I was the boyfriend of Ann Lovett

Ann Lovett died in 1984 after giv­ing birth at a grotto in Gra­nard, Co Long­ford – a per­sonal and na­tional tragedy that still res­onates. Today, Ann’s for­mer boyfriend Ricky McDon­nell speaks pub­licly for the first time

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - Rosita Boland

Richard “Ricky” McDon­nell is stand­ing at the gate, star­ing at a house on Colm­cille Ter­race, Gra­nard, Co Long­ford. There was a time, 34 years ago, when he knew this house in­side out. It was here he had lived from the age of six to 17 – in­clud­ing sev­eral years on his own – un­til he had to leave. It was here he had spent many hours with his for­mer girl­friend Ann Lovett, who died aged 15 after giv­ing birth at the grotto in the town on Jan­uary 31st, 1984. It was here, on that Jan­uary day, Ricky McDon­nell’s life changed ut­terly.

Ann Lovett’s death be­came one of the most soul-search­ing events of 1980s Ire­land. It con­tin­ues to res­onate in the na­tional psy­che more than three decades later, in part be­cause so many ques­tions were left unan­swered.

Ricky McDon­nell has never talked pub­licly about those trau­matic days in Gra­nard. Why has he now cho­sen to break his si­lence?

“At the be­gin­ning I was silent out of fear, and then it was out of re­spect,” McDon­nell, now 51, says, when asked why he took so long to speak out. When The

Ir­ish Times pub­lished an in-depth ar­ti­cle on the death of Ann Lovett last month, he was en­cour­aged by friends to con­tact this re­porter. “I’m now hop­ing that other peo­ple will come for­ward and tell what they know about that time,” he says. On the day Ann Lovett died, Ricky McDon­nell had been fix­ing fences with a lo­cal farmer in the freez­ing cold rain be­fore they aban­doned the work just after mid­day. McDon­nell went home to Colm­cille Ter­race, where he was liv­ing alone, and got into bed to keep warm, Ra­dio Lux­em­bourg play­ing in the back­ground as usual. It was still bright, gone about 4.45pm, when he heard ur­gent, in­sis­tent bang­ing on the door down­stairs.

“A friend that I had in the town, who had of­ten bor­rowed a bike off me be­fore; he was knock­ing on the door. I got up and an­swered the door, and he was just stand­ing there, talk­ing gib­ber­ish. I could get ‘Ann’, ‘the Palms’, ‘ac­ci­dent’.” (“The Palms” is the name lo­cal peo­ple call the town’s grotto, be­side St Mary’s Church, with its tall fir-tree palms.)

“It sounded gib­ber­ish to me, what he was go­ing on about. He looked in a bit of a daze. And he kept re­peat­ing what he was say­ing, ‘That Ann has been up in the Palms, there’s been an ac­ci­dent, come on.’ I thought he was mess­ing with me. I didn’t grasp what he was on about. I kind of ran him from the door. I told him to f**k off.

“I left my house, and I went to [a friend who lived on the ter­race]. His wife was there, and I asked her had she heard if there was any­thing wrong. I said my friend was after com­ing to the house, and he was on about some­thing crazy: Ann in the Palms, and that there was an ac­ci­dent. I said, have you heard any­thing? She said no. And then her hus­band ar­rived on the scene. He told me I had to go down to my aunt’s; that some­thing was after hap­pen­ing.”

Confused, and with ris­ing dread, McDon­nell be­gan the short walk to Main Street. Once he reached Mar­ket Street (known lo­cally as New Road), he be­gan to hear dis­turb­ing sounds. “I could hear screams and cry­ing as I was walk­ing down New Road. It just got louder and louder as I ap­proached the Mar­ket cor­ner.”

Un­be­knownst to McDon­nell, scarcely an hour ear­lier, Ann Lovett had been found in the town’s grotto grounds, where she had given birth, her still­born child be­side her wrapped in her coat. By the time he reached Mar­ket cor­ner, the am­bu­lance tak­ing Ann, her mother Pa­tri­cia and her dead baby to Mullingar Hospi­tal had just de­parted from out­side her home on Main Street, where the Lovett fam­ily lived above the Cop­per Pot bar.

On Main Street, “every­body was scream­ing. It was just hor­rific. Every­body was scream­ing and cry­ing; every­body who was on the main street, and that’s prob­a­bly half the town. All the school­child­ren were com­ing up from the con­vent. I saw one girl pulling hand­fuls of hair out of her own head, scream­ing.”

