Church at centre of Gaelic gravestone inscription controversy regrets “offence caused to Irish community”
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Church at centre of Gaelic gravestone inscription controversy regrets “offence caused to Irish community”

THE church at the centre of controversy surrounding an Irishwoman’s gravestone has issued a statement revealing its “deep sadness” and regrets regarding the incident.

The Parish Church of St Giles, Exhall (Coventry) issued their statement this evening - after being contacted by The Irish Post - regarding the shocking decision which saw Margaret Keane’s family barred from inscribing their mother’s gravestone with a phrase in Gaelic.

The ruling, made by the Chancellor of Coventry Stephen Eyre QC in the Consistory Court, deemed the Irish language too "political" to be allowed on a gravestone located in Britain.

“[We] wish to express our deep sadness and regret at the distress and offence caused to the Irish Community, and beyond, as a result of a recent ruling of the Consistory Court in relation to a faculty application from a local family for a memorial headstone in the St Giles Meadow to bear an inscription in the Irish language,” they said.

“We would like to make it clear that, as a Parochial Church Council (PCC), we do not share the Chancellor’s view that ‘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’.”

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Westmeath native Margaret Keane, who died in 2018 (Pic: Chris Egan)

The statement goes on to explain that the parish church, which is led by the Reverend Gail Philip, had initially voted in favour of supporting the Keane family’s application for their mother’s headstone, which they had discussed with the family.

“As part of the faculty application process, the PCC of St Giles discussed the memorial application and voted in favour of supporting the request,” they confirm.

“No objections were raised to the use of the Irish language in any of our discussions.”

They added: “The PCC’s only concerns, also shared by the Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC), were connected with the original shape of the proposed memorial but, after a later discussion with the family, the shape of the memorial was amended in a way which addressed the concerns raised.”

The parish, which claims it remains on “good terms” with the Keane family, adds that it is committed to celebrating the diversity of its parishioners.

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“We are a parish church committed to celebrating cultural and linguistic diversity, and to supporting grieving families to honour their loved ones by memorialising them in ways which reflect their unique character and cultural identity, within the scope of churchyard regulations we are legally required to adhere to,” they state.

Margaret Keane's grave, which is still awaiting its memorial stone (PIC: Chris Egan)

They go on to support recent statements made by the Bishop of Coventry, Christopher Cocksworth, and the Church of England, against the decision by the ecclesiastical court.

“We are entirely in agreement with the sentiments expressed by the Bishop of Coventry in his recent letter regarding this judgment and responses to it,” the parish confirmed.

“We share with him a sincere dedication to the ministry of reconciliation, which is at the heart of our Diocese, recognising the tremendous contribution of the Irish Community in the Coventry area and beyond.

“We also fully endorse a recent statement from the Church of England which emphasises that this Consistory Court judgment does not reflect the church’s national policy and affirms the Irish language as being an important part of the Church of England’s own heritage.”

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They added: “We remain on good terms with this grieving family and our hearts go out to them in the additional delay and distress this ruling has caused them.

“We will continue to offer the family our support and we very much pray for a satisfactory and pastorally sensitive conclusion to this matter.”