Lovett, Ann (1968–84), schoolgirl, was born in Cobh, Co. Cork, on 6 April 1968, the seventh of nine children (three girls and six boys) of Diarmuid Lovett (d. 1987), builder and publican, and his wife Patricia (née MacNamee, d. 2015).
EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
The Lovett family moved in 1972 from Cobh to Diarmuid Lovett’s hometown of Kilnaleck, Co. Cavan, where he ran a building company, and then in 1981 to Granard, Co. Longford, where he took over the Copper Pot pub on Main Street. The family lived in the residence above the pub. In Granard, Ann Lovett enrolled in Cnoc Mhuire Convent of Mercy, a co-educational secondary school, where she completed her inter (junior) certificate in 1983 and was involved in the school magazine. English, biology and art were her favoured subjects, and her artistic talent in particular was remarked upon by teachers and friends. Small-framed and about 5ft 2in in height, she was known for her gregarious and independent nature. Her boyfriend Richard (Ricky) McDonnell, who she met when he was fifteen and she was thirteen, described her as ‘always having the craic … very sharp, very witty’ (Irish Times, 5 May 2018), as well as being kind and loving. In a 2018 interview he remembered being surprised at the time how much freedom Lovett had to stay out late and even to stay over in his house. At home Lovett shared a room with her younger sister Trisha, but the once-close pair fell out for unknown reasons in early or mid-1983.
DEATH AND AFTERMATH
In the early hours of Tuesday, 31 January 1984, Trisha woke up to find Lovett crying in pain on the bedroom floor. She offered help, but Lovett told her to go back to sleep. At 8am Patricia Lovett saw her daughter before she left their house on Main Street for school, then a neighbour, Bridie McMahon, reported seeing Lovett on the street shortly thereafter at around 8.30am – neither woman later reported anything unusual in her behaviour. Lovett, however, did not attend school that day, though her absence went unnoticed. When she did not come home for lunch as usual, her father said he assumed she had stayed on to work on the school magazine. Between midday and 12.30pm Lovett visited her friend Mary Maguire, who lived just a short distance from her home. She had confided to Mary a month previous that she was pregnant, which she had concealed for months under baggy clothes and by skipping physical education classes at school. On this day, Lovett asked Mary to come out with her, but her friend was unable to. It is thought that Lovett next went to the grotto, known locally as ‘the palms’, behind St Mary’s catholic church on a hill overlooking the town. It was raining heavily and would continue to do so all afternoon. Lovett lay down next to the guard rail of the grotto and gave birth to full-term, 6.5lb (2.9kg) stillborn baby boy, cutting the umbilical cord with scissors she had brought. She wrapped the baby in her coat, and remained lying on the ground next to him as she haemorrhaged and went into shock.
Around 4pm, Lovett was discovered at the grotto, still alive but suffering from exposure, by three schoolboys who quickly ran for help. Among the adults who attended her there was a local priest, Canon Francis Gilfillan, who administered the last rites to mother and baby – who was given the posthumous baptismal name of Pat. An ambulance was called by local general practitioner (GP), Dr Tom Donoghue, and Lovett was brought, along with deceased baby Pat, to her family home to wait for its arrival from Mullingar. The ambulance arrived at 5.10pm and Lovett’s mother travelled with her to Mullingar General Hospital, where she was pronounced dead shortly after admission. Lovett’s last known words, spoken to one of the boys who found her at the grotto, were ‘Tell the girls I’m sorry’ (Irish Times, 15 July 2023). Three days later, on Friday 3 February 1984, Lovett and baby Pat were buried together in Granardkille cemetery, two months short of Lovett’s sixteenth birthday.
The Sunday Tribune broke the story on 5 February, thanks to an anonymous tip from a Granard resident. Making it the lead story on the front page, under the headline ‘Girl, 15, dies giving birth in a field’, then-editor Vincent Browne decided to include Lovett’s name and address in the piece, sparking major upset in Granard. The media descended upon the small town, and the story was covered on RTÉ news programmes the next day (Monday 6 February). Nuala Fennell (qv), then minister of state with responsibilities for women’s affairs and family law, called for a public inquiry into the circumstances of Lovett's death – no inquiry was ever convened.
