This piece was first published on the author's Substack blog and is republished by permission.
The Irish singer-songwriter Sinéad O’Connor has died. She was 56. The cause of death has not yet been revealed, but I would be very surprised if it was not suicide.
When the news first broke, I was quite shocked. For the rest of the evening I remained in this state—not depressed, but a bit shaken. This was a celebrity death that mattered to me in a way that few have done. I wasn’t even a fan—most of her music isn’t my kind of thing—but still, it was clear to me that a powerful and unique creative voice was gone from the world.
I was probably aware of Sinéad O’Connor, dimly, from when she first became famous in the late 1980s, but I was just a small child then. My first memory of being consciously aware of her is from 1994. I encountered her song Thank You for Hearing Me. It is a truly beautiful piece. To describe it would be clumsy, so I will simply suggest that the song be given a chance. It can speak for itself as a work of art.
And art is what Sinéad O’Connor created. Her work is not bubblegum pop music, nor is it the dumb rebellion of so much rock music. It is something sincere. In the modern parlance, it “comes from a place of honesty”. People use that phrase all the time now—“I speak my truth”—but I think in the case of Sinéad O’Connor it is actually accurate.
With her slight frame and shaved head, she was a strange creature to behold back then—androgynous, slightly alien, but certainly not ugly. The look “worked” for her. (Aesthetically, you can get away with almost anything when you’re young.) It was a look she had chosen at the very start of her career, in reaction to music executives advising her to be more feminine and grow her hair long. They said one thing, so she did the opposite. This behaviour shows a strong spirit, but is characteristic of a personality disorder which would loom large in O’Connor’s life, and will crop up again and again in this essay: borderline (BPD).
The common misconception about BPD is that it means someone is on the borderline of having a personality disorder. This is not so. It is a disorder, one in which the person (usually a woman) has a dysfunctional relationship with borders and boundaries. Perhaps she got far too little discipline as a child, or far too much. Or perhaps she had endured a lot of physical or sexual abuse, rupturing her ability to connect meaningfully with other people. Undermining her self-image could result in her having a warped understanding of where she ends and other people begin.
O’Connor claimed to have been viciously and relentlessly abused by her mother, between the ages of 8 and 13.
She was physically and verbally and psychologically, spiritually and emotionally abusive.
During this time, her father was struggling to gain custody and rescue his children from their sadistic, unhinged, valium-addicted mother.
But another testimony contradicts this to some extent. Her brother Joseph lived through all of this with her and remembers it very differently:
[Our mother] found family life distressing and that made things difficult for everyone in the house. My mum had problems but she wasn’t a bad woman. I still loved her.
We had problems like everyone else but we had good times too.
Sinéad said a lot of things about our childhood which I simply don’t remember. I can’t say that I haven’t wiped them from my memory because I just don’t know.
But I actually recall a lot of happiness as a child, despite the rumblings in the background. I find it interesting how two people’s perceptions of the same events can be totally different.
I’m not angry with Sinéad. I understand she has her feelings but I just don’t share them. In fact I’m pretty laid back and like to think I have moved on.
The key part here is “I can’t say that I haven’t wiped them from my memory”. Joseph doesn’t know whether he has forgotten things that were too painful to remember. So, everything Sinéad reported about their childhood—especially her childhood—could still be true.
But the claims are very dramatic. From her 2021 memoirs:
My earliest memory was her telling me I shouldn’t be born. She didn’t want me—she didn’t want girls, she wanted me to be a boy. She treated me like a boy, she chopped my hair off. Whenever she beat me, which was daily, she made me take my clothes off and lie naked on the floor, my arms and legs open. She would attack my abdomen, wanting to burst my womb and destroy my reproductive system. She wanted me to stop being a female.
She also claimed to have been sexually abused by men. In her 2017 interview with Dr Phil McGraw she said (and note that she refers to her mother’s abuse of her, described above, as “rape”):
I think it’s very important to tell you that my mother’s not the only person I’ve been raped by. I’ve been raped several times by other strangers in Ireland as a child… I was getting raped and molested everywhere I went.
