Champion of Galway’s tech sector and Libertas co-founder
Chris Coughlan obituary: Played leading role in wake of Digital’s 1994 closure
Chris Coughlan: described by Declan Ganley as “a titan of Galway city, a linchpin of Galway’s business, technology , scientific, cultural and academic communities”
Born: July 1st, 1955; Died: April 10th, 2018
Chris Coughlan’s devotion to his adopted city of Galway has been lauded by many since his sudden death at the age of 62. A chartered physicist and recently retired senior manager at Hewlett-Packard in Galway, Dr Coughlan was as admired by many in the arts community as he was by his longtime colleagues in Galway Chamber of Commerce and the organisation Westbic, which was established 30 years ago to nurture and advocate for local business.
In a tribute, President Michael D Higgins paid tribute to his “life of generous giving” and said that in a most difficult period for Galway following the closure of Digital in 1994, Coughlan had been instrumental in building and strengthening Galway’s ICT and biomedical clusters.
Businessman Declan Ganley described his “beloved friend” as “a titan of Galway city, a linchpin of Galway’s business, technology , scientific, cultural and academic communities” and a man who had encouraged him to found Libertas and “fight for bold EU reform”.
Pádraic Breathnach, the actor and managing director of Galway Arts Centre, said Coughlan was “small , energetic, opinionated and great craic”. While the pair had passionate arguments , they were good friends. Breathnach said: “Personally he was very good to me. He gave me my first computer. He was upgrading his own and gave me his old one and even came out and set it up for me.”
Many commented on Coughlan’s love of “robust argument”, saying his eclectic mix of friends reflected his broad range of interests and refusal to be pigeonholed.
The man in the pinstriped suit who was considered an expert on emerging technologies, from cloud computing to 3D printing, was a founder of the TULCA Festival for Visual Arts and was responsible for a meeting room in Hewlett-Packard being named the Rory Gallagher room in a nod to one of his favourite performers.
Born in Cork, Coughlan was educated at the Christian Brothers Cork, the then Cork Regional Technical College, UCC, at INSEAD in France and the University of Keele in the UK.
A Member of the Institute of Physics, he was probably best known in Galway as a longtime member and past president of the local Chamber of Commerce who advocated for better access for the city in terms of infrastructure, broadband and road and rail services.
He served as chairman of Westbic, as director of the Galway Technology Centre, he was a co-founder and chairman of the Computer and Communications Museum of Ireland and was an adjunct professor in the Cairns Business School at NUIG.
Despite his passion for Galway, he never lost his pride in his Cork roots – or his accent – and five years ago his book Olde Cork was published, an update of a first volume written when he was just 19.
Maeve Joyce, general manager of Galway Chamber of Commerce, described him as her mentor and dear friend, and said his interests straddled the worlds of business and the arts. “I have no idea how he managed to do so much. He was a classic example of ‘if you want something done, ask a busy man’,” she said.
As incoming president of Chambers of Commerce Ireland in 2008, Coughlan was in the spotlight because as a co-founder and director of Libertas, he was voting No in the Lisbon referendum, while the Chambers were advocating a Yes vote. Pressed to clarify the apparent conflict, he said that while he personally would be voting No, he would not be canvassing. He also paid tribute to the Chambers of Commerce Ireland organisation for the democratic way it had balloted all members before arriving at the decision to campaign for a Yes vote.
A business colleague described Coughlan as an outgoing, effusive man, not typical of a senior executive in a technological firm because of his passion for the arts, especially the visual arts, and his interest in people. “He treated everyone the same, the guy sweeping the floor and the people in the boardroom. He didn’t play games. You knew where you stood with him and you probably didn’t know him until you had a few good arguments with him.”
Chris Coughlan’s sudden death at his home in Barna, just a few months after his retirement, was described as a tragedy for the family he adored, for Galway and for himself, by many in the city who believed he had much more to do.
He is survived by his wife Joan, his children Sean, Sinead and Colum, their partners Louise Luke and Ceileigh and by his grandson Finn.