In Re St Giles, Exhall  ECC Cov 1, Mrs Caroline Newey, the daughter of Margaret Keane, sought a faculty for a memorial on her grave . Mrs Keane and her husband had been born Ireland:
“They remained proud of their Irish heritage and were active in the work of the Gaelic Athletic Association [GAA] both in Coventry and nationally. This was an important public service to the Irish community in the United Kingdom and formed a major part of Mrs Keane’s life and of her work for others ”.
Mrs Keane had also received a GAA President’s Award for her work on behalf of the Association.
The petition sought a faculty for a memorial stone which would include a protruding Celtic Cross incorporating the GAA emblem “to recognise and celebrate Mrs Keane’s Irish heritage and her community service through the GAA” together with the words “In ár gcroíthe go deo”: Irish Gaelic for “in our hearts forever” [3 & 4]. The Diocesan Advisory Committee opposed the inclusion of a protruding cross and GAA emblem and Mrs Newey agreed that to seek a faculty for the cross and emblem to be incised into the body of the memorial rather than protruding from it .
The critical issue, however, was that Eyre Ch “expressed a provisional reservation as to the inclusion of an inscription in a language other than English without a translation, which Mrs Newey resisted, arguing that the use of Irish was not intended as a political statement but was an important part of Mrs Keane’s Irish heritage that it was a “vehicle of symbolic value” and that Gaelic names would not be translated into English on a memorial .
Eyre Ch concluded that “regard must be had to the message which an inscription conveys to those who did not know the person being commemorated. An inscription which is incomprehensible to such persons is unlikely to be appropriate” . He noted that in St Peter & St Paul, Nutfield  Ecc Swk 1, Ellis Dep Ch had permitted the inclusion of the word “Tangnefedd”, which is often found on memorials in Welsh churchyards, on a headstone and concluded that its inclusion was a “fitting memorial” . However, he distinguished that case on the grounds that
“the issue was in respect of a single word. Moreover, the Deputy Chancellor noted at  that although the parish was in the Southwark diocese, it had various links to Wales and had a tradition of having Welsh incumbents. The Deputy Chancellor regarded this as strengthening the case for the use of an untranslated Welsh word” .
He concluded as follows:
“The proposal in this case is not just for the inclusion of a single word but for a short phrase which the reader will immediately realise is conveying a message. However, it is a message which will be unintelligible to all but a small minority of readers. In those circumstances, it is not appropriate for it to stand alone without translation. I make it clear that in saying this I am not in any sense adjudicating on the relative merits or standing of English and Irish Gaelic as languages. 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. However, the situation which I have to address is of a memorial in English-speaking Coventry. Should I permit an inscription which will be incomprehensible to almost all its readers? Not only would the message of the inscription not be understood but there is a risk of it being misunderstood. 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. That is not appropriate, and it follows that the phrase “In ár gcroíthe go deo” must be accompanied by a translation which can be in a smaller font size” [16: emphasis added].
Comment: The judgment was widely reported in the Irish media, and in A Grave Mistake? Ecclesiastical court rules against Irish language only inscription on headstone, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC analyses Eyre Ch’s reasoning in some detail and finds it wanting. She points out that the headstone on Spike Milligan’s grave at St Thomas’s Church, Winchelsea, bears the epitaph: “Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite” (“I told you I was ill”) and that it is in Irish precisely because the Diocese of Chichester did not consider his chosen epitaph appropriate for a churchyard. The Irish translation was the compromise agreed by the family. She describes the Chancellor’s fear that an Irish epitaph might be seen as “some form of slogan” as “a slur with a long history, associating Irish speakers with the IRA and republican terrorism”. (“Slogan”, it should be noted in passing, is itself derived from the Gaelic for “battle-cry”: “sluagh-ghairm“.)
To which one might add this: what if a proposed epitaph read “nar cridheachan gu bràth”, in Scots Gaelic rather than Irish? Would the same considerations apply, on the grounds that the average English-speaker is unlikely to be able to tell the difference between them?
On 3 May, the Church of England posted a statement on the judgment, as follows:
“This was a judgment from the consistory court of the Diocese of Coventry. Consistory court judgements may, with permission, be appealed to the Provincial Court of the Archbishop, in this case, the Arches Court of Canterbury. 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.”
It should also be noted that, in the Church of England, Churchyard Regulations are made by the individual dioceses rather than nationally, as we indicated here.
Speaking on behalf of the family, Margaret Keane’s daughters, Bez Martin and Caroline Newey, announced on Friday that they are seeking leave to appeal the decision:
“This week, our family’s private grief has been very much in the spotlight as the ruling of the Consistory Court of Coventry has become public. The Chancellor of Coventry ruled against our choice of wording for the memorial headstone, refusing our wish to have an inscription in Irish without translation. We are very disappointed by the ruling which has politicised a grieving family’s final declaration of love. It has been devastating to us, and it has suspended the grieving process. Almost two years on, we have no final memorial for her yet.”
The family thanks everyone for their messages of support this week. We can confirm that we have now instructed lawyers to seek to appeal the ruling to the Court of Arches of the Archbishop of Canterbury. We are seeking an appeal urgently given the long delays we have endured since Margaret’s death. The family also wishes to emphasise that this is not a national level decision by the Church of England; it is a decision by a single individual, the Chancellor of Coventry, which we hope will not stand.”
The accompanying note to editors points out that there is a 21-day limit for appeals and the family are seeking permission to appeal out-of-time. They are represented by Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Mary-Rachel McCabe, of Doughty Street Chambers.