All Together Now: Homage paid to Sinéad O’Connor at Waterford festival

The mood was celebration rather than grief as artists performed covers of the singer’s hits

All Together Now: Ria Smyth, Helen Sweeney and Méabh Grogan from Dublin enjoying the festival. Photograph: Patrick Browne

Sinéad O’Connor was announced as a headliner of last year’s All Together Now festival but withdrew when she subsequently cancelled all music performances. Twelve months on, Irish music is reeling from O’Connor’s death and honouring her memory became the unofficial theme of the 27,000-capacity festival at Curraghmore House and Gardens in Co Waterford.

A stark black and white billboard bearing her image and praising her as “mother, singer, artist, daughter ... activist” stood to one side of the main stage. At the other was a tribute to Aslan’s Christy Dignam, who died in June (both credited to artist “Squigley”). But the mood was celebration rather than grief, with artists from Tolü Makay to Villagers’ Conor O’Brien among those covering her anthem, Nothing Compares 2 U.

All Together Now: Cavan folk singer Lisa O'Neill performs on the main stage. Photograph: Stephen Golden

“I loved her. Sinéad got into trouble, but it was the right kind of trouble,” said Cavan folk singer Lisa O’Neill, on Saturday. She paid homage by performing O’Connor’s 1990 track Black Boys on Mopeds. On Sunday, Saint Sister, a Celtic-electronic duo, delivered a slowed-down take on O’Connor’s early hit, Mandinka, to emotive applause.

All Together Now is in its fourth year and has become one of Ireland’s biggest festivals. It boasts a stunning setting in the 19th-century Georgian estate at Curraghmore, designed by the Anglo-Irish Waterford architect John Roberts.

All Together Now is in its fourth year and has become one of Ireland’s biggest festivals. Photograph: Glen Bollard

The festival was the brainchild of the late John Reynolds, the promoter who created the original Electric Picnic in 2004. Reynolds died in 2018, but All Together Now is an event in his image. It champions adventurous and eclectic music, comedy and spoken word, and a laid-back sensibility.

It also has a reputation for programming the best Irish and international artists on its bill. This year major acts included Royals singer Lorde and punk icon Iggy Pop. On Friday, Mercury Prize-nominated Dublin folk group Lankum performed to a large crowd. Saturday featured the aforementioned Conor O’Brien of Villagers, followed by alien invasion-type light shows from electronic artists Caribou and Jamie xx.

There was a lot of love in the air – but some mud too. Rain on Friday created soggy conditions, and wellies were mandatory. By Sunday, however, blue skies had arrived. As festivalgoers basked in a morning heatwave, in one corner of the site a tree had been adorned with images of O’Connor. They dangled quietly in the breeze, catching the light. She never played All Together Now, but in 2023 her memory was everywhere.