Sinéad O’Connor by Bono, Annie Lennox, Shane MacGowan and more: ‘The U2ers are heartbroken’

Poets, authors and musicians write on what the late, great singer-songwriter and social activist meant to them

Sinéad O'Connor sings at the funeral of puppeteer Eugene Lambert at St Patrick's Church, Booterstown in 2010. Photograph: Colin Keegan,/Collins


I first heard Sinead sing Take My Hand when she was aged 15. The U2ers are heartbroken for Sinead, for her family. She loved God by so many names. After some name calling and a few people being thrown out of The Kingdom, she will now reach what has so conspicuously eluded her … the peace that passes all understanding.

Kate Bush

It’s like a light has gone out, hasn’t it? A beacon on a high mountain. Sinead didn’t just move us with her incredibly emotive voice, she stood up with it. I salute her. We were lucky to have such a magical presence move among us.

Kate Bush is a singer and musician

Peter Gabriel

Sinéad was an extraordinary talent. She could move us with a candour and a passion with which so many people connected. The path she chose was always difficult and uncompromising but at every turn she would show her spirit and her courage. I feel lucky to have had the chance to work with her.


Peter Gabriel is a singer and musician

Shane and Victoria MacGowan

We don’t really have words for this but we want to thank you Sinead for your love and your friendship and your compassion and your humour and your incredible music. We pray that you are at peace now with your beautiful boy.

Shane MacGowan is a musician and former frontman of The Pogues

Annie Lennox

You bared your soul…

Shared your brilliance

Through exquisite artistry

Your incredible voice..

Fierce and fragile

Lioness and lamb

Sweet singing bird

Keenly tuned


Tip-toeing along the high wire

Or stamping the ground





Bold and beautiful

Truth teller

Singer of songs

Crazy wisdom

Power house


Priest and Priestess


May the angels hold you

In their tender arms

And give you rest

In peace…

Singer and musician Annie Lennox wrote on social media

John Kelly

I first met Sinéad back in 1987 – a smile that would knock you off your feet and eyes that you’d get lost in before you’d even hit the ground. She was 21 years old. I was 22 – just starting out at the BBC and booking bands for some kind of “youth programme”. I’d never heard a voice like hers before, or encountered such a mind-blowing stage presence – a strange mix of vulnerability and an almost terrifying power. She was all shy and beguiling one minute, and the next she was wielding the authority of some ferocious warrior queen. The last time I heard Sinéad sing was at the National Concert Hall in 2018. I was MC at the Shane MacGowan 60th Birthday event, and on an evening of many highlights, Sinéad’s unscheduled performance of You’re The One stole the show. She was magnificent that night, just as she was in 1987 singing songs from The Lion and The Cobra. I’m blessed to have known such a brave, brilliant and beautiful woman.

John Kelly is a poet and broadcaster

Sinéad Gleeson

It is still too soon to comprehend that Sinéad is gone. To accept the hard fact that there will be no more new music, no live shows, no more amplifying unheard voices or political causes. Her cathedral of a voice crept under our collective skin, the righteousness of her words lodged in our consciousness. The voice that sang of love and loss, of sedition and inequality, of transcendence and faith is all we have left. She once sang, “Thank you for hearing me,” but it’s us who owe her an incalculable debt of gratitude. For her steadfastness and activism, for her unwavering resolve, for her generosity to so many. But mostly for her singular vocals, a divine and otherworldly gift that she chose to share with us. Thank you, Sinéad.

Sinéad Gleeson is the author of Constellations

Mark O’Connell

All day, I’ve been trying to figure out what it was that always moved me so much about Sinéad O’Connor/Shuhada Sadaqat. And I think it had to do with her extraordinary combination of vulnerability and strength, and the sense that these were not in contradiction with one another, but that they were rather one indivisible quality. She was a reminder of everything that is painful in this country’s history and craven in its culture, and at the same time she was an embodiment of everything that is good and powerful about its people. As an artist and a woman, as a presence and as a voice, she was so much greater than all the forces that tried to make her small.