This seems incredible. If it happened to her, why not to all girls? If her claim is true, clearly there must have been something about her which made her unusually vulnerable to sexual abuse. Alternatively, her claim is a reckless exaggeration. We cannot know the truth. One theory that seems plausible to me is that, as a result of prolonged abuse by her mother, her self-esteem was so low that she simply allowed herself to be used by men, later perceiving these experiences as rape.
Interestingly, a 2022 documentary about her (made with involvement from O’Connor herself in 2019) speaks in depth about her childhood and adolescence but doesn’t make a single mention of rape, sexual abuse or sexual assault, including by her mother. It seems an incredible thing to “forget” to mention, especially in a project like that documentary.
This background of sexual abuse, whether real or perceived, casts additional light on why she would choose, at the age of 20, to shave her head. It created a very androgynous appearance. This seems like a woman trying to de-sex herself, or even to uglify herself, either way to repel sexual advances, or to declare herself a non-sexual being, or at least, more than just a sexual being. (After writing these words, I found some quotes from O’Connor where she confirms all of this reasoning.) In other words, it seems like the behaviour of someone who had been, or believed she had been, sexually abused at a young age.
In keeping with stereotypes, she proceeded to have a long string of short relationships, only one of them lasting beyond two years. These relationships yielded children—four of them, by four different men. She was also married four times—sometimes to a father of a child, sometimes not. In summary, her love life seems to have been pretty much as chaotic as any person’s love life could possibly be, marred by a consistent inability to settle and (I suspect) a consistent inability to learn from mistakes. Again, these are hallmarks of sexual abuse, of a personality fractured at a young age by interference of the most intrusive kind.
One of the traits of BPD is that, whenever something goes wrong, it is always someone else’s fault. It has to be, because the person’s self-esteem is so brittle that accepting any serious amount of blame would be devastating. This makes the person extremely difficult to be around, and it condemns them to a life of misery, since they will inevitably repeat self-destructive patterns of behaviour over and over again.
And apparently O’Connor was indeed given to blaming everyone but herself. Somebody who knew her personally told me the following:
[Circa 2016, we were connected on Facebook] so I would regularly see demented posts from her and it was constantly escalating. Finally, she published a post where she said she was estranged from all her kids and former partners and that, basically, it was everybody’s fault but hers. I blocked her. She was very lonely and she brought most of it on herself.
BPD often stems from a woman’s relationship with her father. A weak or overly-doting father seems to be relevant to the condition, but also an absent or distant father. All of these descriptions mean that the father cannot impose order on his daughter, and some of them seem to fit Sinéad’s father, Seán.
He had been unable to protect her, for years, from her mother. Then he won custody and she came to live with him and his new family. Even then, perhaps feeling guilty for her suffering, he could not discipline her; she truanted from school and continued shoplifting. From her memoirs:
I’m extremely uncomfortable around him. I sit cross-legged on the very edge of my seat and shake my foot really fast without meaning to. I don’t really know him and he doesn’t really know me. It’s not his fault or mine, it’s my mother’s, because she didn’t let him see us for so long.
When O’Connor appeared in 1988 on The Late Late Show, an Irish TV chat show, her father was present and joked about how unruly she had been, going through “five or six” schools “in one year”. This is a strange thing for a father to joke about, that he hadn’t been an authority figure to his daughter. I think he knew it was serious and was laughing it off because, given the mother’s interference, he couldn’t have done better.
Much has been said about the abuse from O’Connor’s mother, but I think the damage it did to her relationship with her father is also relevant to her life story. In adulthood she rebelled against all male authority, yet loved the company of gay men, yet eventually succumbed to the most rigidly patriarchal religion of all.
Going chronologically, we will see how BPD drove a talented, creative and passionate woman to destroy her life.
But first, the biographical groundwork.
