Court rules non-allowance of Irish inscription on gravestone discriminatory

Irish News reported this week that the highest ecclesiastical court of the Church of England has found a diocese’s ban on an Irish inscription on a gravestone “direct discrimination”.

Margaret Keane’s family wanted the words `Inár gcroí go Deo’ (In Our Heart Forever) inscribed in Irish only on her grave in Coventry, as she was originally from Athboy, County Meath. But the Coventry Diocese Chancellor Stephen Eyre QC refused, saying that the inscription could be regarded as a slogan or a political statement in “English-speaking Coventry”.

However, the Arches Court of Canterbury found “the effect of the chancellor’s decision was to discriminate directly against the appellant on the basis of her race”. They won their appeal earlier this year and their three-year battle to prove discrimination ended this month with the release of the written judgement in the case.

Assumption made

The Arches Court ruled that “an assumption seems to have been made that viewers of the inscription, realising that it was in Irish, would conclude that it was a political slogan, which we have found not to be based upon evidence or any other rational footing”.

The requirement for translation, the court added, was thus based on Irishness, a racial characteristic. The ruling is seen as a landmark judgement as it has directed all diocesan chancellors to review their churchyard regulations to make sure they do not discriminate, particularly when related to non-English inscriptions.

Bez Martin, Mrs Keane’s daughter, said the whole thing had been quite overwhelming. Her mother, she added, had always taught her children the difference between right and wrong, so they always knew in their heart that they were doing the right thing by challenging the discriminatory stance taken by the diocese and asking to be treated in the same way as the area’s other parishioners, as there were headstones in the graveyard with inscriptions in Hebrew, Welsh and Latin that were not translated.

Treated differently

She pointed out that one headstone included the words ‘In our hearts forever’ in Welsh, the same message the family had wanted in Irish, and that had been painful for them knowing they were being treated differently just because they were Irish.

Ms Martin’s sister, Caroline Newey, was the one who brought the appeal. When the family received the judgement, she went straight to her mum’s grave to tell her the news and had been able to sit beside her mum’s gravestone and tell her she was in their hearts forever.

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