You really have no right to want anything from me at all

Nobody’s fucking laughing now.

In her memoir, Sinéad O’Connor recollects writing this single sentence in English class, in response to Yeats’s poem ‘Easter 1916’. Nobody’s laughing now, either. Since July 2023, they’ve been keening, lamenting the loss of the ‘Irish Princess.’ In a country that prefers its poets internationally canonised and safely dead, Sinéad has ascended to the Pantheon, to the sound of solemn tributes and the ceremonial rending of garments. Oceans of ink have been spilled on the tearing of a picture of a pope, on a TV show no-one over here watches, 31 years ago. And on that one Prince song, the tracks of that single tear.  

it’s real uncomfortable/ To be stuck somewhere you just don’t belong

‘8 Good Reasons’, from her monumental 2014 album I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss, is almost impossible to listen to, now that eight reasons (or maybe nine now) were not enough to keep her in this world with us. The abstraction that she’s becoming—lost soul, fearless truth-teller, trauma incarnated, torn picture, single tear—looms over her tiny frame, her filthy jokes and dirty laugh, her open letters and Twitter spats, her body of blindingly brilliant songs.

I don’t want to sing from where I sang before

In the days after her death, columnists wrote about the purity of her angelic voice. Nothing pure was ever as searing and true as that voice. Only something forged in anger and joy, woven from Irish sean-nós, reggae, gospel, bel canto, could cut through the noise around her like a blade.  No angel outside of the Old Testament story of Lot could bring the snarl with which she spat ‘nothing would please me better’ on ‘Just Like U Said it Would B.’ From the very start of her career, she refused to settle into the single image the world requires its women to present. Bald and howling; bewigged, begowned and crooning; married; divorced; gay; militantly pro-abortion; renegade Catholic priest; mother of four; psychiatric patient; devout Muslim: she moved through phases and stages, bringing fire, integrity and hilarious, occasionally harrowing, honesty to each new chapter. Her restlessness drove her to try new ways of living, writing, making music, always reporting back, always refusing to settle into a fixed and final form. Only now has she been stilled for long enough for the world’s narratives to congeal around her.

Your joy gives me joy/ Your hope gives me hope

When people write and talk about Sinéad, they talk about the pain. Childhood trauma, ostracisation, post-hysterectomy breakdown, loss of a child to the care system then suicide—the suffering that saw  her labelled unstable in life has seen her canonised in death.  Less has been written about the ferocious, incandescent joy. There’s a wobbly video on YouTube of her performing John Grant’s ‘Queen  of Denmark’ in Dublin in 2014. In her rasta-striped beanie and 1916 t-shirt, she looks more like a shy schoolboy than an icon in the fourth decade of her career. It’s a chatty crowd, and as she stands there, eyes closed, softly measuring out the opening bars, the drone of conversation competes with the music. Until her eyes snap open on the line ‘you really have no right to want anything from me at all’, and a radiant smile splits her face. Standing in a puddle of light, fist raised, rage and exhilaration pour out of her on every note. At the end of the first chorus, she’s beaming, shooting a thumbs-up at the sound engineer. And nobody’s fucking talking now.