The Irish Times view on Sineád O’Connor: unique and incomparable

Her medium was music, her instrument a voice that once heard was never forgotten

The outpouring of genuine sadness and affection which has taken place since the death of Sinéad O’Connor is testament to the profound connection the musician and activist had with successive generations of fans. Her very real bond with the public continued well after the few short years of global stardom which she enjoyed – or perhaps endured – at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s.

For international audiences, that brief period is largely what was remembered this week, in particular her performance in the video for her biggest hit, Nothing Compares 2 U, which has been played and replayed continuously on screens across the world.

But as people in Ireland know particularly well, there was much more to Sinéad O’Connor than that one remarkable song. She was a woman who was unapologetically joyous, angry, unafraid of emotional expression, open about personal trauma, refusing to shut up – all in a cynical, male-dominated world.

Throughout her life she continued to criticise the objectification of young women which still characterises the music industry, but nobody should underestimate the fearlessness it took for her – a young solo artist barely out of her teens – to refuse to play by the rules from the very start.


She brought that same fearlessness when expressing her views on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, at a time when most of those crimes were still concealed. For her forthrightness she was punished and her career suffered. But history shows she was right, and her critics were wrong. That same commitment to truth and justice for the marginalised and persecuted would be an unwavering constant throughout her life.

Many of the stories told about O’Connor in recent days by those who knew and loved her touch on the unpublicised, spontaneous acts of kindness and generosity she often showed toward others. The picture that emerges is of a woman who lived her life in accordance with her public principles in a way that few of us do.

It is debatable whether the platform which social media gave her was always beneficial to her wellbeing, or whether she was well-served by a media that was sometimes too eager to publicise her mental health issues. But it would be wrong to paint her as a tragic victim. She had agency and self-knowledge and a sense of humour

Above all, she was a creative artist of real consequence, who won worldwide recognition. Her medium was music, her instrument a voice that once heard was never forgotten. Fragile yet strong, forlorn yet defiant, all the contradictions, complexity, struggles and beauty of her own life and art were contained within.

The minute you heard it you knew who it was. Like her, it was unique and incomparable.