22nd Sep, 2020

Church of England rebukes Coventry diocese decision in Irish language gravestone row

John Carlon 4th Jun, 2020 Updated: 4th Jun, 2020

THE CHURCH of England has admonished a ruling by Coventry Diocese over an Irish language headstone engraving read as ‘a political statement.’

The family of Margaret Keane, who died in July 2018, appealed to the diocese for the line “In ar gcroithe go deo” to be on her gravestone, in a cemetery in St Giles Church in Ash Green.

Mrs Kean, originally from Westmeath, was a prominent supporter of GAA sports in Coventry and was well-known for her support of Roger Casement’s club in the city.

Following Mrs Keane’s death, her daughter Caroline Newey, applied for her mother’s headstone to include a Celtic cross, the Irish language phrase “In ár gcroíthe go deo,” meaning ‘in our hearts forever.’

The parochial church council voted six to five, with seven abstentions, to permit the headstone, but the decision was called in by a diocesan committee.

On May 6, Stephen Eyre QC ruled that having the Irish phrase without ‘an accompanying English language translation’ could leave it open to be read as ‘a political statement.’

Mr Eyre insisted the Irish wording must be accompanied with the English translation, despite Ms Newey’s objections the amended headstone would be ‘too crowded.’

In his ruling, the chancellor of the consistory court wrote: “[This] memorial is in English-speaking Coventry. Should I permit an inscription which will be incomprehensible to almost all its readers? Not only would the message of the inscription not be understood but there is a risk of it being misunderstood.

“Given the passions and feelings connected with the use of Irish Gaelic there is a sad risk that the phrase would be regarded as some form of slogan or that its inclusion without translation would of itself be seen as a political statement.

“That is not appropriate and it follows that the phrase “In ár gcroíthe go deo” must be accompanied by a translation which can be in a smaller font size.”

The decision has drawn the ire of Lambeth Palace, which said in a statement: “This decision does not reflect any national Church of England policy.

“This was a judgment from the consistory court of the Diocese of Coventry.

“Consistory court judgements may, with permission, be appealed to the Provincial Court of the Archbishop, in this case the Arches Court of Canterbury.

“The Irish language is an important part of the heritage of the Church of England. It was, after all, Irish speaking monks in Lindisfarne and beyond who played a central role in establishing the Church in what is now England.

Speaking to IrishCentral.com, Ms Newey said: “[The headstone] has to be right to represent her and us as a family. It was devastating that we couldn’t have a meaningful gravestone. It suspended the grieving process. We have no final memorial for her yet.

“We are an Irish Catholic family and are immersed in that culture, but we are also totally assimilated into English culture and society. It was equally important to our parents that we fit in.

“Our Irish is not political. It is much more sentimental than that. We did not feel we were making any statement, other than love for our mother.

“Putting the English words on this diluted what that original message meant. The whole thing has been traumatic for our family.”

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