The Lovett family shut their doors to the press, while Sr Maria Plunkett, principal of Lovett’s school, read out a statement to camera on Tuesday, 7 February. Prepared with the assistance of solicitors, Plunkett’s statement insisted that none of the school staff were aware that Lovett had been pregnant, or that anything was amiss in her life more generally. She continued that had the school been aware of Lovett’s predicament, she would have been met with ‘understanding and compassion, as would be normal practice’ (Irish Times, 24 Mar. 2018). RTÉ’s Today Tonight broadcast the statement that evening in a special edition, which placed Lovett’s story in the broader context of teenage pregnancy and the need for formal sex education in Irish schools.
The school authorities granted no interviews, and students reported that there was no attempt to counsel them through those difficult days. The townspeople also closed ranks, with many aggrieved at how Granard was being portrayed in the media. At mass on 12 February, Canon Gilfillan said in his sermon that ‘The secret of what happened is with that little girl in the grave. 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’ (Irish Times, 24 Mar. 2018). Journalist Emily O’Reilly, who broke the story the week before, published a story that same day noting that rumours of Lovett’s pregnancy had been ‘rife’ in the town. Locals interviewed by O’Reilly claimed that the father was a slightly older teenage boyfriend in whose house Lovett sometimes stayed, and that sources had informed her that the nuns ‘knew something was wrong’ and had visited the Lovett home prior to her death (Sunday Tribune, 12 Feb. 1984).
On 16 February the Midlands Health Board issued a statement that while Lovett had not used any of its services, she had attended her local GP, Dr Tom Donoghue, twice in November 1983, seven months into her pregnancy, for treatment for shingles. It stated that she had kept her pregnancy secret from the doctor. An inquest into the deaths was held in Mullingar on 21 February and found Lovett’s death was due to irreversible shock caused by haemorrhage and exposure during childbirth. Asphyxia during birth was determined as the cause of death for the stillborn baby boy. Her parents gave evidence, stating they were unaware of Lovett’s pregnancy. In a statement read by a police officer, her mother said that there was no trouble at home and that she would have ensured her daughter received ‘proper care and attention’ had she known her situation (Irish Independent, 22 Feb. 1984). Mary Maguire also gave evidence that she had been aware of the pregnancy, saying ‘I thought she was going to seek help’ (Irish Times, 24 Mar. 2018).
On 22 April 1984, Lovett’s fourteen-year-old sister Trisha died by suicide. She had fallen into a depression after her sister’s death and visited Granardkille cemetery regularly, lying down next to the grave. Trisha had held Lovett’s hand and spoken to her as she was put into the ambulance to Mullingar, and became consumed by the question as to whether Lovett had known she was there with her and had heard her voice. Her friends described Trisha’s evident guilt at not having spoken to her sister for much of the previous year and for not having helped her when she was in pain in the early hours of the morning of 31 January. Trisha Lovett was buried with Ann and her infant nephew in Granardkille cemetery.
THE LONG SILENCE BREAKS
In March 2018, two weeks prior to what would have been Lovett’s fiftieth birthday, journalist Rosita Boland retold the story of Lovett’s death in a piece for the Irish Times, drawing on insights from her contemporaries from Granard to give a greater sense of the schoolgirl’s personality. Boland interviewed Ricky McDonnell for a follow-up piece in May 2018, who confirmed that he had been Lovett’s boyfriend up to mid-1983 but was unable to say whether he was the father of her child though he believed he likely was (the identity of the father has yet to be established). McDonnell stated that in April 1983 Lovett came to his home in a state of extreme distress and that her thighs were bruised and scuffed, but would not reveal the cause. After this incident they drifted apart.
