In Memory Of Ann Lovett

Thirty years ago today, a 15 year old girl died giving birth alone in a grotto beneath a statue to the Virgin Mary. The scandal shocked conservative Ireland and cast light on a darker side of Ireland. An Ireland where to be unmarried and pregnant was a deep shame to be kept hidden. An Ireland where girls were forced to keep children they didn’t want and couldn’t raise. An Ireland where the judgement of the Church was to be feared. An Ireland where narrow minded dogma was held above the suffering of women. An Ireland where Mary was no protection for many girls abandoned and neglected by society.

AnnLovettGrotto

We know little about poor Ann Lovett and the horrors she went through on the 31st of January 1984. Her death was met with silence from her friends and neighbours in her town of Granard. Granard, County Longford is a typical small Irish town, dominated by a large church and the grotto is one thousands that litter rural Ireland. Nobody claimed to know anything about her, no one claimed they knew she was pregnant. Perhaps she was really good at hiding or perhaps people want to keep silent about the shame Ann had to hide from. This was an Ireland that would rather cover up an out of wedlock pregnancy than to openly deal with it. It has never been revealed who the father was. There is so little we know about Ann and what she went through as she spent hours in labour, painfully giving birth all alone with nothing more than a household pair of scissors.

She must have suffered so much.

She must have been so scared.

She must have been so alone.

Ireland was a different place back then. Contraceptive was still restricted to married couples only. The Church still censored books about sex and sexuality. Sexual issues were things to be covered up in guilt and shame rather than discussed. Unmarried mothers were treated poorly, their children seen as “illegitimate” and born in sin. Some were even sent to the Magdalene Laundries where they were stripped of their identities and dignity and forced into unpaid work. Their children could be sent to industrial schools where they were treated with incredible cruelty and sadistic beatings and unspeakable abuse.

Only four months before Ann died, a constitutional referendum was passed declaring that the “unborn child” had a right to life and all abortions were forbidden. Thousands of girls like Ann had their options taken away from them. As long as they were in Ireland, they had no choice. I wonder how she reacted to the shrill propaganda of the anti-abortion side? Was she terrified into keeping a child she couldn’t  raise for fear she would otherwise be a baby murderer? Did the threats of God’s wrath upon those who went against Church teaching frighten this child herself, from seeking out help and taking control of her body? We will never know.

I wonder if she prayed to the statue above her. I wonder if she cried for help. Like all Catholics, she would have been told that in times of trouble Our Lady would help us. She would have been told, as we all were, that God was good, that he loved us and would save us. We have all been told the power of prayer, the miracles that can happen, the guardian angels that keep us safe. Yet when a dying girl was in true need, no help came.  What desperate mental gymnastics must be made to defend a God that will leave a girl to die alone on a hill? What good is a God who won’t save the vulnerable? Maybe Ann’s prayers, like all of ours, are unanswered because there is no one at the other end. Perhaps we are praying and building statues to figments of our imagination that disappear like a mirage when we go to lean on them. Maybe in times of trouble we should go to hospitals instead of churches and not waste our time praying to a God that cannot hear us because he isn’t there.

Ann Lovett’s story is important not just for who she was, but what she represented. She put a human face on the suffering and repression forced onto thousands of women by the Church and an oppressive narrow minded society. There were many more women forced to keep children they didn’t want, forced to cover up the kind of sexuality deemed immoral and made to feel guilty for sinful sexual issues (which was all of them). The past is not something to be romanticised and the Church is not a place of love but rather a cold, wet, lonely hillside where a poor girl was left to die.

Update: After Ann’s death, people wrote numerous letters detailing similar experiences they had. Here is a compilation of some of these letters which tell a heart rendering story.

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “In Memory Of Ann Lovett

  1. John Rees

    Just tell a bloke behind a screen you,ve sinned and he tells you to recite meaningless rhyme and your sins are forgiven!
    What a joke the things done in the name of religion!

  2. just want to say that the women were not forced to keep their children, it was quite the opposite in fact – forced adoptions. there was to be no trace that an unmarried mother had given birth due to the shame and stigma that it would bring to the woman/girls family. thus the family would arrange for the situation to be taken care of, by sending them to a home or to the nuns to have the child. alot of women can not even trace their children that they were forced to give up.

    the girls and women who found themselves pregnant needed support and care and ultimately the right to make a choice on whether they wanted to keep or put their child up for adoption.

    ireland was in the dark ages, and in some respects it still is.

    • Seconded. The vast majority of women who bear children love them and want to keep them. Unplanned does not mean unwanted, and society telling you it will not help you is not the same as being completely unable to raise a child. No one, not even a 30yo adult, raises children all by themselves. Sooner or later SOMEONE helps.

  3. Excellent post.

    My biological mother once said to me that she hoped I wouldn’t think that she was stupid, but she had no clue how children were conceived. When she was having sexual intercourse she actually didn’t know what it was that she was doing, only that it felt good. She said that they were kept in near total ignorance about their bodies and about sex. She knew that she wasn’t supposed to be doing what she was doing, but she wasn’t supposed to kiss boys for that matter. She didn’t know that she was doing the single thing that all the “no kissing, no sexy clothes, etc.” was ultimately directed towards preventing.