Mark O’Connell’s latest book is A Thread of Violence: A Story of Truth, Invention, and Murder

Karl Geary

“They laugh ‘cause they know they’re untouchable/ Not because what I said was wrong/ Whatever it may bring/ I will live by my own policies/ I will sleep with a clear conscience/ I will sleep in peace.”

There was a young girl in the back of Sin-é cafe, in the kitchen, head shaved, slight of build; she was washing cups and glasses, slowly and with care. The whole of St Mark’s Place knew that she was there, in the kitchen, washing cups and crying.

I was only 17 when I knew her, and only a little. She came by Shane Doyle’s little cafe often, sometimes she sang, sometimes she just went back into the kitchen to smoke and chat. She spoke to my mam once on the telephone and had her in fits.

That morning Sinéad O’Connor was on the cover of every newspaper in the world. Talkshow hosts made fun of her on national television. Frank Sinatra said, “she must be some dumb broad” and “he’d kick her ass if she were a guy”.

Sinéad was not hiding that morning in the kitchen: this was the quiet before the storm. She knew what was coming, she understood the way the world operates: where telling the truth really got you. And still, she told the truth.

Karl Geary’s latest novel is Juno Loves Legs

Edel Coffey

To see Sinéad O’Connor sing live was to be transformed. Every time I saw her sing, she moved me to tears. That’s just what her voice did. She interpreted the pain of our nation and vocalised our vulnerabilities as human beings. She was a seer, a preacher, a leader, a healer, a warrior who spoke out at great personal cost about what it took years for the rest of us to publicly condemn. Where we were afraid, she was brave. When I saw her perform at Dublin Castle in 2007, a performance that highlighted the spectacular breadth of her musical talent, I left that concert so angry because I knew that this pure and gentle artist had been so mistreated by us over the years. I wrote in my review of that gig that it was time we started appreciating her and calling her by one name only – artist. I don’t know that we ever did appreciate her the way she deserved to be but I know that we now have the desperately sad task of appreciating what we have lost. RIP Sinéad.

Edel Coffey is the author of Breaking Point

A vigil was held in Dublin's Temple Bar to mark the passing of musician and activist Sinead O'Connor.

Sally Hayden

Sinéad O’Connor bravely spoke truth to power, regardless of the consequences. Growing up in Ireland, and seeing a young woman standing up for what she believed in, helped shatter something for those of us who came after her: a sense of enforced silence; the idea that you can’t point out wrongdoing for fear of rocking the boat. Earlier this year, she made a point again of speaking out on behalf of the vulnerable and marginalised, dedicating a major award to all refugees who have found a home in Ireland.

Sally Hayden is author of My Fourth Time, We Drowned

Keith Ridgway

What an extraordinary life. An exemplary life. To lose her now – these are dangerous days – feels impossible. But to have had her at all is a miracle. Her achievements as an artist are immense – her songs, her voice, her performances, her humour, her grace. All inseparable from her achievements as a human conscience. An Irish conscience. Her bravery and her terrifying vulnerability helped to destroy an Ireland almost unimaginable now in its ugliness. Her life was a constant challenge to cruelty, Irish cruelty in particular. The cruelty of Ireland now. We have lost a source of kindness.

Keith Ridgway’s latest novel is A Shock

Rónán Hession

From her first explosion into the public consciousness, Sinéad O’Connor represented the indivisibility of being an artist. She never offered the option of separating the sublime purity of her voice from her anger, her energy, her stout insistence on herself. This made her a complex artist, and a complex person, to understand. Her death has, at least, gathered together these fractured elements and allowed us to see her more clearly for the courageous artist and spirited human she undoubtedly was. She is irreplaceable.

Rónán Hession’s latest novel is Panenka

Helen Cullen

My brain understands, just about, that Sinéad O’Connor has died, but the rest of my body resists the news. The full impact of the blow is still in the post. It seems impossible that the warrior queen could fall, and we are shocked to discover that she was human after all, despite the fact that she was the most open of mortals about her humanity. Despite the determined intentions of the world to stretch that humanity to its absolute limits.

In truth, though, Sinéad will live forever. Not just through her mesmerising music, but also in the spirit she evoked in the armies of women who followed in her wake. Many men loved and esteemed her too, of course, but Sinéad mattered to women, and Irish women in particular, in a profound way. She broke down seemingly impenetrable doors so that we could walk through, challenging every stereotype, questioning received wisdom and always speaking difficult truths.

