Irish language

The Church of England relects on its Irish language heritage in gravestone row

BISHOP OF INCLUSIVITY: The Right Reverend Dr Christopher Cocksworth, the Bishop of Coventry, has stepped into the argument over an Irish language phrase on the gravestone of an Irish woman who died in England
Robert McMIllen

"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.”

For many people who are unaware of the history of the Irish language, the above statement will come as a profound shock. 

The fact that it was issued by a spokesperson for the Church of England makes it even more interesting.

It comes of course after the church was embroiled in controversy over an inscription on the grave of an Irish women, Margaret Keane.

The family wanted the inscription “Inár grcoíthe go deo” on her headstone in the grounds of St Giles Church in Exhall, near Nuneaton, 10 miles north of Coventry, but a CoE consistory court ruled that the Irish inscription would have to have an English translation 

The chancellor of the Court Stephen Eyre, who is a QC, argued that” “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.”

As the Irish News reported, Mr Eyre added that a standalone Irish language tribute would be “unintelligible to all but a small minority of readers” in “English speaking Coventry.”

This statement reveals the atavistic fear amongst some – and I emphasise some – English people towards all things Irish, from Giraldus Cambrensis in 1188 to the “thick Paddy” jokes of the 1970s and 1980s.

However, the Bishop of Coventry, Christopher Cocksworth, has written an open letter addressing the matter in which he says that, 

he “rejoices in the life of this great city with all its linguistic, ethnic, religious and racial richness.  

“And I rejoice in the Irish community of Coventry in all its forms and for the life that has flowed into the city through its people and which continues to flourish today. 

“I am praying for this particular situation, especially for a distressed family, and I am ensuring they are made aware of their legal rights according to the procedures of the Consistory Court,” he wrote so it seems that a city with its wonderful tradition of reconciliation will do the right thing by the Keane family.

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