Ann Lovett: Death of a ‘strong, kick-ass girl’

The 15-year-old who died after giving birth at a grotto in Granard would have turned 50 in April

Ann Rose Lovett was a 15-year-old schoolgirl who died giving birth to a stillborn baby boy beside a grotto of the Virgin Mary at a church in Granard, Co Longford on January 31st, 1984. Photograph: Derek Speirs

 

“I remember being outside the church when the hearse arrived . . . I remember when they were taking the coffin out of the hearse, there was a collective gasp . . . Usually at a removal, you’d hear a mumble of people talking. But apart from that gasp, there was silence. What could anyone say?

Nuala Ledwith, who lived three miles outside Granard, Co Longford, at the time, is talking about the removal of Ann Lovett and her stillborn son to St Mary’s Church in Granard on Thursday, February 2nd, 1984. Two days previously, Ann Lovett had died after giving birth in the grotto adjoining St Mary’s. She was 15. The repercussions of her death continue to resonate powerfully in Irish society, more than three decades later.

* * * * *

Ann Lovett was born in Cobh general hospital on April 6th, 1968, and if she had lived, would be celebrating her 50th birthday next month. She was given Rose as her middle name, according to her birth cert. The family lived in the Co Cork town in a Victorian house on Graham’s Terrace overlooking the harbour.

She was the third youngest of nine children born to Diarmuid and Patricia Lovett. Ann’s father, who was from the village of Kilnaleck, Co Cavan, moved the family back there in 1972. In 1981, they moved to the nearby small town of Granard.

Main Street, Granard, Co Longford where Ann Lovett and her familly lived. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Main Street, Granard, Co Longford where Ann Lovett and her familly lived. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Diarmuid Lovett bought the Copper Pot bar on the town’s Main Street and the family lived above it. The pub didn’t seem to open much, or get much trade. He was also a carpenter, but was unemployed and didn’t appear to have adjusted successfully to the role of publican.

Patricia Lovett, née McNamee, was a private woman who kept to herself and attended Mass regularly. “Lily”, a close friend now aged 86 and still living in Co Longford, recalls her as “a lovely, lovely decent woman. She was a great parish worker and very religious”.

Ann was 'very engaging. She was very, very outgoing, very bubbly, and a bit of a tomboy. She was gregarious'

At the time of Ann Lovett’s death, also living at home were her younger sister Patricia (14), and brother Stephen (12). Some of the other children had left home by then, including her only other sister, Louise, who was working in Dublin. The other siblings were Neil, Gerard, Colman, Stephen, Kevin and Diarmuid.

Both Ann and her sister Patricia attended the Cnoc Mhuire secondary school in the town. It was a mixed school, with 300 girls and 175 boys, and well-known in the county for its excellent basketball team. Ann had done her Inter Cert the previous summer and was involved in the school magazine, ach. Her favourite subjects were art, English and biology.

A drawing by Ann Lovett for her school magazine “Feach” which was reproduced in the “Longford Leader”
A drawing by Ann Lovett for her school magazine “Feach” which was reproduced in the “Longford Leader”

Nuala Ledwith, who was two years ahead of Ann at school, describes her as “pixie-faced, with dark-brown hair”, about shoulder length, slight and not much more than five-foot-two in height. “I always thought she was a strong kind of a girl; a kick-ass kind of girl.”

“Michael” was in Ann’s year, and often sat beside her in class. “She was a pretty girl. She nearly always had her hair tied up in loads and loads of little plaits. Every so often, she would undo the braids and her hair would stick out in all these lovely curls.”

Ann was “very engaging. She was very, very outgoing, very bubbly, and a bit of a tomboy. She was gregarious, and the life and soul of all the fun that was happening. The one thing I remember most strongly about her after all these years is that she seemed very independent and strong.”

She was fond of hanging out with her friends in Granard’s one small “pool hall” – in reality a little grocery shop with a pool table and four Space Invader game machines crammed into it. A friend pierced her ears for her one evening when Ann called to her house.

