On this day 31 years ago, a 15 year old school girl gave birth at a grotto in County Longford…

On 31 January 1984, Ann Lovett, a 15-year old schoolgirl from Granard, Co Longford, gave birth in the open beside a grotto to the Virgin Mary. She was found later, bleeding heavily; both she and her infant son died. The Wikipedia article is quite short, and well worth reading.

The story broke some days later, with considerable interest from the media. From the Examiner:

Everyone wanted to know how a girl from a family of nine siblings in a town of barely a 1,000 people could have carried a baby to term without anyone finding out, if indeed her pregnancy was the secret the community claimed it to be.

The local community and clergy, including the order of nuns at the school which Ann had attended remained tight lipped, apart from a terse statement, denying any knowledge of the teenagers pregnancy.

While the statement issued by the nuns, following legal advice, said they “did not know” about her pregnancy they subsequently, refused to confirm whether they had suspected it or not.

In National Archives of Ireland documents released in December 2014, a letter was revealed written by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Armagh to poet Christopher Daybell which claimed Lovett’s “sad death reflects more on her immaturity than on any lack of Christian charity”.

Some took a different view:

In 1984, the death of fifteen year old Ann Lovett and her baby was described as a ‘family matter’ by Granard priest Canon Gilfillen, but in reality it was a devastating case of statutory rape, in which the paternity of the child was never discovered.

A social media contact told me that he had been at school with Ann, and that she was pregnant was well known. He also told me that her elder sister,  Patricia, died by her own hand a few months later. This is confirmed in a recent article in the Irish Examiner.

Subsequently, many women wrote letters detailing their own experiences, and adding to and informing the debate. RTE also made a radio documentary about the letters.

Attitudes and practices have certainly changed since then, but is this cultural change enough?

And, just why does it take such a tragedy before any proper, informed debate happens?

  • Nicholas Whyte

    Sad that nobody has commented on this in the last 9 hours, on the very day that the SDLP leader declares that there’s no problem with the abortion law in NI, nothing to see, move along please…

  • Mister_Joe

    I don’t know what we can say. It’s a very sad story. And we don’t know whether the poor girl would have opted for abortion even if it had been available, which it should have been if it was a case of rape.

  • carl marks

    I have to agree with joe, not a lot i can say but express my horror not only at what the poor girl and baby went through but at the omerta among community and religious.on a recent thread on abortion I read the following,
    Criminalisation of abortion drove it underground; it was certainly possible to get one in N Ireland, if you had the money and the contacts. Otherwise, it was the backstreets and knitting needles, and you might be lucky to survive.

    that in my opinion makes the case for giving people the choice>

  • eireanne

    you’ll find more in-depth info about this particular case and the background to this type of tragedy in Ireland in
    https://eurofree3.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/the-way-we-were-single-mums/

  • Clanky

    Attitudes and practices have certainly changed since then, but is this cultural change enough?

    No, it isn’t enough, but it has been and continues to be movement in the right direction. This case and many others are evidence that we need to keep looking to the future and not allow a few delusional fanatics to define morality based on a fairy story.

  • Korhomme

    I was abroad when this all happened, and didn’t return until18 months afterwards. It’s only quite recently that I heard the story. I even went to Granard a few years ago, but coward that I am, I didn’t talk to anyone there about this.

    The videos (there’s a link to the second at the end of the first) have a bit in them that might well have sounded quite reasonable at the time; when the head of the school, reading from a prepared script, says that had they known, they would have offered Ann support, and a place to go to.

    We now know that such a place might have been a mother and baby home, or a Magdalen Laundry. In retrospect the head’s statement is utterly chilling and sinister.

  • Starviking

    I’ve just seen the story, and it shows the effect the Church had on both young women and men – sex is shameful, therefore sexuality is too. Keep it in the shadows, out of sight of ‘decent folks’, and should something happen – brush it under the carpet and hope it goes away.

    That attitude still stands today – a few weeks ago we had the head of the Church in Ireland saying that abortion was unacceptable under any conditions. Now he may claim that that comes from morality – but there has obviously been no reflection on the case of Salvia Harappa in that statement, and no morality can exist without the exercise of reflection. I think that leaves the Church in a moral void, a void where it has sat for some time.