Be­wil­dered, McDon­nell still had no idea what was go­ing on. “But I knew that some­thing bad had hap­pened. Be­cause this, you just wouldn’t see it any­where. No­body could think up this, and act it out in a movie scene; all them young kids scream­ing and cry­ing and wail­ing. I felt as if I was float­ing down the main street through all this. And every­body the whole way up to my aunt’s was scream­ing and cry­ing. And when I got to my aunt’s some of my cousins came out and brought me in from the gate. They took me into the house. Every­body was dis­traught. Every­body.”

He learned then that Ann had been taken away by am­bu­lance. Within a cou­ple of hours, some­one called to the house to say she had died in Mullingar Hospi­tal shortly after 7pm. “It was ev­i­dent at that stage that she was after hav­ing a baby. Ev­ery­thing just de­scended into chaos,” he says.

The lo­cal doc­tor, Dr Tom Donoghue, was called. “I don’t know what hap­pened after that. I was se­dated. I don’t know whether I woke up that evening or the next evening. I lost track of time.” Richard McDon­nell was born in Bed­ford, Eng­land, on July 29th, 1966, the sec­ond of two sons to Ir­ish-born Austin and Philom­ena McDon­nell. When he was six, his par­ents’ mar­riage broke down. His fa­ther re­mained in Eng­land and his mother re­turned to Ire­land with her two young sons. She took them to live in Gra­nard, where she had fam­ily, and rented the coun­cil house on Colm­cille Ter­race.

McDon­nell at­tended pri­mary school in the town, and then spent three years in Gra­nard Tech. He did not take any State ex­ams, and left the tech be­fore the end of sum­mer term in his third year.

In the late spring of that year, in 1981, his fa­ther, who had tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, be­came ill. His mother left Gra­nard to look after him. McDon­nell’s older brother had al­ready left Gra­nard by then for Eng­land, where he has lived ever since.

“My mother was gone a cou­ple of weeks,” McDon­nell says. When his fa­ther died in May, he went to Bed­ford for the funeral, and re­mained there for the sum­mer. At the end of the sum­mer, the English au­thor­i­ties in­formed his mother he needed to at­tend school. Aged 15, he was en­rolled in St Thomas More Catholic School, Bed­ford, but spent less than one term there. He didn’t want to stay in school, or in Eng­land.

“I had a part-time job in a pub there and I used to col­lect glasses. I used to serve as well, but I shouldn’t have been serv­ing. I saved up a few quid and I told my mother I was go­ing back to Gra­nard and I didn’t want to stay in Eng­land any more. She was to­tally against it, but I went ahead and did it any­way.”

McDon­nell re­turned to Gra­nard on his own. “I told her I’d be al­right, that my aunt was still liv­ing there in Gra­nard. And the street, Colm­cille’s Ter­race, you could have walked into any­one’s house there and you’d be at home. So I knew I’d be al­right.”

His mother, who had con­tin­ued to pay rent on their home, had re­fused to give him the key, pre­sum­ably hop­ing this would en­cour­age him to come back to Bed­ford. For sev­eral months, McDon­nell stayed with friends on Colm­cille Ter­race, and then with a brother of one of those friends. His mother wrote to him fre­quently dur­ing this time, and they also spoke on the phone reg­u­larly, but he re­mained de­ter­mined to live an in­de­pen­dent life in Gra­nard.

McDon­nell got work with a lo­cal farmer, and ate meals in the farmer’s fam­ily home. “That man was so good to me,” he says. He also worked at the lo­cal mart, and with the friend he was stay­ing with, reg­u­larly went hunt­ing by day and “lamp­ing” – hunt­ing us­ing lamps – by night. “He used to have hunt­ing dogs; grey­hounds and ter­ri­ers. We used to go hunt­ing, any spare time we had.”

The pair hunted for foxes. “We used to get 18 quid for a dog fox,” he says. The foxes were passed on to a third party. “A lad up in Ca­van, who used to skin the fox for us and then pass them on to the peo­ple who’d make coats or jack­ets from them.”

They also caught hares. “If we were out in the day­time with the dogs and we caught a hare, we’d keep it and eat it; make soup and stew.

“At night-time, we used to go lamp­ing hares and would catch them alive, and then they’d be sold to the rac­ing-dog train­ers out­side of a rac­ing track be­fore the races. The hare’s leg would be bro­ken in the car park and it would run away on three legs and they’d let the dogs after it. The dogs would kill it. When the dogs would catch the hare, their tem­per would be bol­stered up and then they’d be brought in for a race, so they’d be fired up for the race.

“And that’s what used to hap­pen back then. This is what we done to sur­vive, to get money. I wouldn’t dream of do­ing it now.”