Also interviewed for the May 2018 article, Lovett’s friend Belinda Lee (referred to as ‘Fiona’ in the article due to then-desired anonymity) recounted finding a letter amongst Lovett’s belongings that stated, ‘If I’m not dead by the 31st of January, I’m going to kill myself anyway’ (Irish Times, 5 May 2018). A second letter, addressed to McDonnell, was also found amongst her possessions in which, he says, she intimated her intention to kill herself and apologised for the hurt this would cause. According to McDonnell, he was subsequently visited by a local curate, Fr John Quinn, who demanded to read the letter and then instructed McDonnell to burn it, stating ‘It’ll destroy the town’ (Irish Times, 5 May 2018). Quinn subsequently took him to see Colm O’Reilly, bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, who wanted to know exactly what McDonnell had told the police about his relationship with Lovett, then swore him to a vow of silence. Quinn then took McDonnell on a short driving holiday around Ulster to get him away from the town and the media, and subsequently offered him work and a room in his house (O’Reilly subsequently denied ever meeting McDonnell, while Quinn denies having seen the letter from Lovett or taking McDonnell to see the bishop; he did confirm the driving holiday). After Trisha Lovett’s death, McDonnell left Granard and enlisted in the Defence Forces, then later moved to England; he struggled with alcohol addiction and mental health problems, which he attributed to his experiences in Granard.
In July 2023, sisters Belinda and Caroline Lee, who had been close to Ann and Trisha Lovett, shared with Rosita Boland a collection of letters and cards received from the Lovett sisters, with whom they had a daily correspondence as teenagers. Belinda Lee revealed that, in December 1983, Lovett confided that her father was violent toward her, showing Lee red welts on her legs that she said were from a beating with a lead pipe, and when asked about telling her mother, Lovett replied there was ‘no point’ (Irish Times, 15 July 2023).
Diarmuid Lovett died from a stroke in 1987 aged fifty-four, while Patricia Lovett died in 2015. She never spoke about the deaths of her two daughters. Louise Lovett, the family’s remaining daughter, became chief executive of Longford Women’s Link, a social enterprise which supports women in Longford to overcome various barriers to equality, including the provision of support for survivors of domestic violence. She also served on the board of the National Women’s Council of Ireland.
Ann Lovett’s death sparked a national outcry, highlighting the treatment of teenage and unmarried mothers, as well as legal restrictions on contraception (which would only become available to all adults in 1985, having previously required a prescription) and the failings of the state in the provision of sex education, which was largely considered a matter for parents only. Lovett’s pregnancy occurred during the divisive campaign on the referendum for the eighth amendment, and its aftermath, which enshrined an equal right to life for the unborn in the constitution (held in September 1983, passed by a two-thirds majority).
On 23 February 1984, two days after the inquest into Lovett’s death, the Gay Byrne radio show dedicated its full programme to reading letters it had received from women telling their stories of teenage pregnancy, being forced to give up their children for adoption, and then being rejected and shamed for their ‘sins’. Nell McCafferty wrote a bitterly ironic piece for InDublin magazine in which she criticised the catholic church’s ideology and resistance to state intervention in ‘family matters’, including its strident objections to free healthcare provision for mothers, welfare provision for deserted wives, and more. McCafferty also highlighted how this had given cover for both state and society to turn a blind eye to the suffering of girls like Ann Lovett: ‘So long as the Family kept silent, the community honoured the unwritten code of non-interference with the basic unity of society’ (InDublin, 24 Feb. 1984).
Shortly after Lovett’s death on 14 April 1984, the body of a murdered newborn baby was found on a beach near Caherciveen, Co. Kerry. The discovery sparked the infamous ‘Kerry babies’ investigation, in which gardaí were found to have bullied false confessions from, then fabricated an elaborate story against, Joanne Hayes, a single woman from Abbeydorney, and members of her family. Lovett’s death and the ‘Kerry babies’ case are counted among the pivotal events of the 1980s and 1990s that led to ‘catholic Ireland’ becoming a more secular and liberal state. Both were evoked again during the campaign to repeal the eighth amendment, which began in 2012 following the death by ‘medical misadventure’ of Savita Halappanavar (qv) at University Hospital Galway, and concluded with the removal of the amendment from the constitution in 2018.
Lovett has been memorialised by various writers and artists. Poets Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and Paula Meehan wrote pieces titled ‘Thar Mo Chionn’ (1984) and ‘The statue of the virgin at Granard speaks’ (1991), respectively. Christy Moore wrote his ‘Song for Ann Lovett’ in 1989, which opens with the line ‘Everybody knew, nobody said’. In 2022, Ann, a feature film written and directed by Ciaran Creagh was released, telling the story of Lovett’s final hours.