In the fashion of the 1980s, she took to wearing baggy jumpers and big jackets, but she may not have been wearing them to be fashionable. In January 1984, Ann Lovett was nine months pregnant.

Ann Lovett, in what is believed to be the first photo of her to be made public. Photograph: The Irish Times

January 31st, 1984, Dawn

Main Street Granard is anchored at one end by the Cnoc Mhuire secondary school, and by St Mary’s church on an small hill at the other end. That Tuesday morning the sun rose over the town at 8.14am. The forecast was for a cold, wet windy day.

Ann Lovett’s mother saw her in the bathroom at about 8am. “She appeared to be her normal self, ” she would later tell the inquest.

Barely a quarter of an hour after the weak winter light dawned in Granard, Bridie McMahon, a neighbour of the Lovetts, was making her way home from early Mass at St Mary’s church. She saw Ann on the street, carrying her red schoolbag, and did not notice anything unusual about her behaviour.

McMahon did not know until later, that along with her books, Ann’s schoolbag contained a pair of scissors she had taken from the family home.

Diarmuid Lovett did not get up until about 9am that day. He thought Ann had gone to school as normal. According to her mother, Ann had never missed a day at school. But Ann Lovett did not go to school that day, and was apparently not missed by either teachers or classmates.

Bridie McMahon seems to have been the only person who saw her between about 8.30am and shortly after noon. It is possible she spent that time out of sight at the grotto, as she was not at school, not at home, not with friends, and was not seen around the small town with its one main street and population of 1,285.

Ann did not appear home for lunch either. “I was slightly curious about this, but it happened before,” her father said. “I thought she might have stayed on to help out with the school magazine.”

Sometime between noon and 12.30pm, Ann called to the house of her closest friend, Mary Maguire, on Moxham Street, less than a two-minute walk from Ann’s home on Main Street. Two days previously, she had told Mary she had a pain in her stomach.

It was to Mary she had come on December 27th, put her arms around her, and confided, “Mary, God, I’m pregnant.” She didn’t tell Mary how many months pregnant she was; perhaps she did not know herself.

On that January day, Ann wanted Mary to come out with her, somewhere unspecified, that they could go together. Mary couldn’t leave the house, as she was babysitting. Ann asked her for a cigarette.

12.45pm: Labour

Ann left the Moxham Street house at about 12.45pm, turned right, and walked towards the church and its grotto. It was now raining heavily, and whether she realised it or not, Ann was either in, or approaching, the early stages of labour.

The grotto was built in the 1930s, under the direction of Fr Peter O’Farrell who had been a curate in Longford town, and volunteered in the Royal Irish Regiment. The grotto’s distinctive railings and water font that remain in situ today had come out of the chapel of Granard workhouse, which closed in 1922. The workhouse had long since been demolished, and on its site stands the Cnoc Mhuire secondary school.

She cut the umbilical cord with the scissors and wrapped her dead baby in her coat

Ann took the scissors out of her schoolbag, leaving the bag near the entrance. Sometime between 12.45pm and 4pm, she lay down beside the workhouse chapel railings, removed her underwear, and gave birth in the rain.

She cut the umbilical cord with the scissors she had brought from home, and wrapped her dead baby in her coat.

He was full term and weighed 6½ pounds. Then she lay down again on the wet mossy gravel, in her school uniform, in the persistent rain, without her coat, her body beginning to go into irreversible shock.

The grotto where Ann Lovett gave birth. Photograph: Derek Speirs
The grotto, with its railing from the old Granard workhouse, where Ann Lovett gave birth. Photograph: Derek Speirs

4pm: ‘It’s a doctor you need’

At about 4pm, three boys were walking home from Granard Tech when one of them, Jimmy Brady, spotted the abandoned schoolbag. They heard moaning coming from the grotto, and they discovered Ann lying on her back and the dead baby nearby. Her knees and elbows were bruised, dirt lodged underneath her fingernails. There was a lot of blood.