At the age of 13 she finally escaped from her mother and went to live with her father. But nine months later, feeling unable to cope with his wayward daughter, he sent her to a corrective institution, An Grianán.
Run by Catholic nuns, this was one of the Magdalene laundries of Ireland, places where women with illegitimate pregnancies used to be consigned to, often for life, while their babies once born were given up for adoption. The modern feminist legend is that these women had often fallen pregnant through no fault of their own but through rape, by some pillar of the community. I cannot comment on that.
Enrolled at An Grianán for 18 months, O’Connor endured more oppression and cruelty from women, this time the nuns rather than her mother. It was the classic type of bullying associated with the Catholic Church—“you are evil”, “you must repent”, etc. Understandably, O’Connor came to deeply resent Irish Catholicism for this draconian approach.
At some point, her musical talent was noticed by a guitar teacher, who encouraged her and helped her.
When she was 19, her mother died in a car crash (1985). Shortly thereafter, she escaped Ireland and moved to London, finding a home in the music scene.
She also found a home specifically with gay men:
I felt so safe and looked after. I felt like I had like a hundred daddies.
It is notable that, in the run-up to the album’s release, she became pregnant. Her record company feared pregnancy and motherhood would make her less bankable, so pressured her to get an abortion. This is a curious inversion of the control of women by “the patriarchy” back in Ireland. There, women were forbidden by “men” from getting abortions; here, a woman was pressured by men to get an abortion. There, the priority was religious and moral rectitude; here, the priority was commerce.
In 1990, O’Connor’s recording of Prince’s song Nothing Compares 2 U catapulted her into superstardom. Live performances of the song from this time show a young woman with incredible vocal talent and a unique stage presence. Her spiky personality was readily apparent, her body language showing hints of the insanity to come, but for now, the world could be forgiven for thinking it was looking at someone harmless.
In these performances, she is simply mesmerising, embodying the pain of love and loss like few other performers can. The talent, originality and promise cannot be overstated. She was clearly surrounded by good will at this point. Had she made different decisions from here on, she would have been a massively successful artist and, perhaps, a much happier woman.
But her first brush with controversy came immediately after this triumph. In August 1990 she was booked at a venue in New Jersey whose custom it was to play the US national anthem before each show. A lot of artists might object to low-brow populist patriotism but understand that their views are not that important, that they cannot impose themselves on other people, especially in a foreign country. Not so Sinéad O’Connor. She refused to perform if the anthem was played.
The venue caved to her demand and the concert went ahead, but afterwards, the US media caused a furore. In a surprisingly conciliatory tone, O’Connor issued a statement explaining herself:
I sincerely harbour no disrespect for America or Americans, but I have a policy of not having any national anthems played before my concerts in any country, not even my own, because they have nothing to do with music in general.
(Note the progressive notion that music has nothing to do with nationhood. This seems to prefigure the globalism she would later embrace.)
This statement did not satisfy her critics. Frank Sinatra, playing the same venue the next evening, declared:
She should leave the country. Her behavior is unforgivable. For her sake, we’d better never meet. I wish I could have gone to see her so I could kick her ass.
Back home, Irish press approached Seán O’Connor for a comment. He said:
At his age, [Sinatra] couldn’t kick his leg high enough.
When a young woman has needlessly offended millions of people and damaged her own career, it might be time for her father to step in and impose order. Instead, Seán mocked his daughter’s critics. By doing so he rewarded her destructive behaviour and failed to show her any boundaries.
No doubt he was a loving father who admired his daughter’s tenacity and wanted to show her unwavering loyalty. Perhaps, given her childhood, he felt he could not reprimand her.
O’Connor had many social concerns. Most of them were standard causes trendy with the Left at that time—feminism, gay rights, anti-racism, anti-Apartheid, anti-commercialism, anti-materialism, pro-refugees, anti-war, etc. But the cause that became most dear to her was quite idiosyncratic: the sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergymen in Ireland. She learned of this some time around 1990 via a newspaper article about families trying to get the Church to take notice of what priests had done to their children.
