Anne Lovett was fifteen when her body was found in a grotto for the Virgin Mary in Granard. It was 1984. She died from exposure and childbirth trauma four hours after the birth of a child whose existence she had hidden for nine months. The local papers didnt want to report the story, out of respect for the family. The national papers didnt pick it up for a few weeks after that, but then the country was shocked out of its usual torpor. We twelve and thirteen-year-olds suddenly found ourselves scrutinized by teachers and parents. They gave us hesitant, oblique lectures.
Now, you know you wouldnt would you tell me if..?
It turned out that local people had known about Anne Lovett. Its not easy to hide a pregnancy, even under the baggy jumpers of a shy fifteen year old. They may have known for months that she was in trouble, in every sense. But no one interfered or intervened, no one asked if she needed help. Out of respect for the family.
I think about her often. She would be 32 now; her daughter would be 17, coming of age in a country where, like the rest of Europe, more than fifty per cent of babies are born outside marriage, and no one seems to mind any more. No hellfire sermons are preached about bastard babies, and welfare mothers are not the demons they are in the US. Many of these women are not welfare mothers anyway; rather, they have simply chosen not to marry their partners. That they can do so shows that Anne Lovett, with her gentle name and her perfect tabloid instinct (that grotto!) changed the country more than any referendum.