Sinéad: Being real with God
Memories of the sadly departed Sinéad O’Connor were being shared recently in the Milltown Park Jesuit community. It was recalled that the world-renowned singer/songwriter studied theology at the Milltown Institute of Philosophy and Theology.
She studied the Old Testament (2003/2004) under the Dominican biblical scholar Fr Wilfred Harrington who is now based in Tallaght, Dublin, and dedicated her eighth full-length album Theology (2007) to him.
Michael O’Sullivan SJ points out Sinead O’Connor, in her book, Rememberings, published by Penguin in 2022 (and by Sandycove in 2021), has a chapter about studying at Milltown Institute, Dublin around the year 2,000, and about the album ‘Theology’ that came from that time (pp. 227-229).
He quotes from that chapter where she says, “Theology is the only album of mine that I’m taking to the coffin. I love it. I took virtually all the lyrics from Scripture….if I go out in a coffin, it’s the only record that I’m bringing with me to heaven in the hope that it will make up for what a complete piece of shit I am the rest of the time”.
The album includes eight original songs on themes from the prophets and psalms of the Old Testament as well as a number of cover versions.
The day she arrived at the institute Bill Callanan SJ showed her around, whilst Brendan McManus SJ, a lover of good music and a big fan of Sinéad’s couldn’t believe his luck that he found himself studying theology in Milltown at the same time. Read his short appreciation of Sinéad and her work below.
Spiritual Sensitivity and Soulful Reflections
I met Sinéad in Milltown Institute in Dublin, where we were both students of theology (well, I saw her across a crowded cafeteria and decided to leave her in peace even though I was a huge fan).
I think the first time I heard Sinéad sing was on the radio with ‘Nothing Compares’ in 1990, which was an astounding interpretation of a Prince song. It was so expressive of someone after a breakup, redolent with anger, grief, and desire, that it was indelibly associated with her and spoke to millions around the world. This was someone with a special voice and talent to communicate through music.
Then came the film Michael Collins (1996), where she appears on the soundtrack singing ‘She Moved Through the Fair.’ This was not the normal rendition of what is a folk staple. There was an exceptional amount of emotion and pathos in the song that perfectly reflected the grief and impending doom in the film. I was astonished when I first heard it but on finding out who the artist was, I was not surprised as the rendition had her usual hallmark unique style and emotional delivery.
Later, while in South America on a retreat I heard ‘My Darling Child.’ a sweet, beautiful lullaby, apparently written for one of her children. She managed to evoke that tremendous love of a mother for her child, which I experienced as directed straight to me, a great gift at the time.
Then came the album, Theology (2007), which I believe was inspired by her Old Testament course with Dominican Wilfred Harrington who taught at the Milltown Institute. You could feel her spiritual sensitivity and soulful reflections on scripture reflected in songs such as ‘Something Beautiful.’ Here was a sensitive soul who used music like a psalm, the expression of inner turmoil and desire, offered to God as a prayer. As Matthew Cortese SJ says in America Online » “She taught me how to be real with God.”
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam dílis. May her faithful soul be at the right hand of God.