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Mother Knows Best


11-11-2013 16:45

Conversations on love, beliefs, morality, grief and everything in between - on RTÉ’s The Meaning of Life, Gay Byrne has spoken with public figures about these issues and many others. Few of them are religious experts but all of them have, at times, had cause to think about life and its meaning. Here Gay recollects a conversation with one of the most successful - and still controversial - Irish artist, Sinead O’Connor.

There are those who dismiss Sinead O’Connor, out of hand, as a fruitcake. I am not one of them, although I do acknowledge that, from time to time, she supplies this particular constituency of ditch-hurlers and mud-slingers with all the ammunition they need.


I am more inclined to look at the family tree. Sinead and her brother, Joseph, and sister, Eimear, seem to me an exceptionally gifted and creative trio. Over the years, I have got to know them all fairly well and found it an immensely rewarding experience. Sinead gets the headlines. She’s good at that and popstars need headlines to remain popstars. Occasionally, I will read something that makes me worried for her well-being, but then I meet her and realise she is fine. Occasionally troubled, occasionally furious, but generally, fine.


She was certainly fine on the morning when we recorded our interview, in 2009, in her seaside home in County Wicklow. A carved Renaissance statue of the Madonna stood vigil like a chaperone over the interview, in Sinead’s front room, her presence part devotion and part irony, I suspect. Sinead has a very dry and knowing wit.


During the interview, I found myself – as, no doubt, a few viewers did, too – trying to read what was written on her hand, in case it was significant. It said, “Piano lessons.” As soon as we were gone, she needed to find a piano teacher for one of her children. Nothing significant, but still important.


Some journalists wonder how Sinead O’Connor’s musical career has lasted as long as it has. The answer is that it is a musical career, not, as some might think, merely a celebrity one. Sinead silences her critics whenever she opens her mouth to sing. She is, quite simply, a magnificent singer.


Why? Because she means it. Every word and note is felt and meant.


That is why, however much they might be inclined, or even entitled, to dismiss her grenade-throwing rhetoric, the Catholic Church leadership should pay attention to what she says about the real root of the clerical abuse problem: those responsible, and those who covered up what they did, just didn’t believe that God was watching.


It’s a simple thought, but stops you in your tracks. She’s good at that, Sinead. Do stop in your tracks, once in a while. And listen.

’The Meaning Of Life with Gay Byrne. Conversations on Love, Beliefs, Morality, Grief and Everything in Between’ published by Gill Books in September 2013.



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