Publicly, she condemned the Church for turning a blind eye to this past and on-going assault on Irish youth, and even enabling it by protecting its priests and re-locating them, once scandal emerged, to new parishes where they could resume their abusive activities.
Until now, O’Connor had had a dichotomous relationship with the Catholic Church—resenting it as a victim of its doctrinal excesses, but loving it as a believer. Her discovery of the scandal shattered this dichotomy. The institution of the Catholic Church was now, in her mind, wholly hypocritical and cruel, perhaps even evil.
At first, O’Connor was a lone voice on this matter and her concerns were dismissed—by the Church, the media and the public at large. This led to a pivotal incident in 1992 when she tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II on live prime-time TV in America.
The intent was to highlight the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church. Instead, she wrecked her own reputation and career. The stunt was taken (of course) as an attack on the Catholic faith. Millions of Americans were deeply offended. A carpet of her CDs was ceremoniously crushed outside her US record company’s building. She never had a hit in America again. The superstardom promised two years earlier was suddenly “cancelled”.
Back in Britain and Ireland, she was now seen as a loony and not a figure of mainstream music—someone off-beat, in more than one sense.
Showing the lack of self-analysis, obsession with victimhood, and grandiose self-image that are typical of BPD, O’Connor reflected many years later on whether she regretted what she had done:
I regret that people treated me like shit, and I regret that I was so wounded already, that that really really killed me and hurt me. They all thought I should be made a mockery of for throwing my career down the drain. I never set out to be a pop star. It didn’t suit me being a pop star. So I didn’t throw away any f***ing career that I wanted. It didn’t change my attitude. I wasn’t sorry. I didn’t regret it. It was the proudest thing I’ve ever done as an artist. They broke my heart and they killed me, but I didn’t die. They tried to bury me—they didn’t realise I was a seed.
Her subsequent behaviour cemented her “off-beat” reputation, and was perhaps spurred by it. That tends to happen with Cluster B individuals: they deliberately annoy people, then people’s annoyance outrages them and propels them to even worse behaviour. It is exponential, only occasionally calming down as a result of excess and the need to recharge. But the overall picture is one of constant, escalating derangement.
And indeed this is how it played out with O’Connor.
At first, it was quite subtle. Her antisocial antics and strange statements seemed to be those of a troubled but sane young woman who was earnestly protesting injustice in the world.
She was given to broadcasting her troubles in public, thrice announcing (in 1994, 1999 and later in 2015) that she had attempted suicide.
(I can empathise with her being very open about her struggles, because it’s the kind of thing I used to do myself in the early years of my career as an online content creator. By then there was a name for it: over-sharing. It is easy for a sensitive person, desperate to communicate and in need of understanding, to make two big mistakes: to become addicted to sympathy, and to divulge too much. Any troubled person has certain things which might be best left unrevealed, for several reasons. There is the danger of people misunderstanding the information, or maliciously using it against you. There is the danger that, by selectively focusing on the negative, you end up misrepresenting yourself. There is also the danger of degrading yourself with such openness in the first place. Our ancestors knew more about this stuff than we do today, frankly.)
But, over time, her behaviour became outrageous and indulgent. Whatever catharsis she had hoped to get from doing her art… it clearly wasn’t enough.
By 1999, she was getting ordained as a priest (by a renegade Catholic sect) and declaring that she wished to be known as “Mother Bernadette Mary”. She was still a believing Catholic at this point, but this ordination does not seem to have been done “in good faith”, so to speak. Rather, it was deliberate antagonism, another gesture of defiance against the Catholic Church, which considered the idea of female priests heretical. So, she confirmed that she was heretical. She outraged convention and authority. Later, presumably bored by the shock factor from this stunt, she asked three different popes to formally excommunicate her from the Church.
This episode in 1999 was when the general perception of Sinéad O’Connor shifted from “controversial wild child” to “loony”. From here on, people would speak of her in dismissive terms. It was generally assumed that any news one heard about her would be crazy, random, attention-seeking… and one was rarely proved wrong.
