It came on a night when Tom Coughlin, Sr.’s social calendar was already full, with three events to attend before bed.
The first event was Members Appreciation Night at the Ancient Order of Hibernians Notre Dame Division in Swedesburg. The invitation was not unexpected. Coughlin is a longtime Hibernian, and a charter member, former president, and now organizer of the AOH’s “Yellow Jack” Donohue Division in Hatfield. Coughlin also serves on the state AOH board as organizer for Eastern Pennsylvania, and he is president of the Montgomery County board. He cheerfully admits to wearing many hats.
What was unexpected? The announcement by officers of the Notre Dame Division that Coughlin would lead the 2013 Montgomery County St. Patrick’s Day Parade down Fayette Street in Conshohocken. The so-called “Best Littlest Parade in America” steps off at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
“I was totally taken aback,” Coughlin recalls. “I was totally shocked and humbled to have been chosen. My wife Kathy knew about it, and she kept it a secret.”
Maybe he shouldn’t have been so surprised. Coughlin’s Hibernian roots run deep—he was a member of AOH Division 39 in Philly’s Tacony neighborhood for 20 years before he and his family moved to Harleysville, Montgomery County, about 14 years ago—and being a Hibernian was never something Coughlin could do just halfway.
Coughlin, who lived near Oxford Circle before moving out to Montco, was drawn into Division 39 by one of his close friends, Tom O’Donnell. (O’Donnell is now state president.) It didn’t take much persuasion.
“He didn’t have to talk me into it,” Coughlin remembers. “I wanted to learn what the AOH was all about, and I wanted to find out more about my heritage, and the charitable works the AOH does.”
Coughlin happily jumped in with both feet. “I got involved right away. I become an officer within two years, and I was recording secretary for about six years.”
After the move to Harleysville, Coughlin and his oldest son, Tom Jr., continued to drive into Northeast Philadelphia for meetings at Division 39. But then he heard about an effort to start a brand-new division much closer to home. To no one’s surprise, he was all in.
“I was the founding vice president of Division 4,” he says. “Within three months of forming the division, the charter president stepped down, and I became the president for the next three years.”
Coughlin’s enthusiasm must be contagious. Membership in the AOH is a Coughlin family affair. His wife Kathy is in the Ladies AOH, as is daughter Kelly Ann. Sons Tom, Jr., and Brendan, 21, are also continue to be active Hibernians.
After all these years, Coughlin retains his original enthusiasm for the AOH. “I like the camaraderie, and we keep doing good deeds in the community, such as the Hibernian Hunger Project. “We also roll Irish potato candies to help pay for scholarships for children going to Catholic high schools.
Coughlin is also known for his leadership in his division’s annual effort to raise money for ballistic body armor for the North Penn Tactical SWAT Team.
On Saturday, as the parade rolls down the hill in Conshohocken, Coughlin will be surrounded by members of his family, as well as his brothers in Division 4, and the Hatfield American Legion, of which he is also a member.
As for the day of the parade, Coughlin says he has no special plans, except to just take in the moment. “I’m just going to be happy to see all the people there. It’ll be a sea of green.”