Church of England refuses to allow foreign language on a gravestone, calling it a "political statement"

Margaret Keane was born in Westmeath, in the Republic of Ireland, and later moved to Coventry in the United Kingdom, where her and her husband raised six children. Throughout her life, Margaret remained active in the Gaelic Athletic Association, and after she passed away in 2018 at the age 73, her family wanted a gravestone that paid tribute to her proud Irish heritage.

Margaret belonged to the Church of England, and was to be buried at St. Giles Church in Exhall. But her family received some pushback when they proposed a plot with a Celtic cross, which the diocesan advisory committee denied for being too large. The committee suggested that the family simply add an inscription of a Celtic cross to the headstone.

The Keane family agreed to the compromise. But the Church of England pushed back again when they saw the planned inscription on the cross: "In ár gcroíthe go deo," which means, "In our hearts forever" in the Irish language. This didn't seem particularly radical, especially as there are already Welsh inscriptions in the same cemetery. But once again, the diocesan advisory committee denied the family's headstone proposal. "Given the passions and feelings connected with the use of Irish Gaelic," said a Church judge who is also a local government judge, "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."

After yet another appeal, the judge agreed to allow the Irish words only if they're accompanied by an English translation.

The central Church in London and the Bishop of Canterbury were both quick to distance themselves from the ruling, insisting that "This decision does not reflect any national Church of England policy" and recognizing that "The Irish language is an important part of the heritage of the Church of England. It was, after all, Irish-speaking monks in Lindisfarne and beyond who played a central role in establishing the church in what is now England."

But now, two years since Margaret Keane's death, the judge still refuses to budge, which means the family either has to spend more money to redesign the gravestone in order to fit the English translation, or else they can undertake a lengthy legal process to seek an appeal from the Dean of the Arches of Canterbury. "Being forced to defend our original application through a lengthy legal process is an insult to the very memorial we wish to erect," Margaret's children told the Irish Post. "It subjects our family to a painful suspension of the grieving and healing process and feels very cruel."

I don't know enough about the discrimination laws in Britain, or the legal relationship between the church and state. But I feel confident in saying that stubbornly censoring an affectionate phrase on someone's gravestone is pretty gross and inhumane.

Church of England disowns ruling on Irish epitaph on gravestone [Owen Bowcott / The Guardian]

The Church of England reflects on its Irish language heritage in gravestone row [Robert McMillen / Irish News]

'Cruel' judge refuses family's appeal over Gaelic language decision on mother's gravestone [Fiona Audley / The Irish Post]

Image via Public Domain