Sinead – an icon… a troubled soul… but someone who was always a champion of the underdog in society

by Rachel Cunningham
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Rachel Cunningham

Hundreds of fans broke out in the song Nothing Compares 2 U, at a Dublin gathering in tribute to Sinéad O’Connor, or Shuhada’ Sadaqat, last Sunday. It was impromptu and I know Sinead would have enjoyed that.

The Dame Street singalong in commemoration of the singer, who died suddenly in London at the age of 56, was organised by socialist feminist group Rosa.

Sinead  drew international acclaim with her version of the Prince song in 1990 ‘Nothing Compares To You.’ Known for how she used her voice on and off-stage, the Irish singer spoke openly on social and political issues, such as the child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

Since the announcement of her death, her activism on the US television comedy series, Saturday Night Live, in 1992, where she tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II in protest of the Catholic Church, has received significant coverage.

At the time, her stance led to criticism and significant backlash. Although allegations of abuse and mistreatment by members of the Catholic institutions and clerics began to emerge from the late 1980s, revelations of sex abuse were not exposed until the 1990s.

In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a pastoral letter of apology for all of the abuse that had been carried out by Catholic clergy in Ireland.

In 2018, Pope Francis wrote an open letter apologising to victims of clerical abuse, with a commitment that “no effort will be spared to prevent abuse and its cover-up” in the future.

Sinéad O’Connor’s memoir ‘Rememberings’ was released two years ago and was listed among the best books of the year on BBC Culture.

In her memoir, she described the time leading up to and after tearing up the photograph as “the Pope chapters”, claiming that it took her four years to write anything afterwards while she instead lived “in and out of mental-health institutions sorting out my reasons for not being present.”

The Dublin native has made no secret of her various health and mental health struggles.

In the early 2000s, she began suffering from fibromyalgia, the pain and fatigue of which prompted her to take a break from music from 2003 to 2005.

In 2007, she revealed on The Oprah Winfrey Show that she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder four years earlier, and had attempted suicide on her 33rd birthday, in1999. 

She later appeared on Oprah: Where Are They Now? in 2014, and clarified that she had received three “second opinions”, where she learned that she was not bipolar but had a diagnosis of complex post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder.

In August 2015, she announced that she would undergo a hysterectomy and went on to criticise the hospital’s refusal to administer hormonal replacement therapy, blaming this decision for further mental health issues.

Following the singer’s death, a statement from her family said: “It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved Sinéad. Her family and friends are devastated and have requested privacy at this very difficult time.”

Since the news of her death last Wednesday, July 26, there has been an outpouring of tributes to the artist.

This flood of support has been criticised by some for its tardiness and insincerity. Among the critics are singer and actor Lily Allen, who stated that it was hard not to feel incensed by the hypocrisy of many posts and publications regarding Ms O’Connor.

She added that it is “troubling that people have seemingly felt so empathetic towards her but didn’t feel that they could show it or express it for some reason. until they died. what does that say about us ?”

In her memoir, Ms O’Connor wrote in appreciation of her loyal supporters. She wrote: “If I hope for anything as an artist, it’s that I inspire certain people to be who they really are. My audiences seem to be people who have been given a hard time for being who they are. It ain’t easy being green—maybe they don’t know they are the reason I get to be who I really am. Onstage, I can always be who I really am.”


O’Connor released ten studio albums, including Am I Not Your Girl? (1992) and Universal Mother (1994), which were certified gold in the UK Faith and Courage (2000) was certified gold in Australia and Throw Down Your Arms (2005) went gold in Ireland.

Her second album, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, 1990, gained considerable positive attention and was rated “second best album of the year” by the NME.


In 1989, Sinéad she was nominated for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for her debut album The Lion and the Cobra but lost the award to Tina Turner’s ‘Tina Live in Europe’. That same evening, the then 21-year-old performed the song, Mandinka, from the nominated album.

She stunned with her vocals but also used her platform to highlight performers who she felt had been erased from the programme by wearing Public Enemy’s logo band on the side of her shaved head.

In 1991, Nothing Compares 2 U had become a global hit, earning the singer four more Grammy nominations for Record of the Year, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, Best Short Form Music Video and Best Alternative Music Performance.

Once again, sSinead redirected the limelight to what she felt were the shortcomings of the music industry. She sent a letter to the Recording Academy, criticising its capitalist approach, asserting that the human race cannot be helped when the music industry is “taken out of the world and placed above it”.

She stated that she would not perform at the ceremony or accept an award if she won, which she did over Kate Bush, Laurie Anderson, World Party and The Replacements in the category of Best Alternative Music Performance.

Public Enemy also withdrew from the ceremony and Vernon Reid, the guitarist from Living Colour, wore a Sinéad O’Connor shirt when accepting the band’s award for Best Hard Rock.

Although she was nominated three more times, she never won a Grammy Award again.

She was nominated for: Best Long Form Music Video 1992 for Year of the Horse, Best Short Form Music Video 1994 for Fire On Babylon and Best Short Form Music Video 1996 for Famine.


Dublin Gazette – Digital Edition – August 3, 2023 – Dublin Gazette Newspapers – Dublin News, Sport and Lifestyle

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