Cork woman has volunteered for 52 years with the Order of Malta...

Today marks the 80th birthday of Norma Coughlan, from Togher, who has dedicated 52 years of her life to the Order of Malta, writes CHRIS DUNNE
Cork woman has volunteered for 52 years with the Order of Malta...

Norma Coughlan, from the Order of Malta.

WHEN Norma Coughlan married her husband, Bernard, in September 1966, she found a novel way to spend quality time with him.

“He lifted me over the threshold of our house on the Saturday and he had joined the Order of Malta on the previous Thursday,” says Norma, who turns 80 today, October 21.

“He had little on his mind!”

Norma, of Togher, made up her mind to join her new husband in the Order of Malta. She decided if she couldn’t ‘beat em, she’d join em’.

“My late husband joined the organisation in June 1966 and I joined in the November,” says Norma.

Bernard started married life and he started life as a dedicated member of the Order of Malta, helping others.

Captain Norma Coughlan, who is a member of The Order of Malta Ambulance Corps Carrigaline, wasn’t going to stay home minding house while her husband volunteered for essential community services. She signed up too.

“It became like our hobby,” says Norma.

Norma joined the Order of Malta after her husband Bernard joined up.
Norma joined the Order of Malta after her husband Bernard joined up.

“I joined the Order of Malta with Bernard and, more than 52 years later, I’m still involved with the wonderful organisation here in Cork.

“Bernard was a member right up to the time he died.”

The couple had five children.

“They all became members of the Order of Malta too!” says Norma.

How did Norma and Bernard manage to be dedicated members of the Order of Malta, answering the call to help others, with five children to tend to?

“Even though my mother lived in her own house, she spent a lot of time at our house,” says Norma.

“She was a great help to us.”

The Order of Malta Ambulance Corps is a voluntary ambulance and first aid organisation with more than 4,000 volunteers, involved in over 80 units throughout Ireland.

It co-ordinates a variety of voluntary community activities across Ireland and fund-raises for a range of charitable events and activities both at home and abroad.

“These days I am not on the road with the ambulance, which is a complete vehicle equipped with medical equipment and first aid supplies,” says Norma.

“I am more involved in running first aid courses for the public and companies, and in particular, student nurses at UCC and local schools.

I also assist with unit training every Thursday night in the Carragaline unit. If the need arises, I attend other units.”

Norma saw a lot of action out on the field over more than half a decade.

“We went to lots of outdoor events and to Horse Racing Ireland race courses all over Ireland,” she says.

The Order of Malta covers a lot of ground.

“We travelled to Leopardstown, Killarney and Mallow.

“We’d go local to point-to point-races, motorbike races, to events like charity walks and runs, as well as to GAA matches,” says Norma.

Duty called in all seasons.

When she was on the road she attended everything from horse race meets to the Pope visit.
When she was on the road she attended everything from horse race meets to the Pope visit.

“St Patrick’s Day was always busy,” says Norma.

“Our services were available on site to members of the public in need of first aid or in need of medical attention to injuries.”

Motorbike riders and horse racing jockeys often took a tumble.

“Jockeys often fell off their horses going over a jump,” says Norma.

“So we were on stand-by to attend to them if they got injured or if they had broken any bones or cuts.”

Did she fear loose galloping horses?

“No,” says Norma.

“We made sure we stayed well behind the lines. We were never in any danger.”

But she had a birds’ eye view.

“When the jockeys were jumping over a fence, I looked through my hands!” says Norma.

She often saw the red flag.

“At motorbike races, when the flag went up, we were on high alert. Riders who fell off the bike could sustain head injuries, although wearing a helmet is good protection. We made sure the spectators stood well back; if they didn’t, they could get a lash of my tongue!”

Norma saw everything and anything when she was out and about with the ambulance corps unit — and even when she wasn’t.

“I saw everything and anything, from scratches to bumps on the head,” says Norma.

She was always on call to help.

“When my neighbour’s child swallowed a penny, I went there to help straight away,” she says.

The child was in no imminent danger.

“The penny had to come out the other side!” says Norma.

“If it had gone down the wrong way, that would be a different kettle of fish, the child could have choked.

“I often attended children who had suffered convulsions and the parents were worried. Usually the convulsions were a result from running a high temperature and there was no real danger.”

There was no fear when Norma was there.

“People who were very frightened said, ‘it’s alright now. Norma is here!’”

She was always in the right place at the right time.

“When the Pope visited Dublin, the Order of Malta corps came from all over Ireland,” says Norma.

“It was a wonderful occasion.”

Now Norma helps to give first aid training courses.
Now Norma helps to give first aid training courses.

Like a lot of us, the Cork woman is working from home now.

“My office is a small bedroom at home in Greenmount,” says Norma.

“I have a son-in-law who is a techie and he set it up for me. I do my work there and I can teach first-aid classes online, using zoom.”

She has planned to motor on.

“I renewed my motor insurance. It was up there recently. I’m hoping to continue driving into my 90s!”

The Order of Malta honoured Norma’s 50th anniversary with the organisation.

“We had a lovely mass in the North Cathedral,” she says.

“And I was presented with a medal.”

Like everybody in the current climate, Norma is getting on with things.

“I’m getting through lots of baskets of ironing,” she adds.

Pat Carroll, Officer in charge of the Carrigaline unit, was full of praise.

“Norma has dedicated her life to the Order of Malta along with her late husband Bernard, for over 52 years by using our ethos. Our ethos is Saving Lives, Touching Lives and Changing Lives.

“The Carrigaline unit has a membership of over 100 members which is broken up into Cadets ranging from 10 to 16 and a Senior section, first aid training and community care would be our main focus within the unit,” says Pat.

“Many of our members have used their training and first aid qualifications to their advantage in their personal lives by becoming nurses, doctors, paramedics, or the health sector or team leads within their workplace.”

The Carrigaline unit are always looking for new members and the unit can be contacted by ringing the Officer in Charge, Pat Carroll, 087-2456656 or emailing

The Irish Association of Order of Malta Ireland was established in 1934 and four years later, in Galway, it launched the first Order of Malta Ambulance Corps, providing first aid, ambulance and casualty services to the local community.

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