Sinéad could have used that voice of hers to become the biggest pop star on the planet but instead she chose to become a protest poet. I’m not sure it gets much more inspiring than that. As a young, impressionable, barely teenager, I watched a grainy VHS tape of Sinéad performing at the1989 Grammys and felt the world shift. The coolest woman on the planet was Irish and doing things in exactly her own way. Suddenly anything was possible.

The world did not go easy on Sinéad, and people were often cruel, intolerant and mocking towards her. The shame is all theirs. I hope she knew how beloved she was, that she is remembered for what mattered – her art, her activism, her empathy. My heart is broken for her family and those closest to her, whose grief is personal in a way that those of us who loved Sinéad from afar must respect.

Sinéad O’Connor was a lighthouse in Ireland’s sea of dark madness, and her light will never go out.

Helen Cullen is author of The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually

Brian Dillon

“Express your f**king selves no matter what the cost,” Sinéad O’Connor said at the IRMA Awards in 1991. I remember that for a while my friends and I used to repeat this mockingly – the naivety of it, her presumption, so we thought. Immature cynicism, protective irony: these were just some of the ways we let her down, refusing to admit how much she meant, how intimately she had already addressed our generation. The following year – the other side of the X case and the Dublin protest where she’d spoken – her tearing up a picture of the pope on Saturday Night Live was a jolt out of our complacency. Her fury, her courage, the sheer style with which she did it: they were all real, and warranted. The idea this could derail a career would have seemed implausible, but I suppose even in 1990s Ireland we had reckoned without conservative America. Sinéad, on the other hand, knew who she was up against.

Events aside, the truth was I had always been a wide-eyed admirer of her music, her presence. The six-minute astonishment of Troy – “I have learned, I will rise” – was almost too much to bear, but I rushed to buy the second single, Mandinka. She seemed quickly to ascend to pop royalty status (soundtracks, Grammys, small acting roles) but still Nothing Compares 2 U came as a shock in early 1990. My father died that year – my mother already gone – and I would gasp watching the video alone late at night: “All the flowers that you planted mama / In the back yard / All died when you went away.” How much of her own losses and struggles that song swelled, over the years, to contain. Her rendition of it on The Late Late Show in 2019 seemed at last a triumph, a vindication. Her smile and wave at the end – heartbreaking now.

Brian Dillon’s latest work is Affinities

Victoria Kennefick

I don’t remember a time before Sinéad O’Connor, and I am devastated that today we exist in a time that will continue to pass now she has left us. As a child, I thought her the most extraordinary, otherworldly creature – so beautiful and rare – but not in a way I recognised from the other examples of women in culture available to me then. She was unique. And her voice, her magnificent, haunting, clear and uncompromising voice that made her every appearance and performance mesmeric, was to me a form of magic.

What power she had, and yet how much she suffered. As a child, I remember learning about her infamous Saturday Night Live protest where she tore up a picture of the then pope. I was baffled, honestly, because I wondered why she would do something to make everyone so angry at her. Wouldn’t such an action make her life more difficult? Wasn’t it so much easier to be nice and say nothing? Why was she so angry? How little I knew then, yet I was aware, too, of how much she fascinated me, how much I wanted to listen to her.

And now, it is all over. Yesterday, when I learned of her passing, I went to Twitter (I cannot bear to use its new moniker) because it remains a place to gather, for now. As I scrolled through the many heartbreaking and moving tributes, I watched that SNL video and her appearance at the Bob Dylan Tribute in Madison Square Garden shortly afterwards where she was booed loudly by a hostile crowd. I had not seen it before and was utterly astonished by her strength, composure, bravery and grace in the face of immense mockery and hate. She reminded me of a saint, standing there, her stunning face bathed in light, cooly (as it appears) facing her detractors. And what she did then made me cry. She repeated the lines from her SNL performance with such conviction and passion that the entire audience fell silent. How did she do that? What an incredible and difficult gift – to be a truth teller.

