Sinéad O'Connor in her own words

Sinéad O’Connor in her own words: ‘I’m not a pop star. I’m just a troubled soul who needs to scream into mikes now and then… Some things are worth being a pariah for’

Sinéad O’Connor had ascended to legendary status well before her untimely death this week aged 56. If Sinéad was not born to sing, then she found the ability to do so to heal herself from the pain of abuse and in doing so, also helped to heal those who heard her voice and the truths she sang in her lyrics. 

There are many reasons her passing is so very sad, not least because she was working on an album that David Holmes, its producer, stated this week was an astonishing piece of work. The Belfast man whose credits are much too numerous to mention, but who isn’t given to hyperbole, said the album was shaping up to be the pinnacle of his career.

We also learned on Friday in a statement from her management company that she was hopeful of touring again next year and was considering opportunities that had arisen after the publication of her 2021 memoir Rememberings. 

The book was a classic of its kind and part of a rehabilitation process that began through nothing but the profound realisation that – to quote a trending hashtag this week – #shewasright. The 2022 feature-length documentary Nothing Compares, which focused largely on her activism, casts her with good reason as akin to a prophet.

From her earliest interviews in 1986 right up until her last known interview in 2021, she also proved to be the most reliable narrator of her own story.

Sinéad O’Connor had ascended to legendary status well before her untimely death this week aged 56

If Sinéad was not born to sing, then she found the ability to do so to heal herself from the pain of abuse and in doing so, also helped to heal those who heard her voice and the truths she sang in her lyrics

Irish singer Sinead O’Connor (R) pictured hugging her daughter Roisin during an Anti-Racism demonstration in Dublin city centre, May 13, 2000

She was extremely articulate and although what she often said was considered unpalatable or deeply controversial, it originated in her steadfast beliefs or, as has been proven in relation to her statements about clerical abuse, demonstrably true. 

Time will tell whether Sinéad is remembered beyond her devastated fanbase mostly as the woman who spoke truth to power to the detriment of her career or as the artist who gave the world self-penned classics such as Troy; Just Like U Said It Would B; Mandinka and her career-defining cover of Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U. It may prove impossible to separate one from the other.

These are a small collection of Sinéad O’Connor’s quotes, and unfiltered Sinéad, in her own words, speaking about herself and the people and incidents that shaped her life and music. Sinéad may rest less in peace – and more in power.

On Singing:

‘I’m on fire when I’m singing, I’m completely in character, I use my sense memories, and every syllable of it is meant. It’s a very special thing.’ From her 2021 autobiography, Rememberings.

The singer (pictured performing in Amsterdam in 1988) was placed in corrective school aged 15 after bouts of stealing

‘When I sing, it’s the most solitary state: just me, and the microphone, and the holy spirit. It’s not about notes or scales, it’s all about emotion.’ Both from an 2012 interview with Irish journalist, Neil McCormack.

‘I’m not a pop star. I’m just a troubled soul who needs to scream into mikes now and then.’ From her 2021 autobiography, Rememberings.

On the music industry:

‘The music business is a spiritually corrupt arena. It’s full of nothing but vampires and pimps, honestly. You couldn’t understand it unless you were in it. The only way to survive it is to love music.’ Time magazine interview, 2013.

Kris Kristofferson comforts Sinead O’Connor after she was booed off stage during the Bob Dylan anniversary concert at New York Madison Square Garden, on October 17, 1992. The performance was O’Connor’s first live event since she ripped a picture of Pope John Paul II

‘Success’ was making a failure of my life. Because everyone was already calling me crazy for not acting like a pop star. For not worshipping fame… No one ever asked me what my dreams were; they just got mad at me for not being who they wanted me to be. My own dream is only to keep the contract I made with God before I ever made one with the music business. And that’s a better fight than murder. I gotta get to the other side of life.’ From her 2021 autobiography, Rememberings.

On her Mental Health:

‘I knelt on the ground in front of the gable wall and wailed up to the landing window to get her to let us into the house when it got dark. That is when I officially lost my mind and became afraid of the size of the sky.’ Her recollection of the day her father left. Her mother locked her and her siblings out of the house. She was eight years old.’ From her autobiography, Rememberings.

Sinead O’Connor filmed her new flat and seemed happy having just moved back to London at the start of July – the last time she was seen

‘People who express suicidal feelings are least likely to act on them… Anyone who gives u the remotest bit of shit for expressing suicidal feelings is a w****r. ‘

A 2011 tweet, when she sought to reassure her fans she would not attempt to take her own life.

‘I want to go to heaven SO bad… Can’t manage any more. Badly wish cud die without it ruining my kids’ lives.’ A tweet two weeks after the above post.

‘I have been so traumatised over the years by this treatment of me as if I’m a mad woman… I have often and still often struggle with suicidal feelings when I am subjected to this ‘mad’ Sinéad O’Connor business. It is wrong. Degrading. Insulting.’ A tweet from October 2011.

‘Gonna be off radar for few weeks. But will be back. Worry not. 🙂 I’m going to hospital. Treatment for depression. Not at all well. But they will put me back together quick…’ A tweet from 2012.

On her mother:

‘In the funeral home, my father cried over my mother’s body. Said, ‘I’m sorry, Marie’ over and over. That made me angry, too. Why sorry now and not before? Why no ‘I’m sorry’ from either of them to the four of us? I ran away, out of the funeral home. Down the road through Glasthule and into Dún Laoghaire. I don’t think I’ll ever stop running. I don’t know how I’ll ever not be angry. Nothing is ever gonna be fixed now.’