One win­ter night, in 1981, McDon­nell and his hunt­ing part­ner de­cided to go for a few drinks be­fore go­ing lamp­ing. They went to the Cop­per Pot on Main Street, where Ann Lovett, then 13, was help­ing her fa­ther Diar­muid be­hind the bar. McDon­nell was 15.

“I was bowled over. Ab­so­lutely bowled over,” he says, about his first sight of Ann. “I thought she was funny, she was nice look­ing, she was friendly. I think she liked me im­me­di­ately as well. It was like love at first sight.”

By the time McDon­nell left the Cop­per Pot that evening, he and Ann had ar­ranged to meet later that week. In the 1980s, there were a few es­tab­lished pop­u­lar places where Gra­nard’s teenagers hung out.

“There was a pub down the town, Phil Smith’s, which had a pool ta­ble in a back­room, and there was the pool hall next door. They had a pool ta­ble and a juke­box and a pin­ball ma­chine. There was a chip shop in the mid­dle of the town. So we would just hang around there. That’s where all the young peo­ple would hang around.”

For the first few months after they met, the two young teenagers hung out at these meet­ing places.

“At the be­gin­ning, we used to meet at the pool hall or the chip­per and we’d hang around there smok­ing fags and hav­ing the craic, mess­ing about. And then I’d usu­ally walk her home. It could be 10.30pm or 11pm. It didn’t seem to bother Ann that she stayed out late. I never seen her par­ents come out look­ing for her.”

Their friend­ship deep­ened. McDon­nell de­scribes her char­ac­ter. “Ann was al­ways mess­ing about, al­ways hav­ing the craic. She was very sharp, very witty. She could hold her own, she could stand up for her­self, about what she thought; she was able to back it up. She was bril­liant at draw­ing. She was in­tel­li­gent. She was also lov­ing and car­ing and kind. I could just go on and on, the things to say about her. She was fun to be with; a fun per­son to be in the com­pany of.”

Mean­while, Philom­ena McDon­nell had re­signed her­self to the fact her youngest son was not com­ing back to Eng­land, and had sent him the key to the Colm­cille Ter­race house. He was liv­ing there alone.

He says Ann of­ten stayed at his house till late. De­spite the fact they were openly boyfriend and girl­friend, McDon­nell says he had lit­tle to do with Ann’s par­ents Diar­muid and Pa­tri­cia Lovett.

Was he sur­prised Ann stayed out so late?

“I was very sur­prised,” McDon­nell says. “You’d want to know where your kids are. If it went past nine o’clock at night-time, you’d want to know where they were. I was sur­prised that there wasn’t more about Ann stay­ing out. You would have thought some­body would have stood up and said some­thing. But noth­ing. It didn’t hap­pen.”

Shortly after Ann’s 14th birth­day, on April 6th, 1982, they be­gan a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship.

“It started to get se­ri­ous after that,” McDon­nell says. “She started to come to the house more of­ten and stay later and later as the re­la­tion­ship in­ten­si­fied. It got to the point she was stay­ing with me four or five nights of the week, ev­ery week, some­times go­ing home at 4am or 7am, and I would say vir­tu­ally every­body in Gra­nard knew that at the time.”

They never used con­tra­cep­tion. “We were wor­ried, and we tried to take pre­cau­tions, but hor­mones take over, and that

doesn’t al­ways hap­pen. We were so in love, we didn’t care.”

They told each other many times they loved each other. They also of­ten dis­cussed what would hap­pen if Ann be­came preg­nant. She al­ways had the same an­swer: that she would go to a close fam­ily mem­ber in Dublin and ask for help. A fort­night after Ann’s 15th birth­day in April 1983, McDon­nell was home in bed. He’d come in from the mart about 9pm, made a cup of tea, and headed up­stairs to bed. The house was heated by a range, which was un­lit, and needed an hour or so to get go­ing, so he didn’t bother with it when he came in late in the evening. He turned on Ra­dio Lux­em­bourg, and at about 10.15pm, heard bang­ing on the door. It was Ann.

“She was very up­set. She was sob­bing. I was ask­ing her what was wrong and she was cry­ing.”

She told him she had been beaten. “I said to her, look Ann, I’m up­stairs in bed, come up­stairs and we’ll talk. And she wouldn’t stop cry­ing. She was cry­ing and sob­bing. I held her. She still had her school uni­form on.”

McDon­nell turned the bed­room light on, and asked Ann to show him her in­juries. Her thighs were bruised and scuffed. “I just went bal­lis­tic. I asked her what hap­pened. And she roared and cried and begged me not to tell any­body, or say any­thing. She was very dis­tressed. I held her. The two of us cried. She begged me not to tell any­body, not to say any­thing, not to breathe a word of it.”