    Furthermore, when she stopped getting her period, she didn’t think much about it. She was fourteen at the time and she hadn’t really been “regular” for very long, so missing a period was meaningless to her, especially since she didn’t know any details about pregnancy. Finally, when she was about five months along and showing her aunt finally asked her. She tells me that even then she was confused. Essentially, other people told her she was pregnant. Although abortion was illegal in the U.S. at the time, had they figured it out earlier, I (weird word because it was hardly “me”) would have been aborted.

    This reminds me of a post on Patheos recently about women who give birth thinking they’re virgins.

    I subtracted 30 from 2014 and felt like I must have made a mistake. That would be 1984.

    When I started blogging I decided that it was essential that I talk about some difficult things, and that’s part of the reason I use an assumed name. There’s no great secrecy. If you were to meet me in person, I’d have no problem telling you my name. My sister reads my blog, as does my brother-in-law. My mother knows of it, but I’ve warned her that I write frankly about sex and perhaps she would rather avoid it. My best friend since I was sixteen reads it sporadically.

    Well just about thirty years ago, if not thirty years today then thirty years ago last week, I got pregnant. One day I’m going to write about it in detail. As you know, I’m American, and I was young then, so I really didn’t have a clear idea of how people from other cultures might conceive of abortion. He was definitely a practicing Catholic, of that much I’m certain. I thought he was English, maybe I was mistaken. I did have an interest in him that went beyond one night (well, two) but I met him through a friend at a party and hadn’t known him long and did not know the details of his life. More recently, I came across his name in the newspaper in a story connected to Ireland, which makes me wonder if he was in fact English as I had assumed. (There were many English ex-pats at that party.)

    When I found out I was pregnant, I wanted to have an abortion. Some platonic male friends of mine who had gotten interested in Men’s Rights issues convinced me that it was not fair for a woman to make that decision without consulting the man. (Those men were Americans, too.) So, I phoned him. I told him that I was inclined towards an abortion, but, if he wanted a child and was willing to be the primary caregiver, I would continue with the pregnancy. I can’t even begin to describe the insane things he said to me.

    There’s so much to say about this and this comment is already absurdly long, so I’ll just leave it here for now. One day, I’m going to have to write about this in detail (not that I would ever reveal the man’s identity) and cover many of the related issues. But, yes, I get the feeling that some men think the proper think for a woman who gets pregnant out of wedlock should crawl in a hole and die. Most of all, I think men want to be absolved of responsibility for the decision one way or another. Stupidly, naively, ignorantly, I had put all the decision onto the man and I think that’s why he responded with such viciousness. They may well have been the cruelest things any man has ever said to me.

    The could have almost certainly used DNA to find out who the father was.

    • Just one more thing, when I read your post, my first thought after calculating the years was, “There is someone out there who would have liked for that to have been me.” That was the feeling I got. Not that she was a woman, girl really, about whom not much is known, but that she was, maybe, someone like me.

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  5. The final chapter of her story is so sad. May her memory live on, and perhaps one day religions that promote such bigotry and hatred will be gone forever.

  6. Robert, I understand why you hate religion. You may be surprised to know how much Jesus would agree with you and your reasons for posting this. My question for you is, IF there’s a chance the Bible is true, do you really want to know? In reading your posts, i can see where you’re coming from. I may be able to help you understand, but a PART of you has to WANT to understand. Let me know if you would like to continue the discussion. :)

    • Let me be clear. I am not somehow who has closed their mind or refuses to believe out of stubborness. I genuinely think that my beliefs are the correct ones. I am an Atheist because I believe it has the best explanation and the most evidence for it. If another world view was to provide better evidence, I would change my mind. I wasn’t born an Atheist. I was raised Catholic so losing religion wasn’t a short process. It took years for me to get to my current beliefs.

      So yes, I am open to debate. If you believe that Christianity has better evidence, then I would love to hear it. I always welcome debate.

    • You can’t possibly make any arguments about the veracity of the Bible that aren’t based in “because the Bible says so.”

      Believe if you want, but understand that there is no way to rationally or logically prove the factual truth of the Bible, any more than there is to prove the factual truth of Greek mythology. You can cite archaeological findings all you like and I will counter it with “yes, and they found the city of Troy too.”

  7. savannah

    You never post on religion anymore :( I love your religious posts.

    • Robert is now shy of commentaries on religion as it is marred with a tide of complexity that has no scientific basis that is thwarted with ambiguity and rivals complexity of economics.

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  9. The author asks, why are prayers not answered? If the person you are directing your prayers to is the cause of your predicament, obviously that will get you nowhere. Don’t pray to, pray for, leaving the person prayed to unspecified. That way your prayer has a better chance of getting through to someone who might help.

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