Kerry Babies tribunal inspires award-winning debut

Ann Lovett case another source for Nicola White’s ‘In The Rosary Garden’

The debut thriller In the Rosary Garden finished its UK and Irish tour with a Temple Bar launch last night, just minutes away from the location that inspired its narrative.

Irish born author Nicola White, who attended the Kerry Babies tribunal in 1984, spoke at the launch in the Gutter Bookshop of the profound effect it and other cases of that time had on her as a young Irish woman: "The inciting incident of the book happened around the corner in Dublin Castle. By chance I ended up beside Joanne Hayes and her sister, who were sitting like the rest of us in the crowd while the Gardaí pressed their charges against them."

Realising years later that she had kept numerous newspaper cuttings from the case, White was moved to write a novel looking at the culture of suppression and treatment of women in Ireland at the time. “The book isn’t a version of Joanne Hayes’ story,” she said. “It’s inspired by that time and by other tragedies such as the Ann Lovett case in Granard. It was an era that remained unresolved for me, it haunted me.”

Set in the aftermath of the 1983 pro-life referendum, In the Rosary Garden relates what happens when teenager Ali Hogan discovers a baby's body in the garden shed of her prosperous convent school. As Ali escapes from the media storm in Dublin to an uncle's farm in a remote rural town, a murder investigation is launched and suspicions arise about her part in the tragedy.


At the launch to support "a pitch perfect debut", novelist Declan Hughes commended the book as a fictional representation of a fraught period in Irish society: "It's set at a time when female sexuality in Ireland was in the dock and the incredibly human central character of Ali gives wonderful insight into this."

Currently resident in Scotland, White has already seen success in her adopted country, with the novel winning the Dundee International Book Prize last October. Emigrating shortly after the Kerry Babies tribunal, which marks its thirtieth anniversary this year, the author said she felt the need to leave Ireland: "There were no jobs in the arts so it was an economic decision above all but the culture around that time also contributed. Ireland in the 80s was not a comfortable place to live as a young person."

In the Rosary Garden will be reviewed by Declan Burke in The Irish Times this Saturday.

Sarah Gilmartin

Sarah Gilmartin

Sarah Gilmartin is a contributor to The Irish Times focusing on books and the wider arts