Coghill, Rhoda Sinclair (1903–2000), pianist, composer, and poet, was born 14 October 1903 in Dublin, the youngest of eight children of Alexander Sinclair Coghill, printing manager, from Thurso, Scotland, and his wife, Rhoda Ann Sinclair (née Baily). Coghill attended Alexandra School and College in Dublin. Supported in her musical ambitions by her parents, she had piano lessons at the Leinster School of Music with Patricia Read from the age of eight. Between 1913 and 1925 she won twenty-one prizes at the Feis Ceoil, among them first prizes for piano solo, piano accompaniment, and piano duet, and (after 1923) for composition. In 1923 she completed one of the most forward-looking Irish works composed in the first half of the twentieth century, the rhapsody Out of the cradle endlessly rocking for tenor solo, chorus, and orchestra, to a text by Walt Whitman; a reduced performance was given in the mid 1950s, but the first complete performance did not take place until 1990, when it made a deep impact on critics and the audience. The work features impressionist harmonic techniques and a demanding, unconventional tenor line.
Self-taught as a composer, Coghill studied music at TCD with Charles Herbert Kitson, gaining the Mus.B. in 1922, and was in Berlin 1927–8 to continue her piano tuition with Artur Schnabel, the Beethoven interpreter. On her return to Ireland she taught at the Read School and played double bass in the Radio Éireann Orchestra. From 1939 to 1968 she was the official accompanist at Radio Éireann; in this capacity she worked with major Irish and visiting international performers, and gave exemplary interpretations of works by contemporary Irish composers. Coghill also appeared as a soloist in concerto performances, reliably attracting large audiences. She was known for her remarkable sight-reading, her ability to transpose ad hoc, and a perfect ear.
Apart from the orchestral rhapsody, most of Coghill's other compositions are songs, dating from 1923–41, which reveal a sensitive and atmospheric voice. An Gúm published her Gaelic fantasy (1939) for piano (as Saoirdhréacht Gaedhealach, 1942), which she orchestrated around 1973. She stopped composing in the early 1940s, possibly because her modesty as a practising quaker prevented her from promoting her own work.
Coghill had a deep interest in and talent for poetry. Her two published collections, The bright hillside (1948) and Time is a squirrel (1956), reflect a sensitivity to nature, a belief in simplicity, and a deep Christian faith. Although stylistically advanced, they make occasional use of various rhyme patterns. In 1958 she also published a small collection of translations of poems by Rainer Maria Rilke (Angel songs / Engellieder). Seumas O'Sullivan (qv) wrote, in the introduction to her first collection, that her expressiveness would ‘eventually give their author full title to a place amongst the poets of our time’, a prediction belatedly fulfilled by her inclusion in the Field Day anthology of Irish women writers (2002).
Coghill never married and spent her last years at Westfield House, Morehampton Road, Dublin, where she died 9 February 2000. Music scores, notebooks, and diaries are at TCD (MS 11111) and a number of personal papers remain in her family's possession. Recordings of her playing and of some of her compositions are in the sound archive of RTÉ and at the Contemporary Music Centre, Dublin (CMC). Photographs of her were published in Feis Ceoil portrait galleries (including Irish Life, 28 July 1916; Sunday Independent, 18 May 1924), and a late photograph (July 1994) by Axel Klein is held at CMC.