Sinead was born on the feast day of the Immaculate Conception. She was delivered by the grandson of Eamon de Valera and named after De Valera’s wife.
Her parents separated when she was eight. Her father was granted custody but she elected to stay with her mother, a troubled woman. She took a lot of pills and behaved eccentrically. If Sinead had a button of a dress undone or her room wasn’t tidy, this often led to beatings at her hands. Sometimes she once said, she was denied food – or locked in a shed in her garden.
She regularly went to school bruised and black-eyed. A neighbour heard screams emanating from her house one night and went to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children to complain.
‘I was brought up by someone who hated me,’ Sinead later said, ‘and as a result I was taught to hate myself. I felt I was a nothing because I was told I was a nothing. I was too young to question this. If you hear something often enough you start to believe it.’
She started pilfering at this time, nicking items from shops. She was caught stealing a pair of shoes from the British Home Stores in O’Connell Street one day and brought to a psychiatrist for analysis. Afterwards she was sent to a residential centre for girls. It was here she developed her love of music.
Her mother was killed in a car accident in 1985. Sinead said her main emotion when she heard the news was one of relief.
Ever since she became famous for her incredible singing voice she’s been in the headlines for one thing or another, from her outspoken views to shaving her head to becoming a devotee of various religious sects to becoming a self-ordained priest.
She once paid €11,000 to The Irish Times to print a poem she wrote about her feelings of neglect and abuse. Some perceived this as a PR exercise and others as a gross over-reaction, but she insisted she was traumatised by a woman who was repeatedly hospitalised in St. John of Gods for her behaviour. ‘I sing because of her,’ she said, ‘Her life was a misery and she made mine one too. I get rid of all that baggage through my music so in a way it’s a dedication to her.’
She likened herself to the survivor of a concentration camp, adding that people in concentration camps at least realised that wrongs were being done to them, whereas her mother gave her to believe that she herself was the one with the problem. The traumas, she claimed, made her into an introverted youth and probably resulted in her later exhibitionism. It was as if she was trying to lay the ghost of that introversion by taking up a career in the public eye.
Performing, she said, was the abused child’s revenge on her past. ‘The basic problem of the whole world is child abuse,’ she went on to assert, ‘If you look throughout history, all serial killers have been abused as children. Hitler was an abused child and so was Saddam Hussein.’
Fame, she said, was never anything she wanted. All it brought her was media intrusiveness into her private life. ‘Celebrities hang around together,’ she said, ‘because they can’t communicate with anybody else. When you’re a celebrity, another celebrity is the only person who will treat you as a normal human being.’
Sinead had children by various men. She received even more headlines when she refused to sing at an American concert in 1990 if the National anthem was played before it. She later ripped up a picture of The Pope on live TV. Castigated for this, he said only did it to show how much she cared about the church. In 1997 she played the Virgin Mary in the film ‘The Butcher Boy.’
She said she’s had manic depression all her life. She once broke a light bulb and dragged the shards of glass across her face and body during an emotional crisis. ‘It’s like blades in your belly that get sharper and sharper,’ she claimed, a hole through you growing bigger and bigger.’ She also used to spit at herself in the mirror, looking at herself and thinking: ‘You’re disgusting.’ That tape played continuously in her head for years, which made her behave so weirdly that people started to regard her as a lunatic. ‘The depression I’m talking about is howling grief. It’s standing in front of a mirror trying to tear yourself apart. Even though there was nothing wrong going on in my life I felt like I was being burned at the stake.’
She was reported to have tried to end her life in 1994 with a cocktail of vodka and pills. Afterwards she received counselling from a number of quarters. She later conquered her sense of resentment. ‘Maybe you have to go to the edge of madness to get yourself back,’ said the controversial songstress who has become something of a role model for disaffected adolescents the world over.
A year or so ago there was a documentary made about her life. ‘Nothing Compares’ was Kathryn Ferguson’s thought-provoking documentary about the singer. It was titled after her most famous song but the estate of Prince, who wrote it, forbade it to be used in the film because of some negative comments Sinead had made about the singer in her autobiography, ‘Rememberings’ which was published in 2021.
The documentary captured her many contradictions. How could someone who looked so delicate speak so irately? She’s been called ‘Bambi in bovver boots,’ another of her contradictions.
Her voice could go from ‘a whisper to a shout in a half-second.’ She skipped octaves for fun. In the documentary we see her belting out songs in the days when she was mistaken for a skinhead, when punk rock was all the rage. This was raw passion, her voice like a primal scream.
She was a worldwide sensation at that time. Everything she touched seemed to turn to gold.
Things changed when she attacked America – and its anthem. A huge sector of that country came out against her, including Frank Sinatra. It was one thing to irritate the Irish powers-that-be with her pronouncements, another to take on another country. This was a bigger demographic. She was biting the hand that fed. Her actions led to a swift downturn in her career. ‘Maybe I subconsciously wanted that,’ she said, ‘I was never happy being famous.’
Sinead converted to Islam in 2018, changing her name to Shuhada SadaQat. Earlier this year, her 17-year-old son Shane died from a drug overdose. She was so devastated she vowed never to sing in public again.
She sang like an angel. Whatever one’s feelings about her politics or her behaviour, she was compulsive in everything she did, a woman more sinned against than sinning. ‘My ambition,’ she once said, ‘is to be the purest creature in the world.’