Thursday 18 January 2018

The life and death of Ann Lovett is a tragedy that haunts the nation and one we should never forget

The headstone of Ann Lovett, in Granard, Co Longford
The headstone of Ann Lovett, in Granard, Co Longford
The grotto outside Granard Town where Ann Lovett died after giving birth 30 years ago. Photo: Frank McGrath

On January 31, 1984, 15-year-old Ann Lovett left school in Granard, Co Longford, and instead of going home like the other children in her class, she went to a grotto in the town and gave birth to her baby at the foot of a statue of Our Lady. Her son died there and later that day, this young girl, described in her death notice as a "darling daughter" and a "happy, intelligent girl" also died in hospital.

The tragedy sparked a public outcry and forced the nation to start a discussion that continues to this day. The setting for the birth and death couldn't have been more poignant, as it symbolised the stranglehold the Catholic Church had on the nation at that time, indoctrinating its flock the conceit that sex outside marriage was a sin. This was no country for young women, many of whom were shamed into giving their children up for adoption while others fled to England for abortions.

Some called Ann a "martyr" for her generation, because it was only after the country heard of her harrowing experience that it was forced to sit up and account for its treatment of girls who needed support. Suddenly, women started talking about their experiences, thanking Ann for giving them the courage to express what they had kept secret for so long. So many of them deluged Gay Byrne with letters recounting their own stories of being pregnant and feeling desperately alone, he said they "couldn't be ignored". They didn't want Ann's sacrifice to be in vain. So they came forward. No more secrecy, no more lies.

If Ann Lovett's death held a mirror up to the nation, the reflection it revealed was a shameful society. Three decades on, we like to think Ireland is a very different country to the one in which this young mother lived and died, yet it was only in 2013 a new law was passed allowing abortion under certain circumstances, if the mother's life is at risk, including from suicide - and that came only after the death of Savita Halappanavar led to nationwide protests calling for a change to the law.

Ann Lovett's death prompted the start of a discussion that was long overdue. This latest case of baby 'Maria' shows us that discussion is far from over.

Irish Independent

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