“I took her hand and asked if she was alright. She opened her eyes and then closed them again,” Brady said.

None of the boys stayed with Ann. They ran together for help, out on to Church Street, and hailed the first person they saw. It was a man called Tony Kelly.

“They said there was a girl after falling,” he said. “I thought they meant, she fell from the top of the statue, like, when she was coming from school. So I went up and seen this little girl and her baby lying on the gravel. And I asked the big lad, ‘Who is she?’ and he said, ‘It’s Ann Lovett.’

“So I held her hand to see was she alright, like, and she was very cold. I put her hand down again. So I went in for the priest, and I rang at the door.

“And the priest come out, and I told him, and he says, ‘It’s a doctor you need.’ And I said ‘I need you too, Father, the baby is after dying and this little girl might be dying too.’”

Despite the canon saying it was a doctor who was needed, he did not phone for one. Canon Gilfillan went instead to collect the items needed to perform the Last Rites.

Meanwhile, the three boys had again run out into the road and knocked at the door of a nearby house. It was the Gallagher home and Eugene Gallagher’s young daughter answered. She went to her father, who was out back in his workshop, and told him something terrible was happening at the grotto. He rushed to the grotto, at which point the canon and Tony Kelly were arriving on the scene. Gallagher raced back across the road again to call for a doctor.

It was then 4.14pm, and Gallagher phoned the local doctor, Dr Tom Donoghue, who was in his surgery. Dr Donoghue immediately called an ambulance, which had to come from Mullingar hospital, 42 kilometres away. Gallagher took blankets from the house and hurried back to the grotto for a second time.

It was still raining heavily, and dusk was beginning to fall. When Eugene Gallagher arrived on the scene for the second time, Canon Gilfillan was administering the Last Rites to Ann and her baby.

By that time, the three boys had gone up Main Street, to the Copper Pot, to alert Ann’s family.

Diarmuid Lovett was at home, pottering around in a corrugated shed in the back garden, when the boys burst in and told him: “Ann is up at the grotto having a baby.”

The Lovetts’ youngest son, Stephen, was also at home and the pair of them went at once to the grotto. Ann’s mother was not at home. She was elsewhere in Main Street, grocery shopping.

Nine people had now witnessed a scene at the Granard grotto which none of them were ever likely to forget

Shortly after Diarmuid and Stephen Lovett got to the grotto, Dr Donoghue also arrived. His medical eye recognised that Ann was suffering from shock, exposure and haemorrhage. “I had a little hope for her, but not much. She was very critically ill,” he said later.

At this point, standing over Ann, now covered in blankets, was Tony Kelly, Canon Gilfillan, Eugene Gallagher, Dr Donoghue, her father and her little brother. Nine people had now witnessed a scene at the Granard grotto which none of them were ever likely to forget.

The baby and Ann were carried to Dr Donoghue’s car, and he drove Diarmuid Lovett, his dying daughter and dead grandson back to the family home on Main Street to await the ambulance.

Back at the Copper Pot, Patricia Lovett had come home and out on Main Street word was rapidly spreading about what the three boys had seen at the grotto.

Diarmuid Lovett put two hot water bottles close to the body of the baby, although it was evident the child was dead. They lit an oil stove and attempted to keep Ann warm.

5.55pm: Cold to the touch

The ambulance arrived at 5.10pm, by which point it was dark. Patricia Lovett travelled with Ann and the baby, while her father remained at home.

Also in the ambulance was a Sr Damien, who was attached to St Joseph’s Hospital, Longford. Ann was still conscious. “I asked the girl her name and she attempted to answer, but I couldn’t make out what she said,” Sr Damien said.

At 5.55pm, Ann was admitted to Mullingar hospital, and it was noted her lips and fingertips were white on arrival; a medical state called cyanosis. Her school uniform was soaked, and she was cold to the touch. The obstetrician in attendance, Dr Marie Skelly, directed that blood and oxygen be given. “Momentarily there were signs of recovery, but almost immediately she stopped breathing,” said Dr Skelly. She said it was difficult to ascertain whether Ann had hypothermia and exposure, or haemorrhage. Ann did not respond when her chest was opened for direct cardiac massage.

