Her parents are Sean O'Connor, a structural engineer later turned barrister, 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 gave custody to the mother 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 own 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, her shoplifting and truancy led to her being placed in a reform school at age 15, the Grianán Training Centre run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity. In some ways, she thrived there, especially in 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 Grianan 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 would later appear on her first album.
Through an ad she placed in Hot Press in the summer of 1984, she met Columb Farrelly. Together they recruited a few other members and formed a band called Ton Ton Macoute, named for the zombies of Haitian myth. In the autumn, the band moved to Waterford briefly while O'Connor attended Newtown, but she soon dropped out of school and followed them to Dublin, where their performances received positive reviews. Their sound was inspired by Farrelly's interest in witchcraft, mysticism, and world music, though most observers thought O'Connor's singing and stage presence was the band's driving force.
On 10 February 1985, O'Connor's mother was killed in an automobile accident. O'Connor was devastated despite her strained relationship with her mother. Soon afterward she left the band, which stayed together despite O'Connor's statements to the contrary in later interviews, and moved to London.
O'Connor's time as singer for Ton Ton Macoute brought her to the attention of the music industry, and she was eventually signed by Ensign Records. She also acquired an experienced manager, Fachtna O'Ceallaigh, former head of U2's Mother Records. Soon after she was signed she embarked on her first major project, providing the vocals for the song "Heroine", which she cowrote with U2's guitarist The Edge for the soundtrack to the film Captive. O'Ceallaigh, who had been fired by U2 for complaining about them in an interview, was outspoken with his comments about music and politics, and O'Connor began to adopt the same habits; she made controversial comments about the IRA and even directing negative remarks towards U2.
Things were contentious in the studio as well. She was paired with veteran producer Mick Glossop, whom she later publicly derided. They had differing visions regarding her debut album and four months of recordings were scrapped. During this time she became pregnant by her session drummer John Reynolds (who went on to drum with the band Transvision Vamp) and the record company pressured her to get an abortion. Thanks largely to O'Ceallaigh's persuasion, the record company allowed O'Connor, 20 years old and by then seven months pregnant, to produce her own album.
O'Connor's first two albums (1987's The Lion and the Cobra and 1990's I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got) gained considerable attention and mostly positive reviews. She was praised for her voice and her original songs. She was also noted for her appearance: her shaved head, often angry expression, and sometimes shapeless or unusual clothing.
The Lion and the Cobra was not embraced by the pop mainstream on a large-scale basis, but the album did eventually hit gold record status and earned a Best Female Rock Vocal Performance Grammy nomination. The single "Mandinka" was a big college radio hit, and "I Want Your (Hands on Me)" received both college and urban play in a remixed form that featured rapper MC Lyte. In her first US network television appearance, O'Connor sang "Mandinka" on Late Night with David Letterman in 1988. The single "Troy" was also released as a single in the UK and Ireland. A club mix of "Troy" would become a major US dance hit in 2002.
The album I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got featrued Marco Pirroni and Kevin Mooney, of Adam and the Ants fame, and contained her international breakthrough hit "Nothing Compares 2 U", a song written by Prince and originally recorded and released by a side project of his, The Family. Aided by a memorable and well received video by John Maybury which consisted almost solely of O'Connor's face as she performed the song, it became a massive international hit, reaching #1 in several countries. In Ireland it hit the top spot in July 1990 and remained there for 11 weeks; it is the eighth most successful single of the decade there. It had similar success in the UK, charting at #1 for three weeks, and in Germany (#1 for 11 weeks). In Australia, it reached #1 on the Top 100. It also claimed the #1 spot on the Hot 100 chart in the USA. She also received Grammy nominations including Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. She eventually won the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Performance, but boycotted the award show.
Public Enemy's Hank Shocklee remixed the album's next single, "The Emperor's New Clothes," for a 12-inch that was coupled with the Celtic funk of "I Am Stretched On Your Grave." Pre-dating but included on I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got was also "Jump in the River," which originally appeared on the Married to the Mob soundtrack; the 12-inch version of the single had included a remix featuring performance artist Karen Finley.
In 1990, she joined many other guests for former Pink Floyd member Roger Waters' massive performance of The Wall in Berlin. (In 1996, she would guest on Broken China, a solo album by Richard Wright of Pink Floyd.) In 1991 her take on Elton John's "Sacrifice" was acclaimed as one of the best efforts on the tribute album Two Rooms: Celebrating the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin.
