The battle over an Irish language phrase on Margaret Keane's headstone in the UK has been "traumatic" for her family.
The Church of England has ruled that Irish woman Margaret Keane’s gravestone at St. Giles in Coventry must include the English translation of the Irish phrase “In ár gcroíthe go deo” ("forever in our hearts") that her family wanted to be inscribed on her headstone.
Margaret Keane was born in Ireland but later relocated to the UK where she married an Irish man and raised a family. During her adult life, she became very involved with the Roger Casements GAA club in Coventry, so much so that she was presented the GAA President's Award in 2017:
In July 2018, Keane died unexpectedly at the age of 73 and is now buried at St. Giles in Exhall in Coventry.
After Keane's death, Caroline Newey, one of Keane’s six children, submitted an application on behalf of the family for her mother’s headstone which was intended to include a Celtic cross, the emblem of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), and the Irish language phrase "In ár gcroíthe go deo."
The Parochial Church Council of St. Giles voted in favor of Newey’s proposed memorial for her mother by a vote of six to five, with seven abstentions.
The Diocesan Advisory Committee, however, did not recommend approval - not because of the Irish language phrase, but rather the design of the memorial which included a protrusion of a Celtic cross, something which Newey later agreed to change.
In his ruling published on May 6, Stephen Eyre QC, a judge for the Church of England’s Consistory Court, an ecclesiastical court, wrote that he asked Newey to consider adding the English translation of the Irish phrase on the headstone.
Newey, who argued the English translation would make the memorial too cluttered, also said that the Irish language phrase was a “vehicle of symbolic value” for her Irish mother's life. She added that Gaelic names would not be translated into English on a memorial and contends that translation should also not be required for messages from the bereaved.
Eyre wrote in his decision that the Irish language phrase "will be unintelligible to all but a small minority of readers. In those circumstances, it is not appropriate for it to stand alone without translation.
“I make it clear that in saying this I am not in any sense adjudicating on the relative merits or standing of English and Irish Gaelic as languages. The situation would be likely to be wholly different if I were having to make a decision as to a memorial in the Irish Republic.
“However, the situation which I have to address is of a memorial 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.
Eyre concluded: “I authorise the issuing forthwith of a faculty for a memorial of the same shape, size, and stone type bearing an incised Celtic Cross incorporating the GAA emblem and bearing in addition to the proposed inscription a translation of the phrase ‘In ár gcroíthe go deo.’”
In a statement to IrishCentral this week, Caroline Newey said that she and her family "had never thought there would be an issue over Irish words. We never once thought that the Gaelic inscription would be challenged.
Newey said the family's choice of headstone was meant to be a "final act of love" from her, her siblings, and her father Bernie, Margaret's husband of 54 years.
"It is a gift and it had to be right," Newey said, "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."