In 2000, at the age of 34, she suddenly declared herself a lesbian (baffling, given the evidence of her love life) but later downgraded it to only 25% lesbian. She had been an active supporter of LGBT causes from the very beginning of her career, performing at Pride in 1988, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that she ever actually had a lesbian relationship, or was bisexual in any meaningful way.
In 2003, she announced she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This was later augmented to a combination of borderline personality disorder (BPD) and post-traumatic stress disorder. (The latter was, ironically, the very condition she had ascribed to the Irish people as a collective in her song Famine, many years before.)
I have a report of her, around this time, being treated kindly by a couple and repaying them by trying to sow mistrust between them, hinting to one of them that the other might have committed a very serious sexual crime. This attempt to destroy other people’s healthy relationships is the kind of malicious behaviour that can be expected from Cluster B individuals. It is also a cliché of disordered people, especially of the Left, that they espouse sweet and sentimental ideas for society but are cruel to people in their own orbit.
As for the Catholic sexual abuse scandal, in time she was fully vindicated. Formal investigations by the Church itself confirmed her claims, and then some. The matter that had caused her exile from the mainstream and turbo-charged her descent into craziness, was one in which she was eventually proved absolutely right. If she had just gone about it in a better way, all of that personal cost would have been avoided. But such is the way with Cluster B people: they turn even golden opportunities into catastrophes.
In 2008, the Pope issued an official apology regarding the abuse. For O’Connor and all who had sounded the alarm, this was a resounding victory, better than they could have hoped to achieve. A mentally healthy person would respond to this in a positive way—voicing relief that the institution was now taking the problem seriously, asserting firmly that things should be followed through, that words aren’t enough, etc. but nevertheless being positive and constructive. Instead, O’Connor remained angry and belligerent towards the Church. In 2011, she described the Vatican as “a nest of devils”.
That was the year I saw photos of her at a showbiz gala in Los Angeles. I was shocked by her appearance. She had aged, and aged badly. Her face, once so sharp and elegant, was now pudgy and wrinkled. Her skin, once porcelain and clear, was now oily and wrecked with a multitude of ill-judged tattoos—a stereotypical sign of female insanity. Of course women age, but the manner of her ageing betrayed a great deal of struggle and pain. She had let herself go, yes, but there was something more than that—an aura of disorder.
In 2013, she voiced a view of religion that could be described as anarchistic. Having said that all organised religion is “a house built on sand”, she elaborated:
I believe in Jesus Christ, I believe in the Holy Spirit, all of those, but I also believe in all of them. I don’t think it cares if you call it Fred or Daisy, you know? Religion is a smokescreen, it has everybody talking to the wall. There is a Holy Spirit who can’t intervene on our behalf unless we ask it. Religion has us talking to the wall. The Christ character tells us himself: you must only talk directly to the Father; you don’t need intermediaries. We all thought we did, and that’s okay, we’re not bad people, but let’s wake up... God was there before religion; it’s there [today] despite religion; it’ll be there when religion is gone.
As an agnostic, I don’t have much of a problem with this quote, but I have to note that she eschewed all organised religion and desired total religious freedom, even though she demonstrably couldn’t handle such freedom, and furthermore advocated the same for people in general. A glance at human nature would show that the masses definitely can’t handle religious freedom and don’t even desire to be free—but these observations are contra to the progressive worldview in which O’Connor had been immersed ever since she got out of An Grianán.
But again, she got what she wanted: the Irish people, once devoutly Catholic, are fast shedding that religion. Free of the institution of the Church, are they now in direct communication with God? No, only with Silicon Valley, BlackRock and the WEF. Their new faith is globalism.
And what did O’Connor herself do with religious freedom? She converted to the most doctrinaire religion available: Islam. A lifelong feminist, she had been yearning for patriarchy all along, and now she embraced the biggest daddy of all. Too bad he was hopelessly foreign; I think this is why he could not bring her peace.
