Sinéad O’Connor's Legacy

Remembering Sinéad O’Connor

And if there ever is gonna be healing 

There has to be remembering and then grieving 

So that there then can be forgiving 

There has to be knowledge and understanding 

—Sinéad O’Connor, from “Famine,” Universal Mother (1994)

We as a press and as individuals are mourning and commemorating Sinéad O’Connor’s legacy. She wanted us to see the truth of this world. Sinéad not only saw the truth of this world, she stared it down and actively challenged how cruel it can be.

As O’Connor’s loss is felt globally, journalist and author Allyson McCabe has shared why Sinéad matters with CBS News, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, BBC Culture, BBC Reel, Irish and Northern Irish radio programs Talkback on BBC Ulster and RTE Radio One, CBC’s The Early Edition with Stephen Quinn, Democracy Now!, and in a republished Vulture article and a new playlist on where to start with O’Connor’s “songs that gave a voice to the disempowered.”

“Thank you for describing her as a political activist,” begins Allyson McCabe in her interview on Democracy Now! this week. “She always spoke out against injustice. Sometimes she didn’t say things perfectly, sometimes her message wasn’t always heard, but she never, ever stopped trying. It’s not enough to say now that she was a brave warrior, we have to be brave warriors and we have to have those conversations that she tried to spark at the very beginning of her career.” Watch the two-part feature on Sinéad from Democracy Now! (Part One, Part Two)

Allyson McCabe’s commentary featured below underscores the truth: Sinéad was a fearless defender of the oppressed, a protest singer who opened up space for difficult conversations that we should have had decades ago, and are in many ways still struggling to engage. What Sinéad O’Connor had to say matters.

The World Remembers Sinéad

Allyson McCabe in the Los Angeles Times: “I don’t know if O’Connor read my book. I didn’t ask her to, and she didn’t owe me that. But I do know that the fans around the world who have reached out to me saw her, rightly, as much more than a one-hit wonder or a lightning rod. By singing and talking about things people often didn’t want to hear, O’Connor made it possible for others to confront their own shame and silencing, and to step toward healing and something that feels like hope.”

Sinéad O'Connor's legacy
Sinéad O’Connor’s legacy on BBC Reel

McCabe in a short documentary for BBC Reel: “I think Sinéad O’Connor really created a lane for activism in music in a way that we hadn’t seen before. I do hope that young people who don’t remember 1990, they weren’t even born in 1990, rediscover her music and also discover her legacy.”

Quoted as an expert source in The Washington Post, McCabe speaks fondly of O’Connor’s unwavering courageous spirit: “‘She always dug in, she never retreated,’ McCabe said. ‘And she continued to speak on.’ After the SNL incident, O’Connor’s publicist told the artist: ‘I’m not going to be able to fix this for you,’ McCabe recalled. ‘Sinéad’s response was: Good.’”

McCabe spoke about the differences in O’Connor’s reception in the U.S. and Ireland on the Irish radio show Talkback on BBC Ulster: “I also spoke with her over Zoom during the pandemic . . . I am a radio reporter primarily and when her memoir came out, I had the opportunity to do a profile of her for National Public Radio here in the States. It really became the jumping off point for a deeper look at what happened. . . Also, I was really fascinated, after this book has come out, to talk with people in Ireland and to encounter some differences in the way that she was perceived in the U.S. versus Ireland. . . In looking at that, I realized I was not just looking into her story, but also looking into the story of how our perceptions of her were shaped by culture and specifically by American culture as well.” The interviewer thoughtfully responds, “she does sort of embody a moment in time, a quite long moment in time, actually, in terms of Irish history.”

Before we even hear Allyson’s voice on RTE Radio One, the host asks her to answer her own question, “Why does Sinéad O’Connor matter?” She responds with a little laugh, and says, “Sinéad O’Connor matters because we in the U.S. kind of got stuck . . . in 1992 and what happened on SNL, and we missed the bigger message that she was trying to convey then, earlier, and certainly later. I think in the U.S. what a lot of people know about Sinéad O’Connor really stops there, and they don’t know anything about the music that she made after that; all of her activism. And the space that she opened up for us to have conversations that we should have had decades ago, we could also bring those up now and that could be part of her legacy. . . Talking about Sinead O’Connor’s legacy gives us a chance to do that.”

A snippet of McCabe’s conversation with Imtiaz Tyab can be watched on the CBS News website. McCabe tells the CBS Mornings audience: “What Sinead O’Connor did was hold up a mirror to our society, and when we didn’t like what she showed us, we tried to shut it down.”

Allyson McCabe’s original Vulture article entitled, “When America Met Sinéad O’Connor”, was reprinted last Wednesday, followed by an additional new listicle piece also published in Vulture. “Sinéad O’Connor Was Always a Protest Singer” is a compilation of six songs McCabe defines as “where you should start” for O’Connor’s “songs that gave a voice to the disempowered.”

In CBC’s The Early Edition with Stephen Quinn, McCabe divulges her belief that music was much more than just music for O’Connor: “We talked about her being controversial, but protest singers, they engage in issues of the day and that was something that she never shied away from. In fact, I think she really saw it as her reason for being, not just her reason for singing.”

Shuhada’ Sadaqat, known professionally as Sinéad O’Connor, died on July 26, 2023. May her legacy live on in her words and her art.