Ann Rose Lovett died shortly afterwards, aged 15 years, nine months and 25 days.

It is a little-known fact that Ann’s son was given the posthumous baptismal name of Pat

Diarmuid Lovett was phoned from the hospital at about 7pm to tell him that Ann was dead. By the time an unwitting Mary Maguire left her home on Moxham Street shortly after, the news was already out in the town. She heard it from a group of friends gathered together in a doorway on Main Street. “Ann Lovett is after dying,” they told her bluntly.

It is a little-known fact that Ann’s son was given the posthumous baptismal name of Pat. They were to be buried in the one coffin, and the child needed a baptismal name. The postmortem on the two bodies was conducted by Dr Ken Cunnane, a pathologist with the Midlands Health Board. The bodies remained at Mullingar Hospital until Thursday, February 2nd, when they were removed to St Mary’s Church in Granard.

The funeral was held the following morning, with Ann’s shocked classmates making a guard of honour outside the church, and then singing in the choir inside. One of her teachers, Pat Kilvan, played the violin during the funeral service. Among those in attendance was Fianna Fáil TD John Wilson, a future tánaiste. Ann and her baby were buried together in Granardkill graveyard.

February 5th: Front-page news

Jim Gray was then a reporter for the Longford Leader. A colleague got an anonymous call about Ann Lovett’s death, but it as too late for that edition of the weekly paper, which had already gone to press.

Gray can’t prove it, but he believes the call came from a garda in Granard, where there was a rural station. He also believes that when the article was not carried in that week’s Longford Leader, the same person contacted the Sunday Tribune.

Emily O’Reilly, then a reporter with the Sunday Tribune, was assigned the story. The first most people became aware of the death of Ann Lovett and her baby was after O’Reilly’s report featured on the front page of the the Sunday Tribune on February 5th, two days after her funeral. The news immediately convulsed the country.

That evening, Nuala Fennell, who was then a minister of state with responsibilities for women’s affairs and family law, described it as a “national tragedy” and called for an inquiry, “regardless of whose sensibilities were hurt”.

The Lovett family shut their pub and their front door, and did not open either to reporters

By the following day, Granard was the focus of intense media attention. The one question everyone wanted an answer to was: how could this have happened?

It was a question that led inevitably to other, difficult, uncomfortable, and important questions. Who knew Ann was pregnant? Who was the father – a person guilty of statutory rape for having sex with a minor – and where was he?

The Lovett family shut their pub and their front door, and did not open either to reporters.

The headline on Emily O’Reilly’s report in the “Sunday Tribune”, on Sunday, February 5th, 1984
The headline on Emily O’Reilly’s report in the “Sunday Tribune”, on Sunday, February 5th, 1984
The Irish Times front pages story about Ann Lovett's death on Monday, February 6th, 1984
The Irish Times front pages story about Ann Lovett's death on Monday, February 6th, 1984

February 7th: A public statement

On Tuesday, February 7th, Sr Maria Plunkett, principal of Cnoc Mhuire, gave a public statement. It was common knowledge in the town that the school had consulted solicitors before writing this statement.

In front of the assembled media, Sr Plunkett sat among her silent staff and read out the following words in a shaky voice.

“It is difficult to express how the staff feel on this sad and tragic occasion. We have gone through the past week with Ann’s family, and shared their grief and their sense of loss. Ann was an intelligent and bright girl who took an active part in school life and was interested in her studies. She seemed happy in school and gave no indication of being under stress. No one on the staff knew she was pregnant. Had we known about Ann’s pregnancy, we would have taken her with understanding and compassion, as would be normal practice. We would have helped her to accept it, to cope with it, and also put her in touch with those who would enable her to make the necessary arrangements for the proper care of herself and of her baby. We respect and accept the personality and individuality of each of our pupils. The circumstances of this tragedy reflect an element of mystery on everyone’s part.”