In 1990, she contributed a cover of "You Do Something to Me" to the Cole Porter tribute/AIDS fundraising album Red Hot + Blue. This was followed by the release of Am I Not Your Girl?, an album of standards and torch songs that she had listened to while growing up. The record lost her much of the commercial momentum her career had built up until then. Also in 1992 she contributed backing vocals on the track "Come Talk To Me", and shared vocals on the single "Blood of Eden" from the studio album Us by Peter Gabriel.
After spending nine years dividing her time between London and Los Angeles, O'Connor returned to her home town of Dublin in late 1992 to live near her sister and focus on raising her son Jake, then six years old. She spent the following months studying Bel Canto singing with teacher Frank Merriman at the Parnell School of Music. In an interview with The Guardian published 3 May 1993 she reported that her singing lessons with Merriman were the only therapy she was receiving, describing Merriman as "the most amazing teacher in the universe.
The more conventional Universal Mother (1994) did not succeed in restoring her mass appeal. She toured with Lollapalooza in 1995, but dropped out when she became pregnant. O'Connor was replaced on the bill by Elastica. The Gospel Oak EP followed in 1997, and featured songs based in an acoustic setting. It too, did not recapture previous album successes.
In 1994 she appeared in A Celebration: The Music of Pete Townshend and The Who, also known as Daltrey Sings Townshend. This was a two-night concert at Carnegie Hall produced by Roger Daltrey of The Who in celebration of his 50th birthday. A CD and a VHS video of the concert were issued in 1994, followed by a DVD in 1998.
Faith and Courage was released in 2000, including the single "No Man's Woman," and featured contributions from Wyclef Jean of the Fugees and Dave Stewart of Eurythmics. On the eve of its release, O'Connor came out as a lesbian, and then retracted the statement.
Her 2002 album, Sean-Nós Nua, marked a departure in that O'Connor interpreted or, in her own words, "sexed up" traditional Irish folk songs, including several in the Irish language. In Sean-Nós Nua, she covered a well-known Irish folk song, "Peggy Gordon", interpreted as a song of lesbian, rather than heterosexual, love. In her documentary, Song of Hearts Desire, she stated that her inspiration for the song was her friend, a lesbian who sang the song to lament the loss of her partner.
In 2003, she contributed a track to the Dolly Parton tribute album Just Because I'm a Woman, a cover of Parton's "Dagger Through the Heart". That same year, she also released a double album, She Who Dwells in the Secret Place of the Most High Shall Abide Under the Shadow of the Almighty. The album contained one disc of demos and previously-unreleased tracks and one disc of a live concert recording. Directly after the album's release, O'Connor announced her retirement from music.
Collaborations, a compilation album of guest appearances, was released in 2005 - featuring tracks recorded with Peter Gabriel, Massive Attack, Jah Wobble, Terry Hall, Moby, Bomb The Bass, The Edge, U2, and The The. Numerous other collaborations from throughout her career are yet to be compiled.
Ultimately, after a brief period of inactivity and a bout with fibromyalgia, her retirement proved to be short-lived - O'Connor stated in an interview with Harp that she only intended to retire from making mainstream pop/rock music, and after dealing with her fibromyalgia, chose to move into other musical styles. The reggae album Throw Down Your Arms appeared in late 2005 and was greeted with very enthusiastic reviews, critics considering it one of O'Connor's best albums. It was based on the Rastafarian culture and lifestyle, O'Connor having spent time in Jamaica in 2004. She performed the single "Throw Down Your Arms" on The Late Late Show in November. She also made comments critical of the war in Iraq and the role played in it by the Ireland's Shannon Airport.
On 8 November 2006, O'Connor performed seven songs from her upcoming album Theology at The Sugar Club in Dublin. Thirty fans were given the opportunity to win pairs of tickets to attend along with music industry critics, where she was very well received. The performance was recorded and filmed for future release on her website.
O'Connor released two songs from her album Theology to download for free from her official website: "If You Had a Vineyard" and "Jeremiah (Something Beautiful)". The album, a collection of covered and original Rastafari spiritual songs, was released in June 2007. The first single from the album, the Rice/Lloyd Webber classic "I Don't Know How to Love Him", was released on 30 April 2007. To promote the album, O'Connor toured extensively Europe and North America. She also appeared on two tracks of the new Ian Brown album The World Is Yours, including the anti-war single "Illegal Attacks".
