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UK church asks family to translate Irish phrase on mum's grave amid concerns it could be 'seen as political'

Judge Stephen Eyre said non-Gaeilgeoirs might think the phrase was “some form of slogan”.

Image: Shutterstock/Sherry V Smith

A CHURCH COURT in England has ruled against an Irish family who want to put an Irish phrase on their deceased mother’s gravestone, saying that to do so might be seen as “political”.

A judge in the Diocese of Coventry decided that the phrase “In ár gcroíthe go deo” must be accompanied by an English translation to comply with Church of England rules.

The family of Irish-born Margaret Keane, who died in July 2018 aged 73, had argued that the phrase – which translates as “in our hearts forever” – should appear in Irish only to honour their mother’s Irish heritage.

But Judge Stephen Eyre, who oversees disputes over church rules in the diocese, said that non-Gaeilgeoirs visiting the graveyard might think the phrase was “some form of slogan”.

The ruling centred around a proposed memorial to Keane in the churchyard of St Giles Exhall, north of Coventry.

There are strict church rules on the design of memorials, which must be “fitting and appropriate”.

The vicar can usually sign off a design, but anything unorthodox is referred to a church court for permission.

The family of the deceased wanted her memorial to feature a Celtic cross with the GAA logo, as well as the phrase in Irish.

But the proposal split the parish council, which voted six to five in favour.

Cluttered gravestone

The deceased woman’s daughter, Caroline Newey, said that the phrase appearing in Irish had “symbolic value” and would “honour … [her] native tongue”.

Told that it was against regulations to have it in Irish only, she argued that including a translation would make the gravestone too cluttered.

The judge found “it is clearly right that the memorial to Mrs Keane should record and celebrate her Irish heritage and her dedicated community service through the GAA”.

He gave permission for a modified version of the Celtic cross, but said that “the inclusion of words in a language other than English has caused me rather greater difficulty”.

Eyre wrote that “questions of language can raise intense feelings” and pointed out that most visitors to the graveyard wouldn’t understand what the phrase meant.

“Not only would the message of the inscription not be understood. but there is a risk of it being misunderstood,” he added.

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“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.”

Apolitical language

Eyre noted that the family’s opposition to a translation was “an implicit assertion as to the importance and standing of that language”, which in his view undermined the argument that Irish is apolitical.

He ultimately ruled that “in ár gcroíthe go deo” could go on the memorial along with an English translation. Eyre, 62, has been the diocesan judge in Coventry since 2009.

His day job is as a judge in the regular courts. In another judgement reported in the Daily Mail earlier this year, he refused permission for a widower to inscribe a non-religious poem by Lord Byron on his wife’s grave.

Eyre added that “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”.

The Church of Ireland, which is linked to the Church of England, encourages the use of Irish. It has set up a Cumann Gaelach na hEaglaise chaired by former Green Party leader Trevor Sargent, who became a priest in 2018.

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