McDon­nell asked Ann if she had been raped. She did not re­ply. “She just cried. And she begged me not to tell any­body, not to say any­thing.”

After that night, things be­gan to change grad­u­ally be­tween the two of them. “The fre­quency that we would meet wasn’t there any­more. We just kind of drifted, those cou­ple of months com­ing up to the sum­mer.”

Ann came to his house no more than half a dozen times after that. They last had sex in early sum­mer of 1983, he says. Their drift­ing apart was, as McDon­nell de­scribes it, “sub­tle”. “I didn’t see it. I just didn’t see it”. They never for­mally broke up; there was no break-up con­ver­sa­tion. As McDon­nell saw it, “I hon­estly thought we would get back on again. And I had asked her sev­eral times, and tried, but I got the im­pres­sion she was push­ing me away. No­body knew what was com­ing down the road.” The first time McDon­nell be­came aware of the ru­mours that Ann was preg­nant was, he be­lieves, Oc­to­ber. He re­calls ex­actly where he was when he first heard. “I was stand­ing in the door­way of Paddy O’Hara’s pub with a group of lads, and Ann was com­ing from the shops, and she walked past us and said hello to every­body and as she walked away, one of the lads said, ‘She doesn’t look preg­nant to me.’ And that’s when the penny dropped for me. That was the first I had heard of it. Or even sus­pected that any­body had ru­mours or any­thing about her.”

Shocked, he asked her straight out if she was preg­nant the next time he saw her. “She de­nied it. That was the way it was for any other kind of meet­ing that we had. I’d broach the sub­ject and she’d laugh it off, or she’d say, she’d just put on a bit of weight, and she was em­bar­rassed.”

McDon­nell says he asked Ann seven or eight times after that if she was preg­nant, and each time, she de­nied it. “She just didn’t look preg­nant,” he says. “I told her sev­eral times that if she was preg­nant, that I would stand by her.”

Given that it was pos­si­ble he was the fa­ther, was he sur­prised Ann did not tell him she was preg­nant? McDon­nell shakes his head in baf­fle­ment. “I don’t un­der­stand that.” He says he will never un­der­stand why Ann did not con­fide in him.

The last time McDon­nell saw Ann was ei­ther on Stephen’s Night 1983, or New Year’s Eve. They had both trav­elled separately to the Foun­tain Blue Night­club, be­tween Edge­worth­stown and Long­ford. McDon­nell had got a lift with friends Martin Kelly and Brendan Martin.

At the end of the evening, Ann took a lift with them back to Gra­nard. “That was the last time I seen Ann. I had prob­a­bly had a few bevvies as well [at the night­club]; pints of lager. We shouldn’t have been drink­ing at all. We were un­der age. We dropped her off at her house. We prob­a­bly went back to Martin Kelly’s house af­ter­wards. I don’t re­mem­ber. It didn’t stand out at the time. We didn’t know what was go­ing to hap­pen.” On Jan­uary 31st, 1984, a Tues­day, Ann Rose Lovett did not go to school. She was nine months preg­nant; a full-term preg­nancy that both her par­ents were to state at her in­quest they had had no knowl­edge of. She was found about 4pm that af­ter­noon by three pass­ing school­boys, post-child­birth, semi-con­scious in the grounds of the grotto that ad­joined Gra­nard’s Catholic church. She died later in Mullingar hospi­tal.

On Thurs­day, Fe­bru­ary 2nd, the day of the re­moval to St Mary’s Church, McDon­nell and a friend wanted to go to the mor­tu­ary in Mullingar hospi­tal, where Ann was repos­ing, but they had no trans­port.

They walked down past the mart, and out along the road known lo­cally as Ball Al­ley, in­tend­ing to hitch a lift. There were two priests in the parish at the time. Canon Fran­cis Gil­fil­lan was the parish priest and lived at the parochial house be­side the church. Fr John Quinn, the Catholic cu­rate, had been ap­pointed to Gra­nard parish in the sum­mer of 1980. It struck McDon­nell and his friend that Fr Quinn, who lived at the end of Ball Al­ley, might also be go­ing to Mullingar, and could give them a lift.

“And as we crossed over the road, and ap­proached the bend, we met all the Lovett brothers. They were com­ing from Fr Quinn’s house. This is like half-past 10 in the morn­ing, 11 o’clock, some­thing like that. And I thought it was the end for me. I thought I was go­ing to die. We walked straight into them. And they threw their arms around me and hugged me. All of them. We all cried. They told me not to blame my­self.”