Sinead O’Connor (pictured) revealed that she got into music ‘as therapy’ to cope with the trauma caused by the abuse inflicted on her by her mother, in a haunting final interview filmed before her shock death on Wednesday

One of five children, Ms O’Connor spoke out about being subjected to physical abuse at the hands of her mother, who died in a car crash in 1985

‘In the church I felt really angry when all the people came to shake our hands. This was the morning before the day of the funeral. We were sitting in the front row. We’d never seen these people when she was alive. I was angry they hadn’t helped us. Or her. I didn’t know who half of them were. And the ones I knew made me feel angrier. They’d known. Not the details. But they’d known. And they hadn’t done a thing.’ Two quotes about the days following her mother’s death in 1985. Sinéad was 18. From her autobiography, Rememberings.

‘I won the prize in kindergarten for being able to curl up into the smallest ball, but my teacher never knew why I could do it so well… I was naked and had cereal and powdered coffee all over me. My mother was saying all this scary stuff, and I was curled up so she could (only) kick me on my bottom.’ From her autobiography, Rememberings.

On tearing up a picture of Pope John Paul II on US television in 1992

‘My intention had always been to destroy my mother’s photo of the pope. It represented lies and liars and abuse. The type of people who kept these things were devils like my mother. I never knew when or where or how I would destroy it, but destroy it I would when the right moment came. And with that in mind, I carefully brought it everywhere I lived from that day forward. Because nobody ever gave a s*** about the children of Ireland.’ It was her mother’s photograph of Pope John Paul II that Sinéad tore up and threw towards the camera, on Saturday Night Live, in 1992.

Sinead O’Connor generated huge controversy in 1992 when she tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II during a performance on US show Saturday Night Live

‘I feel that having a No. 1 record derailed my career and my tearing the photo put me back on the right track.’ From her autobiography, Rememberings.

‘I’m not sorry I did it. It was brilliant. But it was very traumatising. It was open season on treating me like a crazy bitch.’

In an interview with Amanda Hess, New York Times, 2021.

‘Some things are worth being a pariah for.’

From her autobiography, Rememberings.

On Shaving her head:

‘I don’t feel like me unless I have my hair shaved. So even when I’m an old lady, I’m going to have it. ‘

Sinead O’Connor documentary Nothing Compares directed by Katheryn Ferguson is available on Sky 

‘My sister had the most beautiful red hair, glorious red hair, the type you’d be jealous of. But my mother took it into her head that my sister’s hair was ugly, and horrible and disgusting. And she started, when I had long hair, she would introduce us as her pretty daughter and her ugly daughter. And that’s why I cut my hair off. I didn’t want to be pretty.’ Both from a 2017 TV interview with US TV star, Dr Phil.

‘I have a skinhead, but I’m not a skinhead; I have the haircut because it makes me feel clear; it makes me feel good. I like to say, ‘I’m not a man or a woman – I’m Sinéad O’Connor’.’ Irish Times interview 1986.

On her faith and spiritualism

‘I define success by whether I keep the contract I made with the Holy Spirit before I made one with the music business.’ From her autobiography, Rememberings.

‘I see music and god as two separate things. I see music as a priesthood. I would have a very strong relationship with what I prefer to call the Holy Spirit. It lifts it from any religion.’ Time magazine interview, 2013.

In 1999, O’Connor caused uproar in Ireland when she became a priestess of the breakaway Latin Tridentine Church – a position that was not recognized by the mainstream Catholic Church. Above: O’Connor performing in a clerical ‘dog’ collar with a large cross around her neck, 2014

‘Rastafari has inspired me to be even more passionately Catholic… Rastafari is not a religion; it’s a movement. And when you’re around those people, you can taste God – is how I would put it.’ In an interview with, in 2005.

READ MORE: Sinead O’Connor’s life of controversy: From tearing up a picture of the Pope to backing the IRA and banning the US national anthem at her concert 

Sinead O’Connor generated huge controversy in 1992 when she tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II during a performance on US show Saturday Night Live

‘This is to announce that I am proud to have become a Muslim. This is the natural conclusion of any intelligent theologian’s journey. All scripture study leads to Islam. Which makes all other scriptures redundant.’ In a tweet from 2018.

On her relationships:

‘I’ve never laughed so much with any other human being. Nor farted out loud as much. John is a legendary farter-out-loud. And it’s catching.’ On her relationship with her first husband John Reynolds. From her autobiography, Rememberings.

‘I am much more confident these days, I’m back home and in touch with my family. I am not caught up with being a rock star – and I am in love. I feel as if I have died and gone to heaven.’ On her marriage to journalist Nick Summerlad. They married in 2001 and divorced in 2004. Daily Mirror, 2004.

‘Steve is lovely so it’s not his fault but mine… it was an extremely happy marriage… I’m heartbroken about it breaking up. ‘ From the Irish Examiner in 2010. After splitting up with her third husband, musician, Steve Cooney.

‘Barry has been my absolute harbour whenever seas were rough… no matter what, and in the last two months when I was extremely ill because of kidney stones and various frights. We intend to have a renewal of our marriage vows at some point in the summer and this time with our families and friends present and a proper f*** off party.’

She married therapist Barry Herridge in 2011, but they split days later.

Here she is quoted in the Daily Mirror in 2014 suggesting they would reconcile.

‘I wish I hadn’t ever got married. Silly cow. Four times. What a tw*t. Now I can’t ever get married once and properly. Anyway, I look stupid in dresses. And clearly, I’m a cr*p wife.’

From an Irish Sun interview in 2014

‘I haven’t been terribly successful at being a girlfriend or wife. I’m a bit of a handful, let’s face it.’ New York Times, 2021.

On her beloved son Shane’s suicide in 2022

‘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.’ From a tweet in 2022.

Her own epitaph? From her autobiography, Rememberings.

‘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.’

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