The many groups and individuals behind the successful campaign to overturn a ruling denying the Keane family in Coventry the right to inscribe their mother’s gravestone in Irish with no translation have been honoured with a community award.
The family of Margaret Keane, along with Irish community groups and the legal team who supported their appeal against the decision were recognised with the Gerry Ryan Community Award at Páirc na hÉireann in Solihull on Saturday 9 October.
The annual community award is in memory of Gerry Ryan, a founding member of the Labour Party Irish Society and member of the Communication Workers Union who sponsor the award.
It was presented to members of the family by Taiwo Owatemi MP, Labour’s Shadow Women & Equalities Minister and MP for Coventry North West.
Margaret Keane died in July 2018 after a short illness. She is buried in grounds owned by St Giles’ Church, Exhall, near Coventry.
Margaret was a massive figure at Roger Casements GAA Club in Coventry and also one of Warwickshire GAA’s longest-serving members and volunteers.
Originally from Athboy in Co. Meath, Margaret moved to Coventry in the 1950s, and it was at the Roger Casements GAA club that she met her future husband, Mayo hurler Bernie Keane.
Following the death of Margaret Keane in 2018, the Chancellor of the Diocese of Coventry, Stephen Eyre QC, prohibited them from having the words In ár gcroíthe go deo (In our hearts forever) – inscribed on her headstone, without an English translation.
In his ruling, Eyre, concluded: “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”.
The family campaigned and after a three-year battle, the family won their appeal to the Arches Court of Canterbury in February this year. Margaret’s gravestone was ready for St Patrick’s Day this year.
The award was formally awarded to the ‘Message to Margaret’ campaign, and its full list of recipients are: The family of Margaret Keane, the family’s legal team: Barristers Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Mary-Rachel McCabe and solicitor Caroline Brogan, Conradh na Gaeilge i Londain and their legal team of barristers Tim Moloney QC, Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh and solicitor Raj Chada.
The family have requested that the financial component of the award is donated to two of the other recipients, Imagineer Productions and Conradh na Gaeilge i Londain, for the promotion of the Irish language and culture in Britain.
Taiwo Owatemi MP, Labour’s Shadow Women & Equalities Minister and MP for Coventry North West said: “Margaret was part of an incredible generation of Irish immigrants to Coventry, and it’s where she met her husband Bernie and raised a wonderful family. Margaret contributed so much to Coventry – from her work as a dinner lady at a local primary school to her work in the Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA). Margaret loved Coventry, and Coventry loved her.
“As a city we are immensely proud of our diversity. It is a strength to be celebrated, and the decision to reject an application for an Irish-only inscription on Margaret’s gravestone was at odds with these values.
“It was a final, loving message from Margaret’s family to a dear wife, mother and grandmother. The decision caused a lot of hurt to the family and the wider Irish community and it should never have taken three years to put right. However, I was delighted the family won their appeal and were able to finally inscribe In ár gcroíthe go deo on Margaret’s gravestone on St Patrick’s Day this year.”
Liam Conlon, Chair of the Labour Party Irish Society said: “The family of Margaret Keane are an ordinary family who’ve done extraordinary things.
“The decision to reject an Irish-only inscription on Margaret’s gravestone, on the grounds it would be seen as a ‘political slogan,’ was ignorant and discriminatory. The Irish language is not political, but it was politicised by that ruling. Cultural expression, including through language, is a fundamental right of all citizens.
“The successful campaign to overturn that decision was a campaign for equal rights. The Keane family, the pro-bono legal teams, and all who stood with them represent the best of the Irish community in Britain – and they are fully deserving of this award and we owe them so much.”
Bez Killeen, Margaret Keane’s daughter said: “We are immensely proud to be receiving the Gerry Ryan Community Award in recognition of our campaign to challenge a discriminatory ruling that denied us an Irish- only inscription on our mums, Margaret Keane’s headstone.
“The past three years have been difficult for us as a family as we learnt to rebuild our lives after mum’s death and our pain was compounded by the ruling made by the then Chancellor of Coventry Diocese, who stated that an Irish only inscription would be seen as a political slogan.
“We accept this award knowing that the original ruling has found to be flawed and we were discriminated against on the grounds of our race, Irish. Coventry has a proud Irish community and they along with the Irish across Britain have galvanised to stand with us in our challenge, and to show that views such as this were not welcome in Coventry or elsewhere. Our family will forever be grateful to all those who supported us, to our amazing legal team and the intervenor on the case Conradh na Gaeilge and their legal team.
“Thank you to the Labour Party Irish Society and all it’s members for their continued support and for this award. We will honour mum alongside many others who made this campaign a success when we collect the award”
Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC of Doughty Street Chambers, one of the Irish women who represented the Keane family on a pro-bono basis said: “The initial court ruling was not only distressing to the family; it was deeply insulting to their cultural identity, as members of the Irish community in Britain. The successful appeal is a victory for common sense, for diversity and equality. It is a victory for the Irish in Britain. But above all, it is a victory for the remarkable Keane family.”