There were a lot of peo­ple at the mor­tu­ary, McDon­nell says. “All I saw was her face, her hands. It was just un­be­liev­able, was what it was,” McDon­nell re­calls, still vis­i­bly up­set at the mem­ory. “It was just un­be­liev­able. I kissed her. I don’t re­mem­ber much about the rest of the day.”

The funeral took place the fol­low­ing day. McDon­nell went to the church, but found him­self un­able to go in. “I wasn’t able. I don’t know how I ended up in the grave­yard, but I ended up in the grave­yard with me cousins, and I think I was taken away half­way through the burial. I just couldn’t. I just couldn’t han­dle it.” In the days im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the funeral, Mrs Lovett in­vited two of Ann’s friends, Róisín and Fiona*, to take some of her be­long­ings as me­men­toes. As Róisín re­calls: “Her Mam said we could go up­stairs and if there was any­thing that we wanted to take out of the room, we could have it. She didn’t come up to the room with us.”

The two friends went up­stairs with Pa­tri­cia Lovett, Ann’s younger sis­ter, with whom she had shared a bed­room. They looked around the room, and took a few trin­kets: some of the nov­elty soaps Ann had liked to col­lect, in­clud­ing Snoopy and Wood­stock fig­urines; a sil­ver bracelet with her name on it; ear­rings.

“And then we found a case un­der Ann’s bed and we opened the case,” Róisín says.

It was a small suit­case, full of the kinds of per­sonal trea­sures teenage girls hoard. Among them were two sealed en­velopes. One had the name “Ricky” writ­ten on it, in what they recog­nised as Ann’s hand­writ­ing. The other en­ve­lope was blank.

“We opened the one with no name on it,” Fiona says. The three of them sat on the bed to­gether, and read it. “I can’t say who it was for, or if there was ‘Dear Mam’, or any­thing like that. I don’t know. I only re­mem­ber that the first few lines were, ‘If I’m not dead by the 31st of Jan­uary, I’m go­ing to kill my­self any­way.’ Fiona is adamant that she re­mem­bers these words. “Those are the lines that have stuck with me all these years. And that’s the ab­so­lute truth.”

What Róisín re­mem­bers jump­ing out at her from the let­ter was, ‘Every­body would be bet­ter off. Peo­ple will be bet­ter off when this hap­pens. It’s bet­ter this way.’ That kind of a gist in a cou­ple of sen­tences. That’s what hopped out at me.”

Pa­tri­cia Lovett brought the two let­ters down­stairs to her mother.

It was some time later that, McDon­nell says, Mrs Lovett and her el­dest daugh­ter, Louise, paid a visit to the house where he was stay­ing with re­la­tions. He says they were in tears and very up­set when they came into the kitchen, and told McDon­nell they had found a let­ter ad­dressed to him from Ann. It had been opened, he says.

Louise Lovett handed him the en­ve­lope and both Lovetts told him it was not his fault. “And I sat down at the ta­ble and tried to read it and I just went to pieces. I was emo­tion­ally shred­ded. I couldn’t stop cry­ing. I read it. I broke down. They left.”

McDon­nell says there were two sheets of pa­per, with writ­ing on three sides. “I only read the let­ter once be­cause I just lost it. But the gist of the let­ter was, how much that Ann had loved me, and how sorry she was for do­ing what she was go­ing to do. She had never meant to hurt me. That she had loved me. That the rea­son she was do­ing it was that no­body would be­lieve I was the fa­ther of that child.”

What does McDon­nell think Ann meant when she wrote she was sorry for what she was go­ing to do?

“It was ob­vi­ous what she was go­ing to do. She went up to the Palms, to the grotto, to have that baby. Ann wasn’t stupid. She could have walked into any place, any­where in Gra­nard, and said, ‘I’m hav­ing a baby,’ and they would have called her an am­bu­lance. Any­body would have done that. Any­body that’s log­i­cal would have done that. But she didn’t. She went to the grotto. And she done that for a rea­son. That isn’t an ac­ci­dent. This was not about her go­ing off some­where quiet on her own. That is not Ann Lovett. That’s not Ann. Ann could have gone to any woman in Gra­nard. And they would have got her help.

“So to me, this was a protest, on her be­half. That’s what I feel. I don’t be­lieve any other thing. Ann just wasn’t like that. She could have got help any­where, and she would have got plenty of help. This is well out of her char­ac­ter to do this. In the let­ter, she said she was sorry for what she was go­ing to do. None of it adds up. I knew Ann bet­ter than any­body. And no way would she have gone to the Palms on her own, to have a baby, be­cause she could have asked any­body for help, any­body, and they would have helped her. It’s just un­be­liev­able.”

About two hours later, Fr Quinn ar­rived at the house, McDon­nell says. “He had heard that Mrs Lovett and Louise had come down to the house and had a let­ter that Ann had writ­ten. He de­manded to see it.”

