GAA in Britain pledges its support to Keane family in its battle to have an Irish inscription on the headstone of their late mum, Margaret
By Damian Dolan
The family of Margaret Keane has the “heartfelt support” of the GAA in Britain in its quest to have an untranslated Irish inscription on her headstone.
A long-serving member, officer and volunteer of Roger Casements GAA Club in Coventry and Warwickshire GAA, Margaret passed away in July 2018. She was 73.
Her family is appealing the ruling last year of the chancellor of the Diocese of Coventry prohibiting them from having the words In ár gcroíthe go deo (In our hearts forever) – inscribed on Margaret’s headstone, without an English translation.
The family’s appeal takes place on 24 February at St Mary-Le-Bow Church in London, before the Arches Court of Canterbury. A decision will not be known on the day.
Margaret’s husband, Bernie, is a former president of the provincial council of Britain.
Speaking at an online meeting of supporters of the Keane family, organised by the Labour Party Irish Society, new provincial council president Noel O’Sullivan pledged the Association’s backing.
“The GAA Council of Britain will stand behind the Keane family and support them in any way possible,” said Mr O’Sullivan, who has personally known the Keane family for more than 30 years.
“Margaret and Bernie have been members of our GAA family for many years and as such they have devoted their time and caring natures to our communities through their many selfless contributions.
“This term of endearment (In ár gcroíthe go deo), meaning so much to the Keane family and their remembrance of their mother, would naturally convey greater meaning when represented in its true Gaelic form.
“It is disappointing to say the least that a traditional and sincere declaration would be perceived to hold political connotations, rather than be received on merit as a heartfelt declaration.”
Those words were echoed by Pat Hoey, chairperson of Roger Casements, who described Margaret as a mother-like figure to all at the club.
“Margaret always made sure that anyone who played for Casements had a lift to a match, and a lift home,” said Mr Hoey.
“Her loss was a massive loss to Roger Casements. She had many roles down the years, but she did them in such a simple way it was unbelievable.”
Roger Casements’ Club Person of the Year award has been renamed ‘The Margaret Keane Memorial Trophy’ in recognition of her contribution.
Mr Hoey said the club stood “100 per cent” behind the Keane family.
From Athboy in Co Meath, Margaret moved to Coventry in the 1950s. It was at the Roger Casements GAA club that she met her future husband, Mayo hurler Bernie Keane.
A well-known and hugely popular figure, Margaret served on the Warwickshire county board in various positions and was a volunteer both on the gate at Páirc na hÉireann and in the clubhouse.
She was elected assistant secretary of Roger Casements in 1982 – a position she held for six years. She then served the club as treasurer for two decades.
Speaking on Sunday, her son Vincent described how Roger Casements was Margaret’s “second home”.
“Mum lived for the GAA; come rain, hail or snow she would be at the gate of Páirc na hÉireann,” he said.
“For decades, she carried out numerous roles, took minutes at meetings, sold burgers, drove people to matches and ran the lottery. All for the good of the club.”
In 2017, Margaret was recognised for her outstanding commitment to the GAA by receiving the International Award at the GAA President’s Awards from then GAA president Aogan O’ Fearghail.
The occasion provided the Keane family with “one of its happiest recent memories”.
In May, Judge Stephen Eyre QC, chancellor of the Diocese of Coventry, ruled that the inscription, if appearing without a translation, could “be seen as a political statement” or misunderstood in “English-speaking Coventry”.
“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,” he said.
The family’s solicitor, Caroline Brogan of Irwin Mitchell, said the Judge’s comments had caused “deep hurt and offence” to the family.
Caroline, who is also a Birmingham Irish Trustee, added that the Irish community in the area, and the community as a whole, stood “shoulder to shoulder” with the Keane’s.
“We have found ourselves in a position no grieving family should. Our learning to live without mum has been made harder by the ruling of the courts. Our grieving suspended,” said Vincent.
Margaret is buried at The Meadows Cemetery in Ash Green, Coventry – the grounds of St Giles’ Church – where there are headstones with Welsh, Latin and Hebrew inscriptions, without an English translation.
While the parochial church council of St Giles supported the proposed memorial, the Diocesan Advisory Committee did not. The family appealed that decision to the Church’s consistory court.
Despite Judge Stephen Eyre QC refusing the family the right to appeal his judgement, in August the Arches Court of Canterbury granted them an appeal.
Speaking to Irish in Britain after that decision, Margaret’s daughter Caroline Newey said that the family had felt a “moral obligation” to pursue an appeal, as a matter of “cultural identity, including language, for the Irish diaspora”.
On Sunday, Caroline described what the family has been through over the last three years as a “whirlwind”, and called the Judge’s comments “inflammatory” and “ill-informed”.
The family’s final act of love for their mother – erecting a headstone – had been denied them for “no other reason than we wanted an Irish inscription”.
A memorial fund set up in Margaret’s name will be split between three causes close to her heart.
They are; Roger Casements underage, an independent study into the impact of public decision making on Black and Minority Ethnic groups, and to support further legal or policy challenges to any possible discriminatory impact of Diocesan regulations or practices.
Irwin Mitchell confirmed in November that 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.
They called the case “very important’, not just for the Keane family, but for “all members of the Irish diaspora”.
Other speakers at last Sunday’s online meeting were Liam Conlon (Chair, Labour Irish Society), Muhammad Al-Hussaini (Community Officer, Labour Party Irish Society), Simon McCarthy (CEO, Coventry Irish Society), Liam Byrne MP (Birmingham Hodge Hill MP), Taiwo Owatemi MP (Coventry North East MP), Zarah Sultana MP (Coventry South MP) and Maurice Malone (CEO, Birmingham Irish Association).
On Tuesday 23 February at 7pm – the day before the appeal is heard – the Keane family are inviting people who support the case to join them in remembering Margaret by lighting a candle and to post pictures on social media #messagetomargaret