SHE was a darling daughter, her death notice said, and a happy, intelligent, interested girl, according to her school.
whenever the name of Ann Lovett comes up, the words used to describe
her are heavy with tragedy, and, 30 years on from her death, little has
changed in the way her story can be told.
It remains a painful, shameful episode in the country’s social history.
Just 15 years old, Ann left class at the Mercy College in Granard, Co
Longford, during a wet and windy lunchtime on Jan 31, 1984, made her way
to the local grotto and gave birth to a baby boy under the watch of a
statue of the Virgin Mary.
She was found several hours later by some boys on their way home from
school, the stillborn infant wrapped in his mother’s coat and Ann near
death from cold and shock.
She died shortly after being brought to hospital, was buried a few days
later and became an international news story before the flowers on her
grave had begun to wither.
Everyone wanted to know how a girl from a family of nine siblings in a
town of barely a 1,000 people could have carried a baby to term without
anyone finding out, if indeed her pregnancy was the secret the
community claimed it to be.
Questions were asked about what kind of society made a bright girl feel
unable to ask for help or undeserving of support at what must have been
the most frightening time of her life.
Demands were made for action to ensure nothing like it happened again.
Three decades on, Ireland is a different country to the one in which Ann Lovett lived and died.
Much of the secretive, subservient nature of society has been cast off
by the child abuse scandals that shamed Church and State.
There is a far greater openness to discussion of sex and sexuality, and a far less judgmental attitude to unplanned pregnancy.
Children of unmarried parents are no longer denigrated as “illegitimate”
since the Status of Children Act abolished the term and the legal
inferiority it conferred.
The Unmarried Mothers’ Allowance, and the antipathy it attracted, has
vanished, to be replaced by the One Parent Family Payment.
The complexities of relationships, relationship failure, and the right
to move on from it, has been acknowledged by the introduction of
It is compulsory for schools to provide sex education, same-sex couples
can be legally recognised through civil partnerships, the morning-after
pill is available over the counter in pharmacies, and GAA stars and
aspirants to Áras an Úachtaráin can let the world know they’re gay.
There are also far fewer teenagers having babies than there were in
1984. According to the HSE’s Crisis Pregnancy Programme, the fertility
rate among girls aged 15-19 was around 23 for every 1,000 in that age
group, a figure that has fallen to 12.
In the years 2001 to 2012, the actual number of births in this age group
fell from 3,087 to 1,639 — a drop of 47%. The reduction is not, as some
might presume, made up for by a rise in the number of abortions, as the
number of Irish teenagers opting for termination has always been very
low and halved over the 10 years to 2012.
That’s the good news. However, a fertility rate of 12 is still quite
high by OECD standards. The Netherlands, which has the lowest rate, is
at just 3.5. And there were still 115 births to girls aged 16 or under
in 2012 — one every three days — and 36 of those were to girls aged 15
A report published this week by the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland on
alcohol, sexual activity, and consent also found worrying evidence that
teenagers struggle to assert themselves in resisting pressure to have
sex, have a poor understanding of what constitutes consent, and are made
extremely vulnerable by their overwhelming tendency to link sex with
The findings moved Youth Affairs Minister Frances Fitzgerald to say:
“The RCNI research questions whether we are giving our young people the
skills to negotiate their adult relationships.
“Is the education system reaching out to them enough so that they can
make informed choices about their sexual activity, as opposed to
uninformed or pressurised choices, which in some cases, as the report
examines, leads to sexual violence and rape?”
Niall Behan, CEO of the Irish Family Planning Association, echoes those
concerns, particularly around sex education which, while mandatory in
schools, is of varying quality.
“There are serious issues around sex education, in that it’s so
inconsistent and so uneven in terms of how and where it’s implemented,”
“You can have schools in the same town taking very different approaches
to sexuality education. There is a very good programme there but the
word that keeps coming up about how it’s implemented is ‘patchy’.
“What teachers will say is that it’s a crowded curriculum, they will say
it’s difficult to teach, and it certainly needs a different approach to
teaching standard subjects.
“The other concern is access to contraception. We know that access to
contraception has improved immensely but, for young people in
particular, there are two stand-out issues.
“One issue is the cost — it’s expensive. The other issue is the law.
It’s still very unclear for young people what the reaction of a doctor
or a pharmacy might be if they go to access contraceptive services.”
The age of consent for sex is 17, so medics must use discretion if a
person under 17 seeks contraception, using health professional
guidelines that have no legal basis to assess whether the youth is
mature enough and is making decisions of their own free will.
That’s unfair on both parties, says Behan, and discourages teenagers
from making wise choices around contraception, because they fear both
being refused and having parents notified.
“What we’ve done is we’ve used the criminal law to try to regulate the
behaviour of young people and it’s so unclear at the moment that young
people don’t know where they stand,” says Behan.
Another focus of the IFPA’s work is helping parents educate their children about sex and sexuality.
Despite all the changes over the past 30 years, today’s parents can
still find themselves utterly unprepared to tackle the subject, and the
IFPA has set up the Speakeasy programme to try to tool them up for the
“For a lot of us, even though we feel that this is the right thing to do
— to talk to our children — we weren’t brought up with the language or
the tools or the confidence to be able to do it,” says Behan.
“But when you look at the countries with low rates of teenage pregnancy,
they are relying on good conversations with parents, and with young
people feeling confident and being empowered to know when they are ready
for sex and the consequences of sex so that’s the bit we really need to
One change the IFPA has noticed over the years is that teenagers now
come to crisis pregnancy counselling sessions — and more importantly,
they come with a parent. “In fact, it would be very rare for a teenager
to come without a parent,” says Behan.
That often means the parents have a view on what should be done, so it
can be a challenge ensuring the young person’s preferences are heard.
But at least they’re talking, at least they’re open, at least they’re committed to working together.
In Granard, however, people who lived through the turmoil that followed
Ann Lovett’s death are still reluctant to talk about her.
The feeling that the town is still being judged remains and there is a
strong instinct to protect Ann’s mother, Patricia, who still lives
Patricia Lovett lost another daughter, 14-year-old Patricia, to an
overdose of prescription drugs just three months after she buried Ann,
and her husband, Diarmuid, died of a stroke three years later, so local
people are loathe to add to her suffering.
Sean Howard taught in the local boys’ school in 1984 and remembers the
upset. Now retired and a member of Granard Town Council, he believes the
town’s reputation suffered unfairly.
“Granard was no different from any town at the time,” he says. “I don’t see that we were all backwoods men in Granard.
“I know very little about the situation personally. That was a thing a
lot of people said at the time but it was true. It’s not that small a
town and we don’t all know everything about each other and we didn’t
“That’s all I could say really. I know Mrs Lovett to talk to and I know
it’s very traumatic for her to have to live through this again and again
every time there’s an anniversary and I don’t want to add to her
Retired community worker Sr Maeve Brady, a member of the Mercy Order in
Granard and a friend of Mrs Lovett, expresses much the same view.
She has never said much publicly about the tragedy, but spoke out on
the 20th anniversary of Ann’s death in a letter to a newspaper in which
she referred to Granard’s feelings of “immense loss and sadness” and
criticised the “insensitive comment” the town and its people had
She wrote: “The reality for us is that loyalty, solidarity, friendship,
respect and, above all, hope, have undergirded and strengthened our
living. Let no-one assume otherwise or call our response a hostile
Asked for comment for this current anniversary, she declined and urged a re-reading of her 2004 remarks.
“I thought long and hard about writing that letter. It said everything I wanted to say and it still does.”