Irish Gaelic on memorials? Re St Giles, Exhall: a further update

The Dean of the Arches, the Right Worshipful Morag Ellis QC, has granted leave to appeal against the judgment in Re St Giles, Exhall [2020] ECC Cov 1. Mrs Caroline Newey had sought a faculty for a memorial on her mother’s grave with the inscription in Irish Gaelic, In ár gcroíthe go deo: “in our hearts forever”. Her late mother, Margaret Keane, was an Irishwoman who had been an active supporter of the Gaelic Athletic Association both in Coventry and nationally. Eyre  Ch had refused to allow an inscription in Irish without translation:

“The proposal … 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].

In Re an Application for a Faculty for a Memorial in the Churchyard of St Giles, Exhall, Diocese of Coventry [2020] EACC 1, the Dean granted permission to appeal on Ground 1 and Ground 3.

As to Ground 1:

“The Appeal has ‘real prospects of success’ (within the meaning of Rule 22.2 of the Faculty Jurisdiction Rules 2015 (as amended)) in that the Chancellor’s rationale that the inscription would be ‘incomprehensible’ to almost all its readers in English speaking Coventry or to persons who did not know Margaret Keane; and/or that the inscription was a ‘message which will be unintelligible to all but a small minority of readers’ which necessarily meant that the proposed inscription was “inappropriate” unless translated; and/or that there would be a risk of the proposed words being regarded as ‘some form of slogan or that its inclusion without translation would of itself be seen as a political statement’, in the absence of objective evidence may have amounted to an unjustifiable exercise of his discretion and/or be unfair” [1].

As to Ground 3:

“Whilst on its own terms Ground 3 does not appear to have any real prospect of success, having regard to the Chancellor’s willingness to grant a Faculty for a memorial containing both the inscription in Irish Gaelic and an English translation, nevertheless, since there are other compelling reasons for granting permission to appeal in this case..,  the Applicant is free to address the Court as to whether her rights under Articles 8,9,10 and 14 of the Convention were engaged in the context of the Court’s general consideration of the matters set out in Paragraph 4 below” [3].

At [4], she also stated additional reasons for allowing an appeal to proceed:

“(i) the subject of non-English inscriptions on memorials has not been considered by the Arches Court or the Chancery Court;

(ii) England is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society; for a significant minority of families who choose burial in an Anglican churchyard, the English language may not be the natural or complete form of expression and/or of ceremonial expression;

(iii) the issue of non-English words on memorials is therefore likely to arise in future cases;

(iv) questions of the approach to intelligibility and suitability of a Christian memorial in a Church of England churchyard are important matters of principle which the Court of Arches should consider, including in relation to the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Because there was no Respondent, she ordered that an amicus curiae be appointed “to enable the Court to benefit from a full exposition of the arguments” [5].

1 thought on “Irish Gaelic on memorials? Re St Giles, Exhall: a further update

  1. As I commented on the previous version of this post, it would have been particularly helpful for understanding if the Dean had included a brief summary of what each of the three submitted grounds of appeal had been.

    Incidentally I noticed a strongly worded letter from the local MP yesterday, at https://twitter.com/My_Mums_Voice/status/1308431733071773697 – alas his passion not really matched by an appreciation of the finer points of operation of the ecclesiastical courts.

    One of the difficulties with this case is in how the church addresses the way in which the original judgement was worded and the offence thereby caused, balanced against the Dean’s particular role in deciding the specific merits of the proposed inscription. I think it is fair to say that the Irish community in GB will read the eventual appeal judgement with great interest.

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