Coventry’s Irish community rallied round at an online concert supporting a family locked in a legal battle over a memorial stone to a much-loved figure.
The event including dance, music, song and poetry inspired by the Emerald Isle was organised by the daughters of Margaret Keane, who have launched an appeal to include an Irish-language phrase on her headstone in a cemetery at St Giles Church in Ash Green.
Dubliners legend Sean Cannon headlined the packed programme, which interspersed live performances with pre-recorded contributions.
In a pre-recorded message, the Irish Ambassador to the UK Adrian O’Neill saluted Mrs Keane and her husband Bernie, who he described as “great stalwarts of the Irish community” and praised her “deep commitment and love towards Irish heritage”.
Mr O’Neill also hailed the “courage and determination” shown by the family in trying to reflect her life on the memorial stone.
The Chancellor of the Diocese of Coventry has ruled that the epitaph “in ár gcroíthe go deo”, which translates as “in our hearts forever”, would not be understandable to many people and could be misinterpreted as a political slogan.
Judge Stephen Eyre QC decreed that the words – described as “Irish Gaelic” in his written judgment – can only be included with an English translation.
The legal challenge has been launched by Mrs Keane’s family together with a social media campaign entitled ‘Message to Margaret’.
A GoFundMe campaign has also been set up to support the Margaret Keane Memorial Fund.
The money will go towards a children’s Irish exchange project run by Roger Casement’s Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) Coventry, an independent study into the impact of public decisions on Black and Minority Ethnic groups and possible further legal or policy challenges to “discriminatory” Diocesan rulings.
The ‘Message to Margaret’ concert was held tonight (July 3) to promote the appeal and wider campaign.
The event began with a poignant video of Mrs Keane and messages from her children, before live performances from the McHale Academy of Irish Dancing and play writer Kathy Joyce.
All of the performers in the showcase, where the live elements were hosted by Paul Nolan at Christ the King Parish Centre in Coundon, observed social distancing guidelines.
Poems, songs, readings and dances, many reflecting the community’s Irish heritage and its journey to the present age, were also pre-recorded especially for the night.
Coventry Irish Society and the GAA, which Mrs Keane supported and represented for many years, were among the groups who spoke during the concert.
Eight junior members of Coventry Comhaltas, a group of traditional Irish musicians, were among the live performers in the church hall.
Other acts included the Celtica Academy dance school, Elite Dance Academy, choreographers Maggie Gallagher and Gary O’Reilly, singer Jackie Duffy and writer Alexandra Johnson.
Dubliners star Cannon performed three pre-recorded songs.
People from Coventry, Ireland and across the UK and Europe followed the live broadcast on Facebook.
Mrs Keane died suddenly in hospital on July 29, 2018 aged 73.
The Irish-born community champion was known in Coventry and nationally for her work with the GAA. She also served as dinner lady in Bedworth for 26 years.
In 2017, she received the GAA’s International Award, which said she had given “a lifetime of unselfish service and dedication” to the association after leaving the town of Athboy to make a new life in Coventry in the 1950s.
Mrs Keane’s family is pushing on after Judge Eyre rejected a bid to lodge an appeal.
They will now take their application to the Arches of Canterbury, where the challenge will be heard if it is granted.
In his original ruling on May 6, Judge Eyre had found difficulty reconciling the phrase with the Coventry Churchyard Regulations, which place significance in the fact that messages featured on memorials will be read by many people who did not know the deceased.
Judge Eyre found no problem with the principle of remembering Mrs Keane’s heritage, including through a Celtic cross bearing the GAA symbol incised into the body of the headstone. The judge said: “It is clearly right that the memorial to Mrs. Keane should record and celebrate her Irish heritage and her dedicated community service through the GAA.”
But Judge Eyre did not allow the request by Mrs Keane’s family, instead authorising a memorial with the translated words in English.
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