Ann Lovett’s Death in Granard

Posted by The Skibbereen Eagle | January 31, 2018 1

Remembering today Ann Lovett, the 15 year old who died while giving birth to her son in the Granard Town grotto on this day 34 years ago. This tragedy embodies what a cold, cruel place Ireland was for single mothers and women who faced crisis pregnancies in the 1980s.

No flowers are laid at the grotto where 15-year-old Ann Lovett and her infant son died 25 years ago. This does not suggest that yesterday’s anniversary of their death is not mourned, that their loss is not privately marked. The memory runs far deeper than that. It was a case that both engrossed and horrified the nation. In many ways, the tragedy that unfolded in the Co Longford town of Granard on that cold winter’s night speaks for itself. Yet many questions about the teenager’s ‘secret’ pregnancy still remain unanswered.

St Mary’s Catholic church is built on a rise at the edge of Granard and overlooks the town. Behind the church, down a grassy lane, the grotto lies behind steel gates. On 31 January 1984, Ann left school at lunchtime and went into the grotto on the hill instead of home for lunch, her usual routine. The day got gradually wetter and colder. A few hours later, three boys stumbled upon a scene they would never forget.

The boys were on their way home from school when they spotted a red schoolbag beside the entrance to the laneway beside the church. That’s when they heard the moans. They went to investigate and found the 15-year-old girl and her stillborn infant son lying alongside her. She was semi-conscious, bleeding and suffering from exposure. Beside her lay a pair of scissors used to cut the umbilical cord. Later in the afternoon, some passing schoolboys heard her crying in the grotto near the Granard graveyard. Alarmed, they raced to the scene.  They found that 15-year-old Ann had just given birth to a baby boy beneath the statue of Our Lady.  Now she lay there with the child already dead beside her, wrapped up in her overcoat. Being Irish teenagers of the era they alerted the first authority figure they could find, which in this case was a passing farmer. He ran to the local priest’s house right away to inform him of the tragic find.  “It’s a doctor you need,” the priest told the farmer evenly.

The farmer took note of his tone. But Ann was in shock and the young schoolboys had already carried her, haemorrhaging heavily, to the door of the priest’s house.  When the doctor arrived he drove her home to her parent’s house to await an ambulance. She was probably dead before it arrived. Two hours after the grim discovery, Ann was pronounced dead at Mullingar hospital.

What followed will be familiar to anyone who knows about rural Ireland in the 1980s. A wall of silence descended that would not lift. Locals would not speak to the press. Some criticised their silence as complicity; others felt it was their only possible response to the tragic circumstances of the case and the sudden invasion of the town by the world’s press.  The father of the child didn’t come forward, then or ever.  Some reports speculated that Ann had had a very difficult life at home.  Some made even darker allegations. There were and still are more questions than answers surrounding the case. We didn’t talk about sex, back then, or sexuality. It’s hard to imagine those times now, but we lived in Ionaland then, where “illegitimacy” would remain a legal concept until 1996 and where the worst fate that could befall a girl or woman was to “fall pregnant” outside of marriage. You will notice from the language that women “fell pregnant” all on their own or in the alternate, they had enticed weak minded men to impregnate them and were therefore in the mind of the Catholic Taliban, entirely “at fault.”

This was only four months after the Eighth Amendment, when 841,233 voters enshrined in our Constitution the notion that the unborn – regardless of their development between conception and birth – have an equal right to life as the fully-sentient person carrying them, whether she wants to or not, whether her pregnancy is viable or not and whether she had a choice to become pregnant or not. This was a time when otherwise-normal citizens roared “MURDERER” at those campaigning against the amendment. Since being enacted the 8th Amendment has resulted in rape victims held against their will, women dying of miscarriage, women dying after being refused cancer care due to pregnancy.

Ireland was a strange, fevered place before the sheer scale of sex abuse revelations broke the Catholic Church’s stranglehold. It was an Ireland of Kerry Babies and moving statues, an Ireland where Mother and Baby Homes and Magdalene Laundries and Industrial Schools were still in operation, an Ireland where rudimentary contraception was prescription-only to married couples for “Bona Fide” family planning purposes. It was an Ireland where divorce was impossible since 1925 but the wealthy could obtain “annulments”, a legal fiction which said that the marriage never happened in the first place, where homosexual acts were illegal, an Ireland where censorship was rife to protect the “weak minded”, where violence was the norm in education including promoting the fiction that Irish, whose study was compulsory, a hugely Latinised form of the Celtic language with strong Norse, Norman and English overlays was our “First official language” and the key to our unique cultural superiority. It was an Independent Ireland where women had to resign from the Civil Service on marriage up to 1973, where the GAA would expel anybody who played “Foreign Games”, where people who had been in “foreign” police forces or armed forces could not join the Irish Police force or army, where women could not get a mortgage in their own names, where men could sue for “Criminal Conversation” for loss of their wives services if they were with another man. It was an Ireland without Father and Baby homes or institutions for “fallen men” and womanisers.

