By David Hennessy
The family of a well known GAA community figure in Coventry have had an appeal date set in their fight to have her epitaph in her native Irish language.
The family of Margaret Keane from Athboy, Co. Meath want ‘In ár gcroíthe go deo’ – In our hearts forever – engraved on their deceased mother’s headstone.
However, the Irish World reported in June that the Chancellor of Coventry, Judge Stephen Eyre QC, rejected the family’s application for a memorial stone with an inscription in Irish only, ruling that “the passions and feelings connected with the use of Irish Gaelic” could lead to people regarding it as “some form of slogan” or “a political statement.”
The Coventry family has been notified that the appeal hearing will take place on Wednesday 24 February 2021 at St Mary-Le-Bow Church in London, where hearings before the Arches Court of Canterbury are heard.
The news comes following a recent boost given to the family as the Irish Language Rights group Conradh na Gaeilge i Londain has been given permission to intervene in the appeal proceedings, in support of the family’s case.
The family’s legal team, including solicitor Caroline Brogan at Irwin Mitchell and barristers Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Mary-Rachel McCabe, both of Doughty St Chambers, is representing them on a free of charge basis. The family has recently been told by the Church of England (which is separate to the church court) that their court costs will be paid by sources within the Church of England.
Bez Killeen and Caroline Newey, two of Margaret Keane’s daughters, said: “We are relieved that the appeal hearing has finally been listed and we welcome the intervention by Conradh na Gaeilge (London branch), which is a strong show of support for our ongoing case to have an Irish only inscription on our mum’s gravestone.
“We just want to be treated the same as the other parishioners. We are still horrified that we have found ourselves in a situation where we have to go through a lengthy appeal process with the ecclesiastical court.
“There are other gravestones in the Churchyard, in other languages, such as Welsh, Hebrew and Latin (all without translation) and they did not have to go through this process.”
Commenting on the case, the Chair at Conradh na Gaeilge (London branch), said: “We believe that this case is very important, not just for Mrs Keane’s family but for all members of the Irish diaspora who might wish to commemorate their loved ones’ linguistic and cultural heritage appropriately within the Church of England. We will do everything we can to support her family in their appeal, mar is ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine.”
Caroline Brogan, the solicitor from Irwin Mitchell representing the family, said: “The intervention of Conradh na Gaeilge is a welcome development and a huge support for the family as the case gathers wider attention and we move towards the hearing, now listed for February 2021.
“The family never expected to find themselves in this situation and while there is no quick way to reverse the original decision, the intervention of Conradh na Gaeilge, the legal team acting free of charge and the financial reassurance provided by the Church of England will help the family through what has been an unexpected and challenging time.”
Margaret Keane died in July 2018 after a short illness. She is buried in ground owned by St Giles’ Church, Exhall, near Coventry.
Margaret and her husband were both born in Ireland, but, as the judgment says, “made their life in the United Kingdom. They remained proud of their Irish heritage and were active in the work of the Gaelic Athletic Association both in Coventry and nationally. This was important public service to the Irish community in the United Kingdom and formed a major part of Mrs. Keane’s life and of her work for others.”
Margaret Keane was one of Roger Casements GAA Club in Coventry and Warwickshire GAA’s longest-serving members and volunteers.
Margaret moved to Coventry in the 1950s, and it was at the Roger Casements GAA club that she met her future husband, Mayo hurler Bernie Keane.
Margaret served on the Warwickshire county board in various positions and was a volunteer at Páirc na hÉireann.
In 2017, Margaret was recognised for her outstanding commitment to the GAA by receiving the International Award at the GAA President’s Awards from Aogan O’ Fearghail.
Paying tribute to her at the time, the GAA said: “When Margaret Healy left Athboy to make a new life in Coventry in the 1950s she did as so many before and since have done and sought out the local GAA community to help make a home from home. It was in the Roger Casements GAA club that she not only met her future husband and Mayo hurler Bernie Keane but she started out on an extraordinary career as a volunteer which has seen her become synonymous with the Club through a variety of officer posts ever since. A highly regarded member of the Warwickshire County Board and an ever-friendly face at meetings and matches at Páirc na hÉireann, Margaret has given a lifetime of unselfish service and dedication.”
The late Ms Keane’s daughters Bez Martin and Caroline Newey said in September: “All we have ever wanted is to honour our mother’s memory in the most fitting way possible.
“Her Irish heritage was very important to her and the words we have carefully and lovingly chosen as a family reflect that. We hope the Arches Court of Canterbury will allow us to finally mark her resting place in the way we wish.”
The family has set up the Margaret Keane Memorial Fund to honour their mother’s memory, which will help fund the Roger Casement GAA in Coventry’s underage team’s annual exchange to Ireland, alongside an independent study exploring the impact of public decision making on black and minority ethnic groups and how they impact race relations.
You can donate to this fund by clicking here.