Articles - Features

Her Heart and Her Voice: Remembering Sinéad O’Connor

Galway-based folk artist Brigid Mae Power fondly remembers Sinéad O’Connor’s incomparable influence and authenticity

Illustration by Loreana Rushe 

When people ask me in interviews, “Who are your musical influences?” I usually respond with the same people who come to mind. “Aretha Franklin, Duke Ellington, Joni Mitchell, Tim Buckley’ etc. Recently I wondered, why don’t I ever say “Sinéad O’ Connor”? 

I have realised that Sinéad has been far more of an influence and inspiration to me than the above artists and for a much longer time. I feel like her music, singing, songwriting and personality is embedded in me so deeply. It’s just such a given that I forget to mention.

Throughout my childhood, from as early as I can remember, her albums were always playing in my house. I know them all so well, but in that special way you absorb music as a child – so familiar with each note and each feeling. A feeling of such beautiful safety comes up in me with the sounds from Universal Mother. So Sinéad is undeniably probably one of my biggest influences and singing teachers without me fully realising until the last few years.

Her singing always pierces right through to the truth and for me, that has always been what matters and what music is about. It’s always been what I’ve been searching for and the type of intensity I’m drawn to in music. I’ll listen to ‘Fire on Babylon’ repeatedly every month or so to just soak in the power from it, rather than listen to many different songs by many different artists. Sinéad’s music gives, it doesn’t take. I feel replenished after and somehow more confident in myself. What a gift that is to give to others. Musically, she truly did what she came here to do and did it amazingly. 

Her ability to sing softly, vulnerably, with sadness, yet also sing with anger and power in such an impressive vocal range is and was so inspiring to me. Growing up, I didn’t see any other women doing that, it didn’t feel safe to. It still doesn’t always feel safe to. You’re so often shown the consequences of what happens to women that speak the truth, free themselves, stand up for themselves, show their femininity. You subconsciously assess the danger and then sadly can hide yourself to feel safe, put the lid on your expressive self. A lot of women have had to water themselves down, put limits on themselves for survival reasons. Sinéad took the lid off and let herself be herself. She didn’t compromise and like I’ve seen written in many other places, she took the brunt of it for us all, by speaking out what a lot of us were thinking but couldn’t say, singing her true voice, and being free. 

I met Sinéad in 1995 when I was a small child at a festival. I got her autograph in my Disney Mickey Mouse autograph’s book. I had Pluto, Minnie Mouse and Sinéad O’Connor’s autographs in it. Where that book is now I have no idea. I wish I could find it.

I remember being struck by how quiet and fawn-like she was. In my memory she was very still. When I looked up that festival before writing this, I was shown a few articles that were hard to read. All in agreement of her talent, but not without remarks like “lost her marbles” etc. To think she was dealing with all that as a young, extremely gifted young woman and mother breaks my heart. There’s not many of us that would be able to handle that.

When I was a teenager in Galway I remember feeling like I had to keep it secret that I liked Sinéad O’Connor, such was the disapproval and mockery from the Catholic middle class. I see now how that was really a reflection on how we treat people, women, who are free and true. But I always remember feeling like she was amazing and a genius. Being yourself in a repressive world takes a huge amount of bravery.

The last few years I have thought about Sinéad so much, watched interviews with her, binge-read her autobiography, laughed and cried with her words and music. She was always so inspiring to me, every word that came out of her mouth resonated deeply. She has done so much to make me not feel alone in my worldly experience so far, without having any idea that she did. And I’m sure that she has done the same for many others. 

Last year when her son died, I felt devastated for her. I wrote a short song on my most recent album with her and her son, as well as other people affected by suicide, in mind. I was reflecting on a frustration I felt with how we sometimes treat others better when they’re gone.

I love Sinéad, my heart feels sore and heavy with her loss. I feel angry at how she was treated, but I also feel truly honoured and beyond grateful that I lived at the same time as her on this planet, that I had the amazing experience of seeing her sing live a few times, that she even existed. Her authenticity, her heart and her voice are some of the greatest gifts the world has been given. In her memory let’s be brave, authentic and heart-led – inspired by her genius. Rest in peace, Sinéad. Brigid Mae Power