Nell McCafferty, who went to Granard for In Dublin magazine, wrote that one staff member had refused to sit with colleagues that morning while the statement was being read, disgusted at what they perceived as hypocrisy.

“I was in Granard for three days,” she says when asked how she knew this. “People knew who I was and what my views were. They came to me, and told me things, including that story about the teacher.”

The rumour mill

Ann’s classmate Michael lived outside Granard, on the school bus route. The first he heard of the news was on the day after Ann’s death. “We were told the news in the gym, by the principal. I can’t remember a single thing about how she phrased it, just that Ann was dead. I can distinctly remember all of us aligning around the edge of the gym and talking about it, and all of us being in shock. It was all very surreal.

“The people living in the town knew a lot more, and the rumour mill went into overdrive. When we found out about the details, about how she died, and where she died, sure that was like something you’d write, rather than something that was real. We didn’t know what to say.”

I know some other students were unhappy with the way the nuns handled it

After that morning assembly in the gym, students were expected to return to class. “It was not quite immediate business as usual, but it was definitely a get-back-to-work kind of thing,” Michael says.

“I know some other students were unhappy with the way the nuns handled it. They could have been a bit more consoling. Or understanding, and empathetic. Or helped give us an opportunity to grieve. What happened to Ann was such a big thing at the time, and very, very, very unusual.”

Carl Sullivan, who was a student in the school at the time, and who now runs a photography business in Longford, also recalls the atmosphere in the school during those days. “It was very morose . . . and quiet. There was none of the usual messing. It was an awful thing, because at that time, a teenage pregnancy was awful.”

Jim Gray was there on that day when Sr Plunkett read her statement. He had hoped, representing a local newspaper, that the nuns would be more open with him, and give an additional interview. They did not.

“They wouldn’t deviate from their statement in any way,” he says now, by phone from Sligo. They did however give him one of Ann’s drawings, which she had made to elicit contributions to the school magazine, and which the Longford Leader carried on its front page that week.

He had tried hard to get people to talk. “I knocked on doors and people said they didn’t know the Lovetts at all. There just seemed to be this numbing thing: ‘please go away, and take the story away with you.’”

Government reacts

The same day Sr Plunkett was reading out her statement to the media, a government meeting was being held in Dublin about the Ann Lovett case. Handwritten notes of that meeting were taken on a pink slip by the assistant secretary to the government, with various words crossed out, as if there was some uncertainty about what to write.

“Govt received a report from M/Health & Education; expressed sympathy with the parents and family: in sofar as in inquiry is concerned, there will an inquest. Great personal tragedy [word crossed out] which shld not be compounded by [word crossed out] particular kinds of [word ‘public’ crossed out] attention.”

Handwritten note from government meeting on February 7th, 1984, about the Ann Lovett case
Handwritten note from government meeting on February 7th, 1984, about the Ann Lovett case

Barry Desmond, now 82, was the minister for health. He, like most other people, had first heard of the story two days earlier in the Sunday Tribune. “The senior officers in the department were absolutely horrified and so was I,” he says now.

At his home in south Dublin, he examines a photograph of this document, which was released as a State Paper in 2016. He says that the reference to “report” was not a formal written report; it was in the form of a verbal briefing to cabinet members about what was known of the case.

There is just one other State Paper relating to Ann Lovett’s death, which was also released in 2016. It is dated February 10th, 1984; another pink piece of paper relating to a government meeting, typed and headed, “For internal use only – not to be sent outside the department.”

“The minister for health mentioned certain further facts which had come to light since his first report. The course of action to be followed by him was agreed.”

What were these facts that had “come to light”?

“They were very basic,” says Desmond. “The CEO of the Midlands Health Board [Denis J Doherty] told the department he was going to have an investigation, and that he was going to get a report, and that he would make it available to the department.”

