambiguous. In his Lenten pastoral of February 1920 he held that the recent conduct of the British government in Ireland had ‘no sanction in the moral law’ and that though ‘resistance to unlawful oppression may be lawful theoretically, . . . it may be wrong in practice’ (Corkery, 116). Later that year he was one of several bishops who visited the lord mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney (qv), on hunger strike in Brixton prison; he presided at MacSwiney's funeral (31 October 1920) and asserted a day or two later (perhaps unaware of the dead man's high rank in the IRA) that MacSwiney was taking ‘his place among the martyrs in the sacred cause of the freedom of Ireland’ (Corkery, 120). On 12 December (after the sack of Cork by Black and Tans), Cohalan declared, ‘murder is murder, arson is arson, whether committed by the agents of the government or by members of the Volunteer organisations’, and issued a decree (largely ineffectual) excommunicating those catholics – members of the IRA – who should ‘organise or take part in an ambush or in kidnapping’ (Cork Examiner, 13 Dec. 1920). No other bishop took such a measure. In his Lenten pastoral of February 1921 he sought to refute theological justifications of the rebellion being waged by Sinn Féin and the IRA. But during the civil war that followed the Anglo–Irish treaty (1922–3) his attitude to politically motivated violence and hunger strikes was no longer ambiguous: he refused a Christian burial to Denis Barry, an anti-treatyite who had starved himself to death (November 1923). It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Cohalan's moral judgements were influenced by his politics.
Cohalan was a frequent contributor to the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, the organ of the catholic bishops, and to the Catholic Bulletin, a militantly catholic and nationalist monthly. He was the author of a dozen or so pamphlets. His Trinity College and the Trinity commission (1908) and Trinity College: its income and its value to the nation (1911) were hostile to the largely protestant University of Dublin. Of note also are his De incarnatione (1910), The church and Christian marriage (1912?), and Capital, capitalism and communism (1933). He died 24 August 1952. He was remembered by a contemporary at Maynooth, Cornelius Mulcahy, as ‘a splendid horseman, always well mounted’, who hunted with the Ward Union during his time as professor (Mulcahy, 156–7). A nephew, Daniel Cohalan (1884–1965), was catholic bishop of Waterford (1943–65).