Sinéad O’Connor is an Irish singer-songwriter who rose to fame in the late 1980s with her debut album The Lion and the Cobra. O’Connor achieved worldwide success in 1990 with a new arrangement of Prince’s song "Nothing Compares 2 U".
Since then, while maintaining her singing career, she has occasionally encountered controversy, partly due to her statements and gestures—such as her ordination as a priest despite being a woman with a Roman Catholic background—and her strongly expressed views on organised religion, women's rights, war, and child abuse.
In addition to her ten solo albums her work includes many singles, songs for films, collaborations with many other artists and appearances at charity fundraising concerts.
Her parents are Sean O'Connor, a structural engineer later turned barrister and chairperson of the Divorce Action Group, and Marie O'Connor. The couple married young and had a troubled relationship, separating when Sinéad was eight. The three eldest children went to live with their mother, where O'Connor claims they were subjected to frequent physical abuse. Her song "Fire on Babylon" is about the effects of her own child abuse, and she has consistently advocated on behalf of abused children. Sean O'Connor's efforts to secure custody of his children in a country which routinely denied custody to fathers and prohibited divorce, motivated him to become chairman of the Divorce Action Group and a prominent public spokesman. At one point, he even debated his wife on the subject on a radio show.
In 1979, O'Connor left her mother and went to live with her father and his new wife. However, at the age of 15, her shoplifting and truancy led to her being placed for eighteen months in a Magdalene Asylum, the Grianán Training Centre run by the Order of Our Lady of Charity. In some ways, she thrived there, especially in the development of her writing and music, but she also chafed under the imposed conformity. Unruly students there were sometimes sent to sleep in the adjoining nursing home, an experience of which she later commented, "I have never—and probably will never—experience such panic and terror and agony over anything."
One of the volunteers at Grianán was the sister of Paul Byrne, drummer for the band In Tua Nua, who heard O'Connor singing "Evergreen" by Barbra Streisand. She recorded a song with them called "Take My Hand" but they felt that at 15, she was too young to join the band.
In 1983, her father sent her to Newtown School, an exclusive Quaker boarding school in Waterford, an institution with a much more permissive atmosphere than Grianan. With the help and encouragement of her Irish language teacher, Joseph Falvey, she recorded a four-song demo, with two covers and two of her own songs which later appeared on her first album.
On 10 February 1985 O'Connor's mother was killed in a car accident which, despite their strained relationship, devastated her. Soon afterward she left the band, which stayed together despite O'Connor's statements to the contrary in later interviews, and she moved to London.
O'Connor in June 1993 wrote a public letter in the The Irish Times which asked people to "stop hurting" her: "If only I can fight off the voices of my parents / and gather a sense of self-esteem / Then I'll be able to REALLY sing ..." The letter repeated accusations of abuse by her parents as a child which O'Connor had made in interviews. Her brother Joseph defended their father to the newspaper but agreed regarding their mother's "extreme and violent abuse, both emotional and physical". Sinead said that month, "Our family is very messed up. We can't communicate with each other. We are all in agony. I for one am in agony."
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