A typed note from a government meeting on Februarty 10th, 1984, headed “For internal use only. Not to be sent outside the department”
A typed note from a government meeting on Februarty 10th, 1984, headed “For internal use only. Not to be sent outside the department”

February 12th: A strong sermon

Granard people quickly stopped talking to the media: a silence which continues to this day. Eugene McGee was the then editor of the Longford Leader. Speaking at his sunny office behind his home in Longford now, he recalls that time.

“I know from talking to Granard people they were completely at sea as to what was to be done or what was going to happen. They were hit with an absolute avalanche of media coverage. Everyone ran for cover is the best description. They didn’t want to get involved at all.

“You couldn’t over-emphasise the psychological damage this event did to the people of Granard. What they were hit with at the time from the media coverage was that Granard people were at fault; that they were a crowd of barbarians to have let this happen, and that’s what really stung and it still stings,” he says.

My job was mainly to try and assuage the people of Granard: to tell them that they weren’t a crowd of savages

McGee says he is unsurprised by the continued silence of local people in Granard, 34 years later. “There’s obviously a complete omertà on the thing, and nobody wants to talk about it. People now are afraid to be the first one to speak out. That is the sort of bind people are in now.

“It is astonishing that hardly any named person from the reports at the time has since said anything about it. It sounds ludicrous in this modern day and age where you have whistleblowers, but that’s just the way it is.”

McGee wrote a controversial front page editorial, “Ann Lovett’s Decision”; two sentences of which read, “Who is to say Ann Lovett did not die happy? Who is to say she has not fulfilled her role in life as God decreed?”

He is uncomfortable discussing that editorial now. He was the editor of a local paper, he explains, who depended on local advertising and sales, and could not alienate his readers.

“My job was mainly to try and assuage the people of Granard: to tell them that they weren’t a crowd of savages,” he says.

If local people felt anger towards the national media, there was also a sense in Granard of having being betrayed by someone within their own community. That week, via a spokesperson, Canon Gilfillan stated to the media that “Whoever gave the news to Dublin was only spreading scandal.”

Canon Gilfillan stood up at Sunday Mass on February 12th and delivered a strongly-worded sermon. “The secret of what happened is with that little girl in the grave,” he said. “What happened should have been left to the town to deal with in its own way. My firm belief is what happened should not have been covered by RTÉ or the newspapers: it should have been kept parochial, local. They gave us loud-mouthed publicity of the worst kind, but God is good and able to triumph over evil reporting.”

Midlands health board report

On February 16th, 11 days after the story became public, the Midlands Health Board issued a statement about the findings of its report. Chief executive Denis J Doherty told the media that Ann had not accessed any of their services: the public health nurse, social workers, or community welfare officers.

She had, however, attended the local Granard doctor, Dr Tom Donoghue, twice in recent months. The first time was on November 2nd and the second occasion was November 25th, at which point she was seven months pregnant.

The next time Dr Donoghue saw Ann Lovett was two months later, dying at the grotto.

“The consultations related to a medical condition [shingles] totally unrelated to her pregnancy,” Doherty stated. “The diagnosis arrived at did not necessitate the taking of specimens for analysis and the physical examination required was of a type which did not reveal any indication that the patient might be pregnant.”

The inquest

Granard gardaí had sent a file on the case to the coroner, which has never been made public. The one other person apart from the gardaí who definitely saw this file was coroner Patrick Mangan, who has never publicly commented on the Lovett case.

The inquest into the deaths of Ann and Pat Lovett was held at 3pm on February 21st, 1984. It was conducted at the Westmeath County Council building in Mullingar, and the public gallery was full. Among those in the gallery were friends of Ann, and one of her teachers.

Granard gardaí were represented by Insp Patrick J Colleran. The hearing lasted just 48 minutes, before an all-male jury of six.

Diarmuid Lovett told the inquest: “The family was united and we never at any stage knew she was pregnant.”

He spoke of their “close-knit” family. He also said that he and his wife were aware that Ann had had a boyfriend who was a few years older than her and they had advised her against seeing him, due to this age gap.

