By David Hennessy
The family of a well known GAA community figure in Coventry have won the right to challenge a decision that denied her the right 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.”
He ruled against the family’s wishes, requiring an English translation to be added to the gravestone, rejecting their wish to simply have the Irish words.
However, the family have been successful in applying for permission to appeal June’s ruling.
Margaret Keane died in July 2018 after a short illness. She is buried in grounds 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.”
Solicitors acting on behalf of the deceased’s family have agreed to act free of charge and are now preparing for an appeal hearing at the Arches Court of Canterbury.
In a statement, the late Ms Keane’s daughters Bez Martin and Caroline Newey said: “We are delighted that the Arches Court of Canterbury is allowing our appeal to be heard.
“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.”
Solicitor Caroline Brogan of Irwin Mitchell, who represent the family, said: “The family never imagined when they filled in a simple form for a memorial that it would put them in such a situation.
“There is no quick way of reversing the original decision but today’s ruling is an important step.”
Last month, with the support of the Irish community in Britain and beyond, the family held a online fundraising online concert, headlined by Sean Cannon of the Dubliners, which has attracted more than 12,000 views.
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 at: https://de.gofundme.com/f/6qnk8-margaret-keane-memorial-fund
Sean Cannon, formerly of the Dubliners, headlined an online concert in Margaret’s honour last month. The event also featured McHale Academy of Irish Dancing, playwright Kathy Joyce, Coventry Comhaltas, the Celtica Academy dance school, Elite Dance Academy, choreographers Maggie Gallagher and Gary O’Reilly, singer Jackie Duffy and writer Alexandra Johnson.
During the show, Irish Ambassador Adrian O’Neill described Margaret and her husband as “great stalwarts of the Irish community” and praised her “deep commitment and love towards Irish heritage”.
Mr O’Neill also paid tribute to the “courage and determination” of the family in trying to reflect her life on the memorial stone.