This was an Ireland where de Valera’s ludicrous 1937 Constitution said a women’s place was in the home and recognised the “special position”  of the Catholic Church – for this we had a Revolution spearheaded by the Irish Citizens Army?  An Ireland which did not do much to provide for those already born where over two million people emigrated since independence due to the economic failures of independent Ireland including half of the young people born in Ireland since independence. An Ireland which was one of only two European countries in the 1950’s to have a population decline, the other country was East Germany – DDR.

It seems likely it was the difficult decision taken by Vincent Browne, then Sunday Tribune editor, to name Ann – despite concerns about intruding on her family’s grief – that personalised her, that made her more than just an anonymous story.  The local community closed ranks, angered by suggestions people must have known Ann was pregnant. The consensus said Granard was treated unfairly by the media. “Whoever gave the news to Dublin,” thundered the parish priest, “was only spreading scandal.”

Nuala Fennell, Minister for Women’s Affairs, caused huge upset when she likened Granard to “The Valley of the Squinting Windows”. The Longford Leader asked who could say that “Ann Lovett did not die happy? Who is to say that she and her son are not in heaven? Who is to say that she had not fulfilled her role in life as her God had decreed?”  It might as well have been the Appalachian Times with its editorial to the Hillbillies.

Ann Lovett and her child died a cruel, lonely and totally unnecessary death in an Ireland paying obeisance to unfounded delusions of moral, religious and cultural superiority. An Ireland whose record of humanity and dealing with the reality of the lives of the living could only with extreme kindness be described as dysfunctional. An Ireland of gombeens, hypocrisy and economic failure whose greatest export was its own people exported on the hoof in their hundred’s of thousands. And having exported its young, its enterprising, those who dared want a different lifestyle or to express their sexuality, “Christian” Ireland then took little interest in the reality of the lives of the Irish Diaspora even though the fabrication of the Irish Economy was kept floating by the remittances of emigrants. It took very little interest in the 1953 survey that found 60% of prostitutes working in London were Irish or the hostels in London filled with Irish alcoholics whose families “didn’t want to know.” An Ireland where politicians pay homage at St. Patrick’s Day Parades worldwide not realising that the marchers in New York, Boston, Chicago etc; are actually celebrating being Irish but not being in Ireland but well away from the squinting windows, lack of opportunity, stultifying networks and the Catholic Taliban.

Mid-1980s Ireland. A time when contraception was difficult to access, abortion criminal and Magdalene Laundries were still operating. Illegitimacy was still a legal and shameful term. It was a dark economic time when both the prospect of providing for a child or getting the boat must have seemed impossible for many. How many other women suffered silently?

And today in Ireland there is still the false debate about Repealing the 8th Amendment which puts women’s wombs in the Constitution, denies their right to be sexual, to control their fertility, negates their right to chose, denies their personal autonomy. We have always had abortion in Ireland, for those who could afford to travel and access information to deal with their crisis pregnancies and many travelled with money desperately thrust into their hands by lovers or families anxious to maintain their “respectability.” Let us be plain, an egg, fertilised or unfertilised is biologically, ethically, morally and in reality not a human no matter what sophistry those people guided by their imaginary friend bring to the subject. The half of the Irish population which will never be pregnant have no right to dictate to women. The infertile have no standing to dictate to the fertile. None of us have standing to deny a women a right to make her own choices.

Let us end discrimination against all women living in Ireland, end a discriminatory health system where a pregnant woman only has a qualified right to health care and end the shame of Ireland’s draconian abortion regime which violates women’s right to bodily integrity and self-determination.

Let us do this in memory of Ann Lovett, to atone for the defamation of Joanne Hayes, to atone for the cruel and negligent deaths of Savita Halappanavar and many more let us turn our back on the inhumane Ireland of forced pregnancies, poor healthcare, criminalisation of pregnant women and denial of a Women’s Right to Choose – let us now Repeal the Eight.

The Skibbereen Eagle

Latest posts by The Skibbereen Eagle (see all)

One Response

  • The debate in the first video between a (as always) passionate and progressive Michael D. Higgins (now President of Ireland and a Labour politician) and Father Michael Cleary a well known media figure arguing against abortion is noteworthy. For 26 years Michael Cleary lived with his Common Law wife Phyllis Hamilton and fathered two children. They lived together in a house provided by the Dublin Diocese well away from his parish in Ballyfermot with Cleary pretending Phyllis was his “Housekeeper.”