Ann’s mother’s statement was read out by Insp Colleran. The inquest heard that there was “no trouble” at home. “I never thought she was pregnant. If I had known, I would have made sure that she would have got proper care and assistance.” She wept as her statement was read out.

Ann Lovett’s mother Patricia at the inquest into her death. Photograph: Getty Images/INM
Ann Lovett’s mother Patricia and father Diarmuid (below) at the inquest into her death. Photographs: Getty Images/INM
Diarmuid Lovett, Ann’s father, at the inquest into her death. Photograph: Getty Images/INM
Diarmuid Lovett, Ann’s father, at the inquest into her death. Photograph: Getty Images/INM

Mary Maguire, the friend in whom Ann confided, also gave evidence. “Ann told me she was pregnant and she didn’t know what to do about it. I wasn’t shocked, as I had had my doubts. She had been getting sick fairly often,” she said. “I thought she was going to seek help.”

Dr Marie Skelly, the obstetrician who had attended Ann in Mullingar hospital, told the inquest that “I have known of five certain cases where pregnancy was concealed right up to the time of birth, even from people in the same house and I have known of two that were concealed from people sharing a room with the pregnant woman.”

Pathologist Ken Cunnane reported that in his opinion, Ann’s death had been caused by irreversible shock. This was due to a combination of exposure and blood loss in childbirth, with exposure being the main factor.

The baby had died from asphyxia, probably in delivery, and had been stillborn.

In summing up, coroner Patrick Mangan said it was clear Ann’s parents did not know she was pregnant, otherwise they would have sought help for her. He directed the jury to deliver a verdict of death consistent with the pathologist’s findings.

Who knew?

Around Christmas, 1983, Nuala Ledwith was in Granard with a friend, and they saw Ann walking on the street. “My pal said, I don’t care what anyone says, but she’s not pregnant.”

“I said, is she supposed to be? That was the first I had heard of it. I took stock of her then. She had a kind of a big jacket on her, but baggy clothes were the style at the time. I felt a dread for her, more than a surprise at the news, because of what she might have to go through.”

Michael says he did not know Ann was pregnant. “I was a 15-year-old boy. I had no clue about stuff like that then. Put it this way, why would you think your classmate was pregnant?”

As for the wider community, “I find it very hard to fathom that the adults didn’t know. I think it is completely unusual that nobody would not have noticed she was nine months pregnant.”

He heard from the school rumour mill that it was suspected Ann had had an older boyfriend: some seven or eight years older. But people weren’t sure. He never heard a name. “At the time,” he says now, “it was all so taboo to talk about these things: being pregnant outside marriage, especially as a teenager, and especially when you were still at school.”

If anyone in Granard stands indicted, it is the nod-and-wink moralisers who knew the girl’s plight – and cracked jokes about it

John Aidan Byrne was a reporter at the time for the now defunct Longford News. He was 25 at the time, and has been living in New Jersey since 1986, continuing to work as a reporter.

Although from Co Louth, Byrne had relatives in Granard, and people trusted him enough to talk to him. It was Byrne who discovered that the baby boy had been baptised with the name of Pat.

One of the shops opposite Cnoc Mhuire was a small grocery, run by Michael McCarthy. It was here that the father of one of the school’s students admitted to Byrne, while remaining anonymous, that his daughter had told him some months earlier about Ann Lovett’s pregnancy.

In Byrne’s news report at the time, he wrote, “If anyone in Granard stands indicted, it is the scandal-givers, the nod-and-wink moralisers who knew the girl’s plight – and cracked jokes about it.”

He tells The Irish Times from his home in the US that local people told him Ann’s pregnancy had been known to them, to the extent that some people were joking openly about it prior to her death.

The Longford Leader, in its first report on the story on February 10th, asked the same question: who knew? “From our investigations, we are satisfied that many of Ann Lovett’s school pals did know, and several adults in Granard knew,” ran a sentence in Eugene McGee’s and Jim Gray’s report.