Her conversion, perceived by many people as “yet more crazy Sinéad antics”, occurred in 2018. The year before, she had taken a new name for reasons unknown (Magda Davitt) and now did the same again, taking a bizarre Islamic name, completely foreign to her heritage. Talk about running from what you are! Probably the name had never been heard on the Emerald Isle, in thousands of years of Celtic history, until the day she first said it out loud: Shuhada’ Sadaqat.
Both the taking of new names and the converting to a foreign religion would seem to indicate a person desperate to shed her identity, to escape her past. Yet, even as she attempted to make herself less and less Irish, she remained in Ireland. All of this seems to mirror the deeply conflicting feelings she voiced about her mother in 2017: oscillating between missing her excruciatingly and being grateful that she is dead.
Between 2016 and 2021, she spent a great deal of time in a psychiatric hospital in Dublin, calling it her “second home”. When not there, she lived in various places around Ireland, apparently keeping herself to herself. There are also unverified reports that she paid medical bills for people around her and played music in local pubs. It is difficult to piece together. As is often the case with BPD sufferers, their behaviour is very erratic so the “evidence” ends up being varied enough to support many different narratives, according to your bias.
Around this time, she took to inappropriately asking for help of various kinds:
Ok here goes a reach out. I've been secretly living with a physically paralysing, trauma related case of acute low self esteem for the last few years and months and am lately not eating because it's made me so agoraphobic I can't go to the shops. And I'm starving.
By this time (2020), her physical deterioration had continued. The tattoos had multiplied, the skin had become blotched. This decline was sad to witness. In addition, she hadn’t released an album since 2014.
But she was working on a new one. She said it would be her last; after it had been released and she’d done a tour to support it, she would retire.
That album was never released.
In January 2022, one of her children, Shane, committed suicide. He was only 17.
All of her plans were cancelled. She tweeted:
My beautiful son, Nevi'im Nesta Ali Shane O'Connor, the very light of my life, decided to end his earthly struggle today and is now with God. May he rest in peace and may no one follow his example. My baby. I love you so much. Please be at peace.
Five days later, a string of despairing tweets suggests a number of realities hitting home, probably after decades of self-delusion and blaming everyone else (emphasis added):
I’ve decided to follow my son. There is no point living without him. Everything I touch, I ruin. I only stayed for him. And now he’s gone. I’ve destroyed my family. My kids don’t want to know me. I am a shit person. And you all only think I’m nice because I can sing. I’m not.
I’m a piece of shit. I don’t deserve to live and everyone who knows me will be better off without me. I am sorry for all the harm I caused.
I’m on my own the last three days. Because I’m shit. And rightly, no one wants to know me. I’ve upset Shane’s dad because I tweeted the funeral. I’m such a twat. I’m sorry Donal. I’m lonely. Twitter is for lonely people. Monsters like me get terribly lonely.
Here, she was blaming herself for all of her problems and everything that had gone wrong, and calling herself a monster. Of course, given the circumstances, all of this could be just “crazy talk”.
Or it could be someone admitting to herself, for the first time, that her problems were all internal, all along. Maybe her brother Joseph’s testimony is accurate, and their mother actually wasn’t very abusive? Maybe all the abuse she claimed to have endured was imaginary, and she was now realising that she had manufactured it to explain away problems that came from within her, and which she could otherwise not understand? (She later says “I was a f***-up from the day I was born”.)
Or perhaps none of that is true, and she, feeling responsible for her son’s suicide, was simply taking on far more blame than she deserved.
Another theory would be that, in this moment of unique vulnerability, the Catholic brainwashing from her childhood resurged, causing her to call herself evil and blame herself for everything.
With the available evidence, we cannot know.
This is no one’s fault but mine. Shane’s death is no one’s fault but mine. Mine is no one’s fault but mine. I don’t want to be in a world without my Shane and without my other kids. I don’t deserve to live. That’s my fault. No one else’s.