Fr Quinn and McDon­nell went into the sit­ting room to­gether, where the priest read the let­ter twice. “Then he turned round and put it into my hand, and said, ‘Burn that let­ter. Be­cause that’s go­ing to cause so much trou­ble. It’ll de­stroy the town,’ he said. And I burned it.”

The story of Ann’s death had gained na­tional me­dia at­ten­tion and re­porters were all over the town. Philom­ena McDon­nell came over from Bed­ford, at the re­quest of Gra­nard gar­daí. The evening of the day she re­turned, word was sent that McDon­nell was to be in­ter­viewed at the bar­racks on Main Street. His mother went with him, but when McDon­nell gave his state­ment, only he and Det John Mur­ren were present in the room.

“He asked me ev­ery­thing. He asked me ev­ery ques­tion un­der the sun. The times we had sex. Where we had sex. Did I know any­body else who had had sex with Ann. Was there any­body that I sus­pected. Did she have any other boyfriends. And then I told him about the as­sault and what had hap­pened.”

Det Mur­ren said noth­ing about the as­sault, McDon­nell says; he just con­tin­ued to write down the state­ment. At the end of what he thinks was a 60 to 90 minute in­ter­view, McDon­nell read and signed it. He was not given a copy.

“It was prob­a­bly the next day then that Fr Quinn came down to me aun­tie’s and said he wanted to take me off; that the bishop wanted to see me in Long­ford. He said the bishop wanted to hear my story. I’m not a re­li­gious per­son. I thought it was very odd, but I knew it was very se­ri­ous as well.”

At the time, the Bishop of Ardagh and Clon­mac­noise was Colm O’Reilly, who held the post from Fe­bru­ary 24th, 1983, un­til he re­signed on July 17th, 2013.

McDon­nell says that he and Fr Quinn went into a room in the Bishop’s Palace, with the bishop and an­other mem­ber of clergy as­so­ci­ated with the bishop, whose name McDon­nell did not know. “He [the bishop] wanted to know what I had told the guards.” McDon­nell re­peated ev­ery­thing he had told Det Mur­ren the day be­fore, in­clud­ing the part about the as­sault.

“There was some kind of dis­cus­sion at the end of it, be­tween Fr Quinn and him and the other per­son. I was sit­ting there at the ta­ble as well. I just wasn’t lis­ten­ing to them. I was miles away. The bishop told me he was swear­ing me to a vow of si­lence. And that I would have to kiss the seal of St Peter and he held out his hand with his bishop’s ring. I was never to breathe a word of it again, he said.” In re­sponse, Bishop O’Reilly told The

Ir­ish Times in a state­ment he had never met Ricky McDon­nell.

Within a day or two at most, but be­fore his mother left Gra­nard, McDon­nell says Fr Quinn told him he wanted to take him away from the town be­cause of the press. They spent three days driv­ing around Ul­ster, McDon­nell says; first to Done­gal, then Antrim, then Belfast. Both overnights, one in Malin Head and the sec­ond near Bal­ly­cas­tle, were spent in pri­vate houses, owned by peo­ple known to Fr Quinn.

By the time they ar­rived back in Gra­nard, Philom­ena McDon­nell had left. She had been in Gra­nard less than three days. Dur­ing that time the au­thor­i­ties had “de­manded the key back off me mother”, McDon­nell says. This ef­fec­tively ren­dered McDon­nell home­less from the house he had lived in since the age of six.

“That’s when he [Fr Quinn] said I could have a room in his house.” The in­quest into the death of Ann Lovett and her son, who had been bap­tised Pa­trick, was held on Fe­bru­ary 21st, 1984. A Garda file had been sent to coro­ner Pa­trick Man­gan. Her mother Pa­tri­cia Lovett’s ev­i­dence stated that there was “no trou­ble” at home. Diar­muid Lovett tes­ti­fied that the “fam­ily was united”.

The West­meath Ex­am­iner’s re­port of the in­quest stated “he and his wife were aware their daugh­ter had a boyfriend and had ad­vised her against see­ing this boy be­cause of her age. Re­ply­ing to Dr Pa­trick Man­gan, county coro­ner, Mr Lovett said he was sure if their chil­dren had any dif­fi­cul­ties, they would have dis­cussed them with his wife and him­self. . . Mrs Lovett said [of Ann] she ap­peared to take the ad­vice we gave her con­cern­ing her boyfriend.”

