Hear Read

Sinéad O’Connor: A Tribute

Her voice was piercing. Her prowess was undeniable. And then there was the small matter of her ability to stand up to the Catholic Church. Joe Pesci and Frank Sinatra might not have rated Sinéad O’Connor, but the rest of the world certainly did. Her decision to rip up a picture of the Pope was scandalous in the 1990s. But in 2023, it’s now seen as the start of a movement.

She changed Ireland, offering a more critical and contemporary voice. Her early singles were sultry, hinting at a certain swagger She turned into the very thing she would have much rather given to anyone else. “There was no therapy when I was growing up so the reason I got into music was therapy,” she admitted in later years. “It was such a shock for me to become a pop star, it’s not what I wanted. I just wanted to scream.”

But anyone who listened to the urgency of “Mandinka”, or the yearning of “Nothing Compares 2U”, would not have written her off as an everyday pop star; such was the vitality of her work. And anyone who heard her interviewed was captured by her sincerity, particularly in Ireland where the shackles of Catholicism were finally making way for the counterculture that was returning from Britain.

She was easy to parody – writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews centered an entire episode of Father Ted on a feisty Dublin woman who bore a striking resemblance to her – and easy to heckle, but the more the media scorned her, the mightier her craft seemed.

In 1992, she made her mark, by tearing up a photo of the papacy, scorning the church that had shackled itself to her island. It was powerful but alienated audiences at Saturday Night Live, who watched in horror. Right after, she was booed at Madison Square Garden. Kris Kristofferson whispered in her ear, comforting her. He didn’t need to, and nor was she fazed by the reaction. She was, she reasoned, a troubled soul who needed to scream into a microphone – a philosophy that John Lennon had worn for much of the 1970s.

More albums followed, and her antenna widened. In 1992, she guested on Peter Gabriel’s Us album, offering a ghostly harmony to “Blood of Eden.”

Her 2002 album, Sean-Nós Nua proved to be a departure, as she abandoned rock for the traditional ballads that were sung across pubs in Dublin. Throw Down Your Arms tipped its hat at reggae (many of the proceeds were donated to Rastafari elders in Jamaica), while Theology was a hybrid work that celebrated London as much as it did her native Ireland. But O ‘Connor was never shy to voice her politics, fashioning a platform for women all over the world.

Converting to Islam in 2018, O’Connor adopted the name Shuhada’ Sadaqat. It was a journey that coincided with her search for absolution: “This is to announce that I am proud to have become a Muslim. This is the natural conclusion of any intelligent theologian’s journey. All scripture study leads to Islam.”

In one of her more impressive performances in recent years, O’Connor (she still used her birth name for musical purposes), sang “Nothing Compares 2U” in a bright red abaya and a matching hijab on The Late Late Show in 2019. The country that had imposed Catholicism on her was being welcomed with her religious purpose and truth. Her voice, now older, still boasted the ferocity that had shaped her earlier anthems. Now, she was giving them a new life. The world is just a bit quieter now, yet it’s all the better for her influence.

-Eoghan Lyng

Photo: Sinead O’Connor, 2013 (Man Alive! Via Wikimedia Commons)

Other Posts You Might Like

5 comments on “Sinéad O’Connor: A Tribute

  1. Not a fan. But, boy, this is an outstanding tribute, my friend.

  2. Pete Drake

    She was a troubled and sick individual. Portraying her as a hero because she attacked the Catholic Church is absurd. I’m not Catholic. Portraying her as a hero because she became a Muslim is even more absurd. The subjugation of women in that culture is legendary.

  3. She’s a total hero for Ireland and women especially. If she were a man she would have been considered a bad boy fighting the cause and powerful. She was way ahead of her time and a true talent. Your article was right on.

Leave a Reply (and please be kind!)

Love the Beatles? Get this eBook FREE when you subscribe.

It turns out there's a lot to say. Just say "yes" to get yours.