I was a f***-up from the day I was born. It’s not my parents’ fault or my family or children’s fault. It’s mine. God made me wrong. So I’m sending myself back and I’m finding the only person on this earth who ever truly loved me.
With these promises of suicide, she was taken into care to deal with the immediate shock. She would never release music again.
Eight months later, a documentary film was released telling the story of her rise, fall, and vindication. Made with involvement from O’Connor herself in 2019, the film is concerned with rehabilitating her public image, not as a sufferer of mental illness, but as a folk hero. It casts her as a feminist icon and a victim of misogyny and Catholic oppression, and lauds her achievements in taking on the Catholic church.
A voice-over from Peaches describes O’Connor:
I think her image screamed more than feminism, beyond feminism at the time. I think it was just like non-binary incredible intersectional feminist attitude.
This is just a casual comment from Peaches, but I have to say… the label “non-binary” robs O’Connor of her unique, “authentic” dealings with gender, co-opting her into the madness of contemporary progressive doctrine. Sinéad O’Connor was not “non-binary”: she was a woman. She was a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend, a wife, a mother, a grandmother. There was nothing “non-female” about her. Indeed, it could be argued that most of her art was a meditation on womanhood.
Claiming to study her as a figure of the 1980s and ‘90s, the documentary integrates her into 2020s progressivism, visually linking her with the rainbow flag, abortion rights, feminism, gay marriage, multiculturalism and the trans flag.
In an interview, the director Kathryn Ferguson also displays anti-white bigotry:
The white man of America could not accept who she was.
Doctrine, doctrine, everywhere. Even when it is inappropriate, one-eyed and unhelpful, the doctrine must be invoked. The modern Left cannot contend with any topic except through the prism of their rigid, incurious and simplistic ideology.
This applied to O’Connor herself. In the 1990s, she stated repeatedly that she was vehemently opposed to censorship of all kinds. But by the 2020s she was no longer interested in debate. When some of her countrymen disagreed with the demographic transformation of Ireland, she called for them to be arrested. This even included her second child’s father, John Waters. It is incredible to think that she had no regrets about deeply offending millions of Americans and millions of Catholics, but petitioned for people to be arrested for complaining about their demographic replacement. (Incidentally, I should state that, though John Waters and I are in contact, we have never spoken about O’Connor and he had no involvement in this essay.)
This shift on the Left, from desiring total freedom of speech to desiring draconian censorship, deplatforming, defunding and even imprisonment of their opponents in order to fortify the new social order they have created, is a truly incredible thing to behold. It stems from ideological ossification on the Left, and it causes a similar shrillness on the Right—as demonstrated by the reactions to my Telegram eulogy to O’Connor herself).
So increasingly, we are plagued on all sides by cold ideology. The truth is messy, the cause is all-important, and, the personal being political, all trauma is co-optable. Our experience is just fodder for the machine. The human falls away, unvalued and unexplored—by those claiming to be concerned with humanity.
And indeed, the film arrived just in time to rescue O’Connor from what was surely a unique opportunity to self-reflect and to grow. The despairing tweets she had made represent, I believe, a dearly-bought moment of clarity. No longer able to distract herself with politics and crusades, she was looking at how she had behaved in her “real” life towards the people around her. The bereavement obviously shattered a lot of defences that she had built up over the years and brought reality crashing home. (What she said about herself, that she was her own worst enemy and a bad person who hurt many people, is corroborated by multiple accounts from people who knew her.)
With the documentary being released at this time, it’s as if the activist Left wanted to wash away her new-found self-awareness and bring her back on-board as an ideological tool, encouraging her not to think about her personal interactions but about her political crusades.
No doubt progressives would say the Catholic Church and “white men” abused Sinéad O’Connor. I would say the Left abused her too, by welcoming her into nihilism, by goading her into destroying traditional Irish society rather than healing it.
