Court of Arches finds refusal of Irish-only inscription on Coventry family’s gravestone was discriminatory


Re: In the matter of an Application for a Faculty for a memorial in the Churchyard of St Giles, Exhall, Diocese of Coventry

A Church of England appeal court, the Court of Arches, has considered an appeal concerning the wording on an Irish family’s gravestone.

Margaret Keane died in 2018, aged 73. She was born in Ireland but moved to England in the 1950s and made a new life in Coventry. She met and married Irishman Bernard (Bernie) Keane, and they raised six children together. They lived in St Giles, Exhall, on the outskirts of Coventry. Margaret’s Irish heritage was very important to her throughout her life, and she and Bernie gave decades of voluntary service to the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in Britain.

Margaret was buried in her local churchyard in St Giles, a short distance from the family home. The intention is, when he passes, for Bernie to be buried alongside her. The family has chosen a gravestone reflecting their heritage and culture, which includes a Celtic cross with the GAA symbol and the Irish phrase “in ár gcroí go deo,” which translates as ‘in our hearts forever.’ However, the  Consistory Court of the Diocese of Coventry ruled that they were not permitted to have an Irish phrase only, and it would only be allowed if accompanied by an English translation. The reasons given by the judge, Chancellor Stephen Eyre QC, included that the phrase “will be unintelligible to all but a small minority of readers” in “English-speaking Coventry” and that, “given the passions and feelings” associated with the Irish language, there is a “sad risk” that people would consider it “some form of slogan or political statement.”

Held: The Court confirmed that the decision of the Chancellor not to permit the family’s inscription in Irish-only (without an English translation) was unreasonable under the common law, and in breach of the family’s right not to be discriminated against under Article 14, ECHR. The Court also found that the Chancellor’s decision did not give effect to the Public Sector Equality Duty to eliminate discrimination under s 149 of the Equality Act 2010, which he was required to do.

Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh was involved in this case.