McDon­nell was not called to give ev­i­dence at the in­quest, nor asked to at­tend. Cause of death for Ann was given by pathol­o­gist Kevin Cun­nane as ir­re­versible shock, due to a com­bi­na­tion of ex­po­sure and blood loss in child­birth. De­spite ex­ten­sive ef­forts by The Ir­ish

Times, the cur­rent where­abouts and con­tents of the Garda file in re­la­tion to Ann Lovett’s death, if still in ex­is­tence, could not be es­tab­lished. Dur­ing this pe­riod, McDon­nell says he was work­ing for Fr Quinn, do­ing odd jobs around the church grounds; weed­ing and paint­ing. He was still liv­ing in Fr Quinn’s house when, in the early morn­ing of Easter Sun­day on April 22nd, 1984, Pa­tri­cia Lovett (14), died by sui­cide.

McDon­nell had been one of the last peo­ple to see Pa­tri­cia alive. He says Fr Quinn had driven him and Pa­tri­cia home from a dance at the Mickey Mouse Club in Edge­worth­stown in the early hours of Easter Sun­day.

At the in­quest into the death of Pa­tri­cia Lovett on July 16th, 1984, Mrs Lovett stated she had gone to bed at mid­night, and her hus­band at 3am. (Diar­muid Lovett had since had a heart at­tack and was un­able to at­tend the in­quest.) The

Ir­ish Press of April 23rd had re­ported that “the Gra­nard cu­rate, Fr Quinn, drove Pa­tri­cia and a boy back to Gra­nard and dropped her off at her home at about 2.45am”.

Mrs Lovett stated at the in­quest that after her hus­band had come to bed at 3am, he had wo­ken her later that night to say Pa­tri­cia was cry­ing.

Pathol­o­gist Kevin Cun­nane found that Pa­tri­cia had died from an over­dose. She had been pro­nounced dead be­fore 5am by the lo­cal doc­tor, Dr Donoghue. The pathol­o­gist also told the in­quest that there was a bruise on the left side of her chin and an abra­sion on her left cheek.

After Pa­tri­cia Lovett’s death, McDon­nell felt his con­tin­ued pres­ence in Gra­nard “was a re­minder to every­body” of the dou­ble tragedy of the Lovett sis­ters.

McDon­nell says Fr Quinn took him to Dublin that sum­mer to meet Pa­trick Cooney, then min­is­ter for de­fence and a TD whose con­stituency was Long­ford-West­meath. “He [Fr Quinn] ex­plained who I was to Pa­trick Cooney and what had hap­pened,” McDon­nell says. “He said I had been in­ter­ested in join­ing the Army when younger and would it be pos­si­ble to put my name on the re­cruit­ing list.” McDon­nell re­calls Cooney telling him to stay out of trou­ble and made no prom­ises to him.

Cooney told The Ir­ish Times he had never met Ricky McDon­nell and had “no rec­ol­lec­tion of any in­ci­dent like that”. How­ever, solic­i­tors for Fr Quinn said their client re­called bring­ing McDon­nell to an ap­point­ment with Cooney. The pres­sure be­came too much for McDon­nell, and he left Gra­nard for Bed­ford. After a few weeks, a let­ter ar­rived, via the home of a rel­a­tive, re­quest­ing him to present for a med­i­cal for the Army. “Back then, if you were called for a med­i­cal and passed it, you knew you’d made it through,” he says.

McDon­nell en­listed in the Army in Au­gust 1984, not long after his 18th birth­day. “I en­joyed the train­ing and Army life, but my mind was en­gulfed by the death of Ann,” he says. “I of­ten thought of end­ing it all when alone and armed but the thought of what I would be leav­ing be­hind for my rel­a­tives and friends stopped me from go­ing through with it.”

He re­mained in the Army un­til re­quest­ing a dis­charge at the end of three years. After that, he re­turned to Eng­land, and be­gan work­ing as a plas­terer.

The im­pact of the trau­matic events in Gra­nard in 1984 con­tin­ued to haunt him through­out his some­times trou­bled adult life. He drank to ex­cess for many years, un­til giv­ing up al­co­hol more than a decade ago. “I drank to for­get ev­ery­thing,” as he puts it. “I couldn’t set­tle into a re­la­tion­ship for fear of re­jec­tion, or from be­com­ing too emo­tion­ally con­nected with an­other girl for fear of mess­ing ev­ery­thing up again.”

For years, he kept silent. “I was scared of them; I was spooked by what hap­pened to me that day [at the Bishop’s Palace]; I thought some­thing bad would hap­pen to me.”

Then, as the decades un­folded, his con­tin­ued si­lence was out of re­spect for Pa­tri­cia Lovett se­nior, a mother who had lost two daugh­ters in unimag­in­ably tragic and pub­lic cir­cum­stances.

