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Family’s long battle for Irish inscription on mother’s gravestone is raised in UK parliament

Ecclesiastical court ruled that the language had been politicised

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Margaret Keane, originally from Co Meath, who died in July 2018. Her family wanted to put the words “in ár gcroíthe go deo” (in our hearts forever) on her headstone but were blocked by a court ruling. Photo: Chris Egan

Margaret Keane, originally from Co Meath, who died in July 2018. Her family wanted to put the words “in ár gcroíthe go deo” (in our hearts forever) on her headstone but were blocked by a court ruling. Photo: Chris Egan

Margaret Keane, originally from Co Meath, who died in July 2018. Her family wanted to put the words “in ár gcroíthe go deo” (in our hearts forever) on her headstone but were blocked by a court ruling. Photo: Chris Egan

The plight of a family battling to use five words of the Irish language on their mother’s headstone has been raised in the House of Commons in London.

An Irish-born MP today spoke about a landmark case involving Margaret Keane, whose family are being prevented from using five words as Gaeilge.

“Her family have said she is in their hearts forever – in ár gcroíthe go deo – and the entire Irish community in Britain feel the same way,” said Conor McGinn from South Armagh, who is Labour MP for Merseyside.

The reason for the ban, given by the judge in an ecclesiastical court which controls diocesan graveyards, was that the language had been politicised.

The family of six Keanes are taking legal action to challenge it, and today’s intervention in the British parliament boosts their campaign.

Speaking in the chamber, Mr McGinn noted there was still no headstone on Ms Keane’s grave two and a half years after her death aged 73. He also raised a question over access to justice, because families must pay the costs of ecclesiastical court appeals in the Church of England – even if they win.

The House of Commons extended its sympathies to the Keanes, whose mother was from Athboy, Co Meath, and whose father John is from Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo. Ms Keane is buried in Coventry where the family is based.

Separately, Mr McGinn told independent.ie it was strange that Irish could be used in the House of Commons but not on a headstone in Britain. The Irish words he spoke are the same five which the family wants inscribed on Ms Keane’s headstone.

In another development, last night the Keanes announced the Church of England will refund them the costs of their court action to date and reimburse them for the appeal they are taking. But it appears the appeal must still go ahead.

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Mr McGinn told independent.ie: “This is a fundamental issue about the value of the Irish community in Britain and the Irish language, and it’s important we don’t lose sight of that. I hope from support expressed by senior figures in the Church of England and Church of Ireland that some good may come of it. It should lead to a better understanding of the Irish language and the Gaelic tradition in Britain.

“Margaret Keane epitomises the Irish community in Britain. She was very proud of her identity and culture and held on to that all through her life in Britain. She worked in the GAA and made a huge contribution to life in the West Midlands and raised her family there. Her final resting place is in Coventry where she lived. But she wanted always to maintain her sense of Irishness.”

Mr McGinn, who is Shadow Minister of State for Security in Keir Starmer’s opposition, said it was important for the family that the costs were being met but the case shone a light on wider issue.

“It’s unprecedented for the Church of England to intervene to say they will meet the family’s costs. That speaks volumes as to how the Church of England hierarchy views this case and would hopefully point to a fair resolution,” he said.

Bez Martin, Ms Keane’s daughter, told independent.ie the family were “overwhelmed” by the support for their campaign.

She said: “It also broadens the debate which we know needs to happen in order for change to take place and be effective.

“This journey has, at times, consumed us all. It has been a very dark cloud over a family who are grieving and longing to find ways to heal and live a new normal without our mum. But the support shown from all gives us hope and strength to continue. The family will be forever grateful, and words are simply not enough to say thank you.”

Irish groups throughout Britain have supported the Keanes. In addition, their all-female legal team has acted pro bono because it is a significant freedom of speech case. The appeal is due to be heard early next year.


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