The Bishop of Coventry has said he is “deeply saddened” after a decision to ban an Irish language epitaph on a pensioner’s headstone due to political “passions” received widespread criticism.
The Church of England said the ruling, which prevented the family of 73-year-old Margaret Keane from inscribing the words “In ar gcroithe go deo”, translating to “in our hearts forever”, did not “reflect” their national policy.
The chancellor of the Consistory Court in the Diocese of Coventry, Stephen Eyre QC, ruled that the Irish Gaelic phrase “must be accompanied by a translation which can be in a smaller font size”.
Mrs Keane’s family had sought permission for an inscription on her grave in the grounds of St Giles Church, in Exhall, near Nuneaton.
Since the ruling, the Bishop of Coventry, Rt Rev Dr Christopher Cocksworth said he was “deeply saddened whenever people’s identity is hurt or offended”.
He said: “I rejoice 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 deeply saddened whenever people’s identity is hurt or offended.”
The bishop added: “The Diocese of Coventry will continue to work for reconciliation in our world.
“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.”
The judgment has provoked outrage, with Irish-born comedian Dara O’Briain describing it as “deeply stupid”.
He said on Twitter: “The judgment is that an imaginary person, at some time in the future, might see ‘You live on in our Hearts’, written in Irish, not understand it, but just presume it must be political, since it’s Irish and then…what?… feel uncomfortable? Unsettled?
“So the family don’t get to give the tribute they want to their beloved mother because we apparently have to protect the feelings of some imaginary idiot in the future who can’t imagine the Irish language can carry any human emotions other than ‘Tiocfaidh ar La’ (an expression meaning Our Day Will Come, often used as an aspiration for a united Ireland).
“Even outside the plain anti-Irish ignorance of that; it’s also ruling by the logic of ‘Well, crime, is down, but the fear of crime is up!’ which ignores reality for the imagined fears of the small-minded. Deeply stupid.”
In the judgment, Mr Eyre ruled: “Should I permit an inscription which will be incomprehensible to almost all its readers?
“Not only would the message of the inscription not be understood but there is a risk of it being misunderstood.
“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.
“That is not appropriate and it follows that the phrase ‘In ar gcroithe go deo’ must be accompanied by a translation which can be in a smaller font size.”
A spokeswoman for the Church of England said: “This decision does not reflect any national Church of England policy.
“This was a judgment from the consistory court of the Diocese of Coventry.
“Consistory court judgments may, with permission, be appealed to the Provincial Court of the Archbishop, in this case the Arches Court of Canterbury.
“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.”
Mrs Keane’s family have launched an appeal against the decision.