Recently, O'Connor wrote and recorded two songs for soundtracks: "Back Where You Belong" for The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep and "A New Born Child" for the French film Le Premier Cri.
She has been nominated in the Best Irish Female category for Ireland's celebrated Meteor Awards 2008.
O'Connor has collaborated with Irish based funk rock band Republic Of Loose on a new version of Curtis Mayfield's We People (Who Are Darker Than Blue). They performed the single at the Meteor Awards 15 February 2008.
O'Connor is said to be working on a new, yet-untitled album. She is also doing an acoustic tour during this summer, performing mainly Theology material.
O'Connor's career took a political shift — especially in the United States — on 3 October 1992, when she appeared on Saturday Night Live as a musical guest, on a season 18 (1992-1993 season) episode hosted by Tim Robbins. She was singing an a cappella version of Bob Marley's "War," which she intended as a protest over the sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, by changing the lyric "racism" to "child abuse." She then presented a photo of Pope John Paul II to the camera while singing the word "evil," after which she tore the photo into pieces, said "fight the real enemy," and threw the pieces towards the camera. Almost immediately, NBC's switchboard was jammed with thousands of complaints. In the resultant media furor, she was booed off stages and heckled by audiences. Her records were destroyed, and radio stations refused to play her songs. As of 2008, NBC still refuses to rebroadcast the sequence, instead showing footage from the dress rehearsal where O'Connor holds a photo of an African child before bowing and leaving the stage.
Saturday Night Live had no foreknowledge of O'Connor's plan and resisted all invitations to rebroadcast the incident. (However, it did become available on volume four of the SNL DVD special Saturday Night Live – 25 Years of Music, with an introduction by show creator/executive producer Lorne Michaels about the incident.) When aired as a 60-minute syndicated episode (i.e. on Comedy Central or E! Entertainment Television), the dress rehearsal version was used instead of the controversial footage. As part of SNL's apology to the audience, during his opening monologue the following week, host Joe Pesci held up the photo, explaining that he had taped it back together. Pesci also said that if it had been his show, "I would have gave her such a smack. On the Christopher Walken/Arrested Development episode preceding the Joe Pesci episode, former cast member Jan Hooks cameoed as O'Connor and tried to apologize for her actions. On Madonna's next appearance on SNL (on an episode hosted by Harvey Keitel), after singing "Bad Girl," she held up a photo of Joey Buttafuoco and, saying "fight the real enemy," tore it up.
This was not O'Connor's first go-around with Saturday Night Live; earlier she had refused to appear on a show hosted by "misogynistic" comedian Andrew Dice Clay. Rather, she had agreed to appear on a later episode hosted by Kyle MacLachlan.
On 22 September 1997, O'Connor was interviewed in Vita, an Italian weekly newspaper. In the interview, she asked the Pope to forgive her. She claimed that the tearing of the photo was "a ridiculous act, the gesture of a girl rebel." She claimed she did it "because I was in rebellion against the faith, but I was still within the faith." She went on to quote Saint Augustine, by saying, "Anger is the first step towards courage. However, O'Connor remained unrepentant about the incident. In a 2002 interview with Salon.com--at a time when more information was being uncovered about the Vatican's knowledge of the abuse of children by priests—when asked if she would change anything about the SNL appearance, she replied, "Hell, no!
Despite popular rumors, neither O'Connor nor Saturday Night Live drew any fines from the Federal Communications Commission for the act.
As of 2008, O'Conner has not been invited back to SNL since the incident (15 years).
O'Connor said that she had a policy of not having the national anthem of any country played before her concerts, explaining that these were often written and composed during wars and amounted to nationalist tirades. She pointed out that she meant "no disrespect," but added that she "will not go on stage after the national anthem of a country which imposes censorship on artists. It's hypocritical and racist."
The incident made tabloid headlines, and O'Connor drew severe criticism; in addition, her songs were banned from a number of radio stations.
In 2003 she announced that she was going to leave the music industry and train to be a catechist.
