The Ann Lovett letters: sorrow, shame, anger and indignation
Thirty years ago today, a 15-year-old girl in Granard, Co Longford, died giving birth in secret. Here we publish letters written in response to the tragedy that were read on the ‘Gay Byrne Show’ in 1984
The grotto in Granard where 15-year-old Ann Lovett gave birth to her son. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
The news story in The Irish Times on February 22nd, 1984. The photograph is of Mary Maguire, Ann Lovett’s best friend
The town of Granard, Co Longford. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
As Gay Byrne said on his programme, just over two weeks after the Ann Lovett story broke, there were “too many letters. They couldn’t be ignored.” The schoolgirl was 15, when she was found in shock and close to death, having given birth to a baby boy at the grotto on a hill just outside her home town of Granard, Co Longford. Her son was dead by the time passersby discovered her, and Ann died later that day in hospital.
The hundreds of letters people sent to the Gay Byrne Show on RTÉ radio in response to this tragedy in 1984 contained the previously untold stories of many women in Ireland at the time. As Byrne put it then: “Time and again they make the point that being able to write it all down is a relief. They thank Ann Lovett for giving them the courage to express what they have kept secret. Her sacrifice was not in vain, is their point.”
The programme was a devastating piece of broadcasting, which gave voice to women who had until then suffered in silence. It also revealed the different perspectives of a nation, by turns angry, ashamed, sorrowful and indignant, as it grappled with the deaths of a teenager and her baby. Here we publish extracts from some of the letters, many of which were identified only by their place of origin.
‘Never in the 10 years since the birth of my baby have my parents ever talked about my pregnancy’
“I know how Ann felt, as I have travelled down that same lonely road. At the age of 16 I found myself pregnant and still at school. I concealed my pregnancy until I was
eight months pregnant. My mother then discovered with great horror that her only daughter was one of these unmentionable people. How could I humiliate them this way? What would the neighbours think? My parents were very well-off business people. It was decided that I would go and look after my poor old sick great-aunt in Dublin.
After six weeks I gave birth to a baby boy and returned home immediately to pick up from before, as if nothing had ever happened. Never in the past 10 years since the birth of my baby have my parents ever talked about my pregnancy. They even talk about other girls who get into trouble as if I never had a baby. Of course, my baby was adopted. There was never any question of anything else happening. I hide my secret with great hurt and guilt. I feel very depressed at times and wish I could reveal my long-kept secret to somebody. On several occasions I’ve walked into my local GP’s waiting room in the hope of talking to him, but always fail to wait and see him for fear of what he might think of me.
‘My mother never went outside the door after news of my downfall became public’
In 1972 I found myself expecting. I was 16. I was expelled and disgraced from the Mercy Convent in Carlow town. A priest who visited me told me I would pay for my great sin for the rest of my life. My baby, a boy, was taken from me. I am not allowed to trace him. My own mother died before the child was born. She never went outside the door after news of my downfall became public.
I accepted all this as part of my punishment. But I am still paying. I cannot relate all the things that happened in my life without breaking down. My point is that I lived after my sin and I’ve been treated as an outcast ever since. All this sorrow would be turned to gossip had Ann lived. Why was there this fear in 1984, [meaning] that Ann could tell no one? When the people of Granard pray before their grotto, pray for us who lived to pay.