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This is the Grotto in Granard, Co Longford, a beautiful, quiet and peaceful place. On this day 33 years ago, Ann Lovett died here along with her newborn baby boy. She had given birth here, alone, on a cold January evening armed with nothing but a pair of scissors.

She was 15 years old.

Unmarried mothers were treated very differently 30 years ago. Many were shipped away to institutions to give birth under the pretence that they were going to look after  a sick relative or travel. They would return to their home towns without the child, who was often taken away never to be seen again. Ireland in those days was controlled by shame, and not by love. Possibly for this reason, Ann, had nowhere to go, and no-one to turn to, but a statue of the virgin Mary, who didn’t hear her cry, and didn’t answer her prayers.

People in the town closed ranks, refusing to speak about it. Nobody ever knew who the father was. Nobody ever admitted to knowing she was pregnant. No-one had any explanation as to how a 15 year old could attend school up to the day before she died without anyone offering her help, or providing her with care. An attitude existed that if we don’t talk about sex, rape, consent, sexual health, abortion, contraception, these things didn’t exist. Those who found themselves in need of help had doors closed in their faces, and were left to cope alone. Ann’s 14 year old sister, Patricia, died by suicide not long after her death, another tragic and avoidable death.

At the time of Ann’s death, Gay Byrne’s radio show was the most popular in the country. After the story broke, the show was flooded with letters from women sharing their own stories, many of which had not been spoken about for many years. Each of these women had encountered the same shame, and could easily have met a similar end. You can read some of these letters here.

Times have changed, but we still have a long way to go.

If you need help or advice in relation to pregnancy, sexual health or contraception, you can contact the Well Woman Centre,  crisispregnancy.ie or Positive Options.