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Wednesday 18 September 2019

Silence is broken as Ann Lovett's boyfriend speaks

Tragic teen died during childbirth in lonely grotto 34 years ago

The grave in Granard of schoolgirl Ann Lovett, who died in childbirth at a church grotto
The grave in Granard of schoolgirl Ann Lovett, who died in childbirth at a church grotto

Alan O'Keeffe

The former boyfriend of Ann Lovett, the schoolgirl who died in childbirth at a church grotto in Granard in January 1984, has spoken publicly for the first time.

Ricky McDonnell (51) said he believed she decided to give birth at the grotto on a wet winter's day in County Longford as "a protest" as she could have gotten help if she had asked for it.

He said he was 15 and Ann was 13 when they met. They began a sexual relationship after her 14th birthday.

They were no longer in a regular relationship when the schoolgirl died, aged 15, and she had repeatedly denied to McDonnell that she was pregnant, he said.

The death of Ann Lovett caused shockwaves in Irish society and the media 34 years ago. The teenager gave birth to a stillborn boy.

An inquest heard she died from irreversible shock, due to a combination of exposure and blood loss in childbirth.

Less than 12 weeks later, Ann's sister Patricia (14) died by suicide from an overdose at her home. Patricia and Ricky McDonnell had been given a lift home together from a dance by local curate Fr John Quinn just hours before she died.

In an interview, published yesterday in the Irish Times, he spoke of his deep distress after the death of Ann. As a 15-year-old, he said he was living alone in a council house in Granard. His father was dead and his mother and brother had recently moved to England.

McDonnell first met Ann when he was just 15 when he was having a drink in The Copper Pot pub in Granard. Ann was just 13 years old and helping her father behind the bar. The Lovett family lived over the pub.

He said Ann began to stay with him in his home four or five nights a week, sometimes going home at 4am or 7am, and they were in love, he said.

"She was very sharp, very witty. She could hold her own, she could stand up for herself… She was also loving and caring and kind."

He said she once arrived at his home deeply upset and crying and she had bruises on her thighs. When he asked her if she had been raped, she did not reply but begged him not to tell anybody.

He said they did not see each other much after that and they last had sex in summer 1983. Later, he heard she was pregnant but she denied it repeatedly. He said he told her he would stand by her if she was pregnant.

McDonnell was devastated after she died. He said a letter was found among her possessions addressed to him.

"The gist of the letter was, how much that Ann had loved me, and how sorry she was for doing what she was going to do," he said.

Speaking of her death, he said: "She could have walked into any place, anywhere in Granard, and said 'I'm having a baby' and they would have called her an ambulance. Anybody that's logical would have done that. But she didn't. She went to the grotto. And she done that for a reason. That isn't an accident.

"This is not about her going off somewhere quiet on her own. That is not Ann Lovett...So to me, this was a protest, on her behalf," he said.

Later McDonnell said Fr Quinn took him to meet Minister for Defence Patrick Cooney to ask for help in getting him enlisted in the Army.

Mr Cooney (87) told The Irish Times he had no recollection of meeting him. Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Cooney said he did not remember meeting him. When told that Fr Quinn stated the meeting took place, he said: "It was a long time ago. I've no recollection of it. If Fr Quinn remembers it happened, I have no difficulty with that."

McDonnell said he joined the Army and later moved to England. He drank to excess for many years "to forget everything" but gave up alcohol more than a decade ago.

Sunday Independent

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