Of course, she was a poet if we can be so bold as to claim her. I listened to Universal Mother often when I was writing my first collection, Eat or We Both Starve, and was particularly inspired by Famine. O’Connor herself said that taking singing lessons in the style of bel canto inspired her for this album to “talk about the things that [she] really wanted to talk about”. And I think of her at 26 (26!) on Saturday Night Live, having rewritten the Bob Marley and the Wailers song, War, to protest against child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and being almost universally vilified, even Madonna joined in the mockery, and shamed.

She was right about everything, of course, and she deserved an apology for how she was treated for being someone who saw what was happening and was willing to voice her dissent. Women who are right are often called mad, and Sinéad knew this saying that it was no indication of sanity to be seemingly well balanced in a toxic world full of inequality and injustice. She said that to be brave didn’t mean being fearless – but rather speaking out anyway. I think about this often.

And now, I don’t worry about making people angry any more, well, maybe I do. But I do it anyway. Thank you for everything, Sinéad. We will miss you always. Rest easy.

Victoria Kennefick’s latest poetry collection is Eat or We Both Starve (Carcanet Press, 2021)

Remembering Sinéad O’Connor

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Michael McLoughlin

Publishing Sinéad’s memoir, Rememberings, in 2021 was one of the great privileges of my career. Looking back at our voluminous email and text correspondence over a number of years, one recurring theme was how hard Sinéad found the “commercial aspects” of her career. She was a square peg in a round hole. She acknowledged one needs a tough skin to be a “rock star”, and she didn’t have that. But she could sing, and write, like a dream. She was a unique and brilliant artist.

Michael McLoughlin is publisher at Penguin Sandycove

Annemarie Ní Churreáin

Sinéad O’Connor was, in essence, a high priestess. With The Lion and the Cobra, she lit a fire under Ireland, giving us back a sound we did not know we needed to hear; the sound of raw female energy in all its furious, resistant, transformative glory. What we did not learn from Sinéad about voice is not worth knowing. She hacked a path through a dark forest and, in doing so, she has gifted that path to every poet, singer and artist to come. Suaimhneas síoraí dá hanam.

Annemarie Ní Churreáin is a poet, writer and editor. She is the author of Bloodroot (Doire Press 2017) and The Poison Glen (The Gallery Press, 2021).

Rosita Boland

The wild and beautiful one came with me to Australia in 1987 in the form of a cassette tape; The Lion and the Cobra had just been released. I had no gadget to play it myself, and thus over the course of a year, I ritually handed the cassette over the counter at bars all over the country, and asked obliging bar staff to play it publicly. Sinéad O’Connor’s name was not yet then much known in Australia. Her ferociously haunting voice frequently silenced crowds not usually given to quietude. The tape would then be returned to me with awe, to await the next bar, and the next audience.

Rosita Boland’s latest work is Comrades, a lifetime of friendships

Martin Doyle

I first heard Sinéad O’Connor’s voice when I played The Lion and the Cobra CD at a listening station in the Pompidou Centre in Paris in 1988 and was struck both by its beauty and power but also by how at home she was here at the cutting edge of European culture.

Later, I marvelled at how she was at once immersed in the well of Irish culture – covering a rebel song such as The Foggy Dew and the traditional ballad She Moved Through the Fair – but also fearlessly at odds with what was then the dominant conservative mainstream of Irish society, pulling at the pillars of Church and State, speaking truth to power regardless of the cost. She was at once timeless and ahead of her time.

Her brilliant 2021 memoir, Rememberings, proved that she could hold her own as a writer in a talented family of authors that included her brother Joe, sister Eimear and father Sean.

Haunted, her duet with Shane MacGowan from the soundtrack of Sid & Nancy, was one of the first two songs on my wedding playlist. I was privileged to see her headline the Finsbury Fleadh in London and most recently at Vicar Street in 2019. I dig out the short clip I recorded then and hear Sinéad sing again: “Thank you for loving me, thank you for hearing me.” What a talent, what a loss.

Martin Doyle is Books Editor of The Irish Times

Martin Doyle

Martin Doyle

Martin Doyle is Books Editor of The Irish Times

Conor Capplis

Conor Capplis

Conor Capplis is a journalist with the Irish Times Group