Giving birth alone and in terror still happens today
Published 12/05/2015 | 02:30
The items were pitifully sparse. A beige fleece blanket from Penneys, a scarcely used paper bag from Marks & Spencer and a rumpled black sack.
It was a collection, laid carefully out on the table by gardaí, that spoke silently, but with tremendous power, of inexperienced youth, poverty and sheer blind terror.
The modern-day equivalent of rags, it was all that lay between a tiny, newborn baby girl and the elements.
And it occupied a parallel universe to the cheerful list of infant 'essentials' supplied to expectant mothers by hospitals.
This collection brought the national memory back to a time in what we like to think of as our shameful past, when teenager Ann Lovett gave birth to a baby boy at Our Lady's Grotto in Granard, Co Longford, in January 1984.
That terrified young mother had wrapped her baby in her school coat.
By the time he was found he was lifeless, and Ann herself was suffering from shock and hypothermia, passing away in hospital a short time later.
Looking back 30 years after the tragedy, Gay Byrne last year recalled his famous 'Ann Lovett letters programme' that saw an outpouring of missives from women who revealed their own deeply moving stories and those of other women who had been 'in trouble'.
"Looking back at those letters now, it seems to me that not only are we living in a different country, not only are we living in a different era, it seems to me like we are living on a different planet," the legendary broadcaster said.
Yet some 30 years on, the only real difference seems to be simply that the time of year was more conducive to the survival of a baby outdoors.
And rather than the certain death of the mother, we have no idea of the physical or psychological state of the unfortunate woman or girl who gave birth this time.
But there have been more cases like these in between Ann Lovett and the little girl who has been given the temporary name of Maria until such a time as her mother comes forward.
In 2003, another baby girl, around just three days old, was discovered by a kitchen porter in a blue holdall bag resting on the boot of a car in the car park of South Infirmary Hospital in Cork.
Hospital staff named her Sophia and following a fruitless four-year search by the authorities for her mother, she was adopted.
Just two years before, in August 2001, a dead baby girl was discovered in a black plastic bag by children out playing in Garryowen, in Limerick city.
And in 1996, another baby girl was reunited with her mother, who had abandoned her in University College Hospital, Galway.
Ann Lovett was not the first to give birth alone and in terror. And despite our 21st Century protestations, neither was she the last.