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British Labour Party backs family’s battle to have Irish grave inscription

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independent.ie- Members of Britain’s Labour Party are backing a campaign by a family which is fighting a court ban against five words of Irish being used on their mother’s headstone.

The party’s Irish Society, which includes Armagh-born MP Conor McGinn, is stepping up pressure by holding an event tomorrow to highlight the case and broader issues arising from it.

It is showing its public support for the family of Margaret Keane, who have spent three years fighting for the right to have “in ár gcroíthe go deo” or “forever in our hearts” as an epitaph above her grave in Coventry.

Their legal challenge against a ruling which denies them an Irish language-only inscription will be heard on February 24 by the Church of England’s ecclesiastical appeals court.

Ms Keane, born in Athboy, Co Meath, emigrated to Coventry in her teens, worked as a school dinner lady and raised a family of six, and died in 2018 aged 73.

The Labour Party Irish Society online meeting will be addressed by the group’s president, Mr McGinn, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, the family’s legal team and Conradh na Gaeilge.

“Westminster has only ever seen the Irish language issue through the prism of Northern Ireland and wrongly viewed it as something contentious. This has brought a whole new dimension to the view of the Irish language in Britain,” said Mr McGinn.

“Out of their adversity, the Keanes have introduced a positivity to the subject. They are highlighting the huge contribution the language, literature, music and Gaelic games of Ireland have made to Britain.

“The BBC has Scots Gaelic programming and the Welsh have their own language channel, and an opportunity exists here to see there are Irish language speakers in every part of the UK.”

A judge in an ecclesiastical court, which controls diocesan graveyards, denied the Keanes the right to put the phrase on the headstone because it could be “seen as a political statement” given the “passions and feelings connected with the use of Irish Gaelic”.

The Keanes say they are motivated by a sense of injustice applying not just to them but the Irish community in Britain. Bez Killeen, Margaret’s daughter, said: “This is about respect for the Irish language, identity and culture.”

Margaret remained “immensely proud” of her Irish heritage despite a lifetime in England. A statement from her family says: “That sense of deep pride is something shared by the Irish across Britain – they never forget ‘home’ and what it means to be Irish.”

The Keanes chose the inscription with “care and love” and the decision to reject it, along with the reasoning provided, caused great hurt.

“That verdict has touched a raw nerve for everyone,” said Liam Conlon, chair of the Labour Party Irish Society.

“We want to bring people together to discuss not just the particulars of the case but the wider implications for the Irish community in Britain. It impacts on Irish language rights and the expression of cultural identity.”

He said it suggested an “othering” of the Irish and had impacted on Irish communities throughout Britain.

The Keanes’ legal team has acted pro bono because it is regarded as a significant freedom of speech case.

The family is running a social media campaign under the #MessagetoMargaret hashtag.