How did they discover this, I asked McGee when I visited him. “I picked up the phone and talked to people in Granard who knew me,” he says.

It appeared plenty of people in the town had either suspected or knew Ann Lovett was pregnant.

Emily O’Reilly went to Granard on February 12th. Two local men, retired army officer Pat Scanlon, and his friend Pat Maguire, told her about the rumours of pregnancy going around the town months before Ann died.

“I wonder now was there any fallout for them when I named them,” O’Reilly says now, on a visit home to Dublin from Strasbourg, where she is the European Ombudsman.

Mary Maguire, Ann Lovett's best friend at the inquest. Photograph INM/Getty Images
Mary Maguire, Ann Lovett's best friend at the inquest. Photograph INM/Getty Images

“At least four people knew,” a distressed Mary Maguire told other reporters at the time. Of Ann, she said, “We were like sisters. It has not really hit me yet. I am just too sad to talk about it.”

“We all knew Ann was going to have a baby,” an unnamed female student at the Cnoc Mhuire school told another reporter.

February 23rd, the Gay Byrne Radio Show

Two days after the inquest, on February 23rd, the Gay Byrne Radio Show gave over the entire programme to reading out letters sent in by people who had their own stories of concealed pregnancies. It was a landmark piece of radio lodged deep in the national consciousness.

The inquiry that an outraged Nuala Fennell had called for into Ann Lovett’s death never happened. At the government meeting the following day, the results from the pending inquest were deemed to be enough.

The Garda file that went to the coroner has never been publicly seen. The Midlands Health Board had already publicly announced its findings, but the report did not make it to Dublin: Barry Desmond says he never saw it. “The archives of the Department of Health was a complete shambles at the time.”

Rural Ireland was a closed society then on matters relating to the care and protection of children

Gemma Hussey, now 79, then minister for education, tells The Irish Times she is not aware of any department report at the time in connection to Ann Lovett’s case.

Extensive efforts by The Irish Times to determine what, if any, archival documents relating to Ann Lovett are held in the Departments of Health, Justice, or Education, have yielded no results. Nor have inquiries to the Garda press office.

“Rural Ireland was a closed society then on matters relating to the care and protection of children,” Desmond says. “Had the tragic remains of that baby been found today, the State would immediately have taken DNA, and it would have been preserved for any future inquiry.”

The Lovett family

On April 22nd, 1984, less than three months after Ann died, her sister Patricia, aged 14, died by suicide.

Diarmuid Lovett died three years later, aged 57. Patricia Lovett remained living on Main Street, Granard, until her death in June 2015, aged 81.

Louise Lovett, the one remaining daughter of the family, is now the chief executive of Longford Women’s Link; an organisation that aims to “link women in the pursuit of justice and equality.”

She is also a board member of the National Council for Women in Ireland, and of Safe Ireland, a social change agency working on domestic violence. She did not respond to requests for an interview.

None of the family has ever spoken publicly about the events of 1984.

Lily, Patricia Lovett’s close friend, says that in all the years she knew her, she never once talked about either of her daughters. “I remember one day saying something about Ann’s death, and she said, ‘That was a good while back.’ She kind of closed it down herself.”

Lily considers the Lovett family were “shunned” by people in Granard after Ann died. “It was the shame. That Ann was pregnant and not married. That she died. All of what happened, but mostly that she was pregnant.

“Nobody ever knew who the culprit was who made her pregnant. I never knew. That was kept top secret. Isn’t it funny how the men always get away with it?”

“Ann was a girl who was full of life, and had a great energy about her,” says Michael. “I’m sure she would have done great things in her life, had she been able to live it,” is the last thing he says, looking haunted at the memory of his former classmate.

The Irish Times made sustained attempts to contact a number of people associated with this story. Of those who responded, most declined to be interviewed. Some names in this report have been changed. Their identity is known to The Irish Times

Rosita Boland can be contacted at rboland@irishtimes.com   

  • This article was amended on March 26th, 2018
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