Ireland is mourning the loss of Sinéad O’Connor, arguably its most famous singer, who became known for her fearless political activism as much as her haunting voice and stirring live performances.
“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved Sinéad. Her family and friends are devastated and have requested privacy at this very difficult time,” the singer’s family said in a statement.
The cause of the singer-songwriter’s death is not yet known. She was aged 56.
The acclaimed singer is best known for songs such as “Nothing Compares 2 U,” “Mandinka,” and “No Man’s Woman.”
As well as her hugely successful albums, including ‘The Lion and the Cobra’ and ‘I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got,’ she was known for her remarkable covers, including a rendition of the 1916 Easter Rising song ‘the Foggy Dew’ and other Irish ballads.
A staunch anti-colonialist and a natural rebel, she drew the anger of the political establishment when in 1989, she expressed support for the Irish Republican Army and subsequently Sinn Féin.
A critic of the Catholic Church before its history of sexual abuse became public, Sinéad was widely misunderstood when in October 1992, she tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II while appearing live on NBC’s Saturday Night Live.
“We knew in Ireland 10 years before anyone in Canada or America knew,” she later explained, referring to the church in Ireland taking out a liability insurance policy in the late 1980s to protect itself against claims of clerical sexual abuse,” she said.
“So I understand that, at the time I made that gesture, it was an abhorrent idea to suggest that a priest could be sexually molesting a child.
“It’s not about do I feel vindicated, or you or me or anybody else. It’s about these poor children who actually went through the violence and horror that we can’t even begin to imagine. And if we care actually about it, we should make it our business to study what did they go through.”
She continued to call for a full investigation into the extent of the church’s role in concealing child abuse.
In 2018, she converted to Islam and adopted the name Shuhada Sadaqat, although she continued to use her birth name professionally.
The 26 Counties Taoiseach Leo Varadkar paid tribute to the singer on social media, describing her talent as unmatched.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she was deeply saddened to hear of her passing.
“An iconic musical talent and a voice of spellbinding beauty gone all too soon. Captivating. Passionate, fearlessly outspoken. She was a once-off. My heartfelt condolences to her family and friends this evening. Codladh Sámh,” she tweeted.
In an extended statement, the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, offered his deepest condolences to Sinéad’s father John, the members of her family, and to all those with whom she shared her life.
“My first reaction on hearing the news of Sinéad’s loss was to remember her extraordinarily beautiful, unique voice,” he said.
“What was striking in all of the recordings she made and in all of her appearances was the authenticity of the performance, while her commitment to the delivery of the song and its meaning was total.
“To those of us who had the privilege of knowing her, one couldn’t but always be struck by the depth of her fearless commitment to the important issues she brought to public attention, no matter how uncomfortable those truths may have been.
“What Ireland has lost at such a relatively young age is one of our greatest and most gifted composers, songwriters, and performers of recent decades, one who had a unique talent and extraordinary connection with her audience, all of whom held such love and warmth for her.
“The way in which she was able to move across different forms of the arts was a singular achievement, as was the way her voice went around the world and how it was received. Her accomplishments included a body of work for film through the production of perfectly chosen and widely acclaimed lyrics.
“Sinéad O’Connor’s voice and delivery were, in so many different ways, original, extraordinary, and left one with a deep impression that to have accomplished all she did while carrying the burden she did was a powerful achievement in its own way.
“Her contribution joins those great contributions of Irish women who contributed to our lives, its culture, and its history in their own unique but unforgettable ways.
“May her spirit find the peace she sought in so many different ways.”