But it’s understandable that they never thought deeply about this. When you are all together in a crusade against a corrupt institution, how can any of you step back and carefully reflect on your motivations, especially when the target really is corrupt? In that situation, there must be little temptation to examine yourself; you can simply stay focused on the wickedness of the target.
And this is difficult for people on the Right to admit. Sinéad O’Connor might well have been mad, but her crusade against the Church’s corruption was justified. Surely we cannot believe that an institution which systematically protects and enables child abusers should be left alone to continue doing so?
It is true that O’Connor was part of an anti-Christian zeitgeist, no doubt with predictable types involved and coaxing it along. But it is also true that the Catholic Church, especially in Ireland, had turned rotten. We can lament the arrival of BlackRock and Silicon Valley and the NGOs and the masses of Third World migrants… but we have to confront the fact that Ireland, prior to all of this, was far from a perfect society.
Then there is the matter of rebellion and mental derangement. Should a person like Sinéad O’Connor ever be in the public eye and taken seriously as a commentator? It would be simple and tidy to declare that, no, she should have been ignored, the Catholic patriarchy should have clamped down on her insanity, put a stop to her nonsense, and been the moral authority that society needs. But it wasn’t a moral authority; it was an enabler of widespread child abuse. And, if it had prevented her from speaking out, then probably nobody famous would have spoken out—and the systemic abuse of children might still be rampant in Catholic Ireland today.
Maybe it takes an insane person like O’Connor to say what no sane person will dare to utter? If that is the case, should we not be glad that the Catholic Church was weak enough that it couldn’t silence her?
But then, the price of her not being silenced was the destruction of a social order, and the progression of her own personal descent. Eventually Ireland found globalism and she found Islam (in both cases, the replacement almost certainly worse than what it replaced).
There is no tidy answer to this story. She was born into a corrupt society, she noticed the corruption and being crazy was willing to “call it out”. Neither she nor the society she railed against is blameless.
You could say that dysfunctional individuals like her are the symptom and the solution to a failing society. Their disruptive behaviour is what enables the society to admit its bad state and make its first tentative steps towards regeneration—but the whistleblower will be resented nonetheless.
We can condemn Sinéad O’Connor, but if so, we have to also condemn the society that created her.
In early July 2023, she left Ireland after 25 years and returned to the place where her career had first taken off: London. Appearing upbeat about a new start, she talked about working on a new album and touring in the coming years.
But, just a few weeks later, she tweeted for the very last time:
Lost my 17-year-old son to suicide in 2022. Been living as undead night creature since. He was the love of my life, the lamp of my soul. We were one soul in two halves. He was the only person who ever loved me unconditionally. I am lost in the bardo without him.
Shane looks only about 12 here, yet he seems to be cradling her. She, the mother, seems to be the child huddling into her parent. Of course a photo is taken on a whim and is not necessarily representative… except that this is the photo she selected, two years after his death, to represent their relationship.
Then there is the expression on her face. She looks, as my own mother used to say, like she “has a far-away want about her”—that slightly baffled and troubled expression. It is that uncertain smile which denotes unfathomable depths of chaos inside, an awareness that, while each day might bring some calm, there is so much more trouble on the way. It is the look of somebody who does not have any peace. And yet, you can tell that she really did love her son.
Shane looks like the strong one. And he looks happy. But, a few years after this photo was taken, he ended his life.
We cannot know what drove him to do this. Perhaps mental illness is hereditary and he was afflicted with it himself, or perhaps living with a mother as unstable and needy as Sinéad took a devastating toll on him, or perhaps he simply succumbed to the ills of our age. Those are different from the ills of his mother’s generation, and they were partly brought about by her activism, but I am sure she did not intend that.
Nevertheless, it is clear that mother and son were very close, despite being a troubled family in the public eye and despite their chronic personal problems.
I am an agnostic, but I hope that they are together again now, and that all the trouble is over.
In the widening gyre, beauty is reviled and peace is not easy to find. We have lost someone who created beauty. Let us hope that she has found peace.
RIP Sinéad O’Connor, 1966–2023.