Ann Lovett, a 15-year-old schoolgirl from Granard, County Longford, dies on January 31, 1984 while giving birth beside a grotto. Her baby son dies at the same time and the story of her death plays a huge part in a seminal national debate in Ireland at the time on women giving birth outside marriage.
Tuesday, January 31, 1984 is a cold, wet, winter’s day in Granard. That afternoon, the fifteen-year-old school girl leaves her Cnoc Mhuire Secondary School and makes her way to a Grotto dedicated to the Virgin Mary at the top of her small hometown in the Irish midlands. It is here beneath the statue of Our Lady, that she gives birth, alone, to her infant son.
At around 4:00 PM some children on their way home from school see Ann’s schoolbag on the ground and discover her lying in the Grotto. They alert a passing farmer who rushes to the nearby priest’s house to inform him of the chilling discovery of Ann and her already deceased baby in the adjacent grotto. The priest’s response to his request for help is “It’s a doctor you need.”
Ann, still alive but hemorrhaging heavily, is carried to the house of the Parish Priest from where a doctor is phoned. She is then driven in the doctor’s car to her parents house in the centre of the town. By the time an ambulance arrives it is already too late.
Ann Lovett and her child are quietly buried three days later in Granardkill cemetery.
An inquest is held in Mullingar a few weeks later and finds that Ann’s death is due to irreversible shock caused by hemorrhage and exposure during childbirth. The inquest also confirms that, contrary to claims emanating from the local community, some people did indeed know about Ann’s condition before her death. Subsequent inquiries by the Gardaí, the Department of Education and the Midlands Health Board have yet to be published leaving the tragic events of that day and the circumstances that forced a young girl to leave her classroom on a cold, wet winters day to give birth alone in a grotto, still shrouded in uncertainty.
Ann Lovett’s death comes just four months after the outcome of a divisive abortion referendum in which a two-thirds majority vote to enshrine the right to life of the unborn in the constitution, creating confusion over where that leaves the rights of the mother. In the ensuing public debate, the tragic events at Granard become symbolic of the emerging clash between church and state.