Pa­tri­cia Lovett died in 2015: Diar­muid Lovett had died in 1987. When The Ir­ish Times con­tacted Pa­trick Cooney and asked if he had ever met Ricky McDon­nell, he said, “No”. When asked if he had helped re­cruit him into the Army, he replied: “I have no rec­ol­lec­tion of any in­ci­dent like that at all,” adding, “any­way, I couldn’t of­fer to re­cruit him into the Army; he would have had to go through the re­cruit­ment process”.

Fr Quinn is now a parish priest in ru­ral Co Leitrim. The Ir­ish Times called on him at his home, and left a let­ter with a num­ber of ques­tions. He replied through his solic­i­tors, who stated Fr Quinn “had made it clear that he felt it was in­ap­pro­pri­ate that he should be con­tacted in this way”.

The Ir­ish Times then sub­mit­ted a num­ber of ques­tions through Fr Quinn’s solic­i­tors. In sum­mary, these ques­tions in­cluded the fol­low­ing: after the death of Ann Lovett, had Fr Quinn read a let­ter from her ad­dressed to McDon­nell and in­structed him to burn it? Had he driven McDon­nell to Long­ford after he had given his Garda state­ment to see the then bishop, Colm O’Reilly? Had McDon­nell been asked by any per­son to swear an oath of se­crecy about his state­ment? Had McDon­nell trav­elled with Fr Quinn to Ul­ster at this time? Had Fr Quinn ac­com­pa­nied McDon­nell to Dublin to see Pa­trick Cooney, to so­licit for McDon­nell’s re­cruit­ment to the Army?

Fr Quinn, through his solic­i­tors, con­firmed he knew McDon­nell and that he had tried to as­sist him.

Fr Quinn’s solic­i­tors stated: “Our client has no knowl­edge of a let­ter writ­ten by the late Ann Lovett and ac­cord­ingly did not re­quest to see such a let­ter. . . our client did not drive Mr McDon­nell to see Bishop O’Reilly and this meet­ing did not take place with Bishop O’Reilly and the sug­ges­tion by Mr McDon­nell that he was re­quested to swear an oath of se­crecy about a state­ment which is on the Garda file and there­fore on the record is ab­surd and er­ro­neous. . . There was an in­tense level of me­dia cov­er­age of events in Gra­nard and it was de­cided that Mr McDon­nell needed a short break and this was ar­ranged in con­sul­ta­tion with his rel­a­tives. . . He trav­elled to Done­gal with our client and stayed with rel­a­tives of our client. . . Mr McDon­nell ex­pressed an in­ter­est in join­ing the Ir­ish Army and he made the nec­es­sary ap­pli­ca­tion and rep­re­sen­ta­tions were made on his be­half and aris­ing from the rep­re­sen­ta­tions our client brought Mr McDon­nell to an ap­point­ment with Mr Cooney.”

The for­mer Bishop of Ardagh and Clon­mac­noise, Colm O’Reilly, re­signed in 2013. The Ir­ish Times put a num­ber of ques­tions to him. Now Bishop Emer­i­tus, he is­sued a state­ment in re­sponse via the Catholic Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Of­fice. “Bishop O’Reilly has never met, or com­mu­ni­cated, with Mr Richard McDon­nell. Bishop O’Reilly has never asked any­one to meet or com­mu­ni­cate with Mr McDon­nell on his be­half.” The Ir­ish Times made re­peated ef­forts to con­tact mem­bers of the Lovett fam­ily, but they did not re­spond.

Ricky McDon­nell is un­sure how his story will be re­ceived, but he says it is time his voice is fi­nally heard. “I’m now hop­ing that other peo­ple will come for­ward and tell what they know about that time,” he says. “What kind of sig­nal is it that we are send­ing out to our chil­dren, that it is OK to brush things away un­der the car­pet and re­main silent for decades?”

I asked her what hap­pened. And she roared and begged me not to tell any­body. She was very dis­tressed. I held her. The two of us cried. She begged me not to breathe a word She was found about 4pm by three pass­ing school­boys, post-child­birth, semi-con­scious in the grounds of the grotto. She died later in Mullingar hospi­tal

Richard “Ricky” McDon­nell POR­TRAIT: BRENDA FITZSIMONS ©THE IR­ISH TIMES

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: © COPY­RIGHT THE IR­ISH TIMES/BRENDA FITZSIMONS

Left: What is be­lieved to be the first photo to be made pub­lic of Ann Lovett: ‘I was bowled over. Ab­so­lutely bowled over,’ says Ricky McDon­nell of his first sight of Ann. Be­low: the grotto where 15-year-old Ann Lovett gave birth

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