In 2005 she performed at Madison Square Garden at the Jammy Awards and announced plans to release a reggae-influenced album, Throw Down Your Arms, in October 2005. ABC Radio News, announcing her new album, reported that she has found solace in the Rastafari faith, and that the religion "saved her life."
In a 2000 interview in Curve, O'Connor outed herself as a lesbian, "I'm a lesbian ... although I haven't been very open about that and throughout most of my life I've gone out with blokes because I haven't necessarily been terribly comfortable about being a lesbian. But I actually am a lesbian." However, soon after in an interview in The Independent, she stated, "I believe it was overcompensating of me to declare myself a lesbian. It was not a publicity stunt. I was trying to make someone else feel better. And have subsequently caused pain for myself. I am not in a box of any description." In a magazine article and in a programme on RTÉ (Ryan Confidential, broadcast on RTÉ on 29 May 2003), she stated that while most of her sexual relationships had been with men, she has had three relationships with women. In a May 2005 issue of Entertainment Weekly, she stated, "I'm three-quarters heterosexual, a quarter gay. I lean a bit more towards the hairy blokes."
She has four children: a son, Jake Reynolds, by her first husband; a daughter, Róisín Waters, by The Irish Times columnist John Waters; another son, Shane, whose father is Irish folk musician and record producer Dónal Lunny; and her fourth child, Yeshua Francis Neil, born on 19 December 2006 whose father is her former partner Frank Bonadio. O'Connor formally announced to Paul Martin in the Irish Daily Mirror that the two had broken up as of the weekend of 17 February 2007, citing difficulties between Bonadio and his former wife, singer Mary Coughlan. O'Connor currently resides in a rambling Victorian house overlooking the sea at Bray (a town on the outskirts of Dublin), close to the home Bonadio shares with his children and just around the corner from Coughlan's apartment.
|1987||The Lion and the Cobra||27||36||52||12||37||17||1|
|1990||I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got||1||1||1||1||1||1||4||1||1||1|
|1992||Am I Not Your Girl?||6||27||17||24||11||9||26||16||11|
|1997||Gospel Oak EP||28||128||94|
|So Far... the Best of Sinéad O'Connor||28||97||27|
|2000||Faith and Courage||61||55||18||38||19||21||27||59||18|
|2003|| She Who Dwells in the Secret Place of the Most High|
Shall Abide Under the Shadow of the Almighty
|Throw Down Your Arms||26||19|
|UK||US Hot 100||US Mod Rock||US Dance||AUS||IRE||CAN|
|1986||"Heroine" (with The Edge)||89||12||Captive OST|
|1987||"Troy"||The Lion and the Cobra|
|"I Want Your (Hand on Me)"||77||26||20|
|"Jump in the River" (with Karen Finley)||81||17||29||single only|
|1990||"Nothing Compares 2 U"||1||1||1||1||1||1||I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got|
|"The Emperor's New Clothes"||31||60||1||20||5||3|
|"I Am Stretched On Your Grave"||27|
|1991||"My Special Child"||42||6||87||single only|
|1992||"Visions of You" (with Kah Wobble & the Invaders of the Heart)||35||Rising About Bedlam|
|"Success Has Made a Failure of Our Home"||18||20||37||11||78||Am I Not Your Girl?|
|"Don't Cry for Me Argentina"||53|
|1994||"You Made Me the Thief of Your Heart"||42||24||43||4||In the Name of the Father (soundtrack)|
|"Thank You for Hearing Me"||13||Universal Mother|
|'Fire on Babylon"||61|
|"Haunted" (with Shane MacGowan)||30||6||single only|
|1997||"This Is to Mother You"||28||Gospel Oak EP|
|"This is a Rebel Song"||60||29||So Far... the Best of Sinéad O'Connor|
|1998||"The Butcher Boy"||The Butcher Boy OST|
|2000||"No Man's Woman"||Faith and Courage|
|2002||"Troy" (remix)||48||3||single only|
|2003||"Tears from the Moon" (with Conjure One)||42||3|
|"Guide Me God" (with Ghostland & Natacha Atlas)||20|
|"1000 Mirrors" (with Asian Dub Foundation)||81||Enemy of the Enemy|
|"Special Cases" (with Massive Attack)||15||25||100th Window|
|"A Hundred Thousand Angels"||18||Ltd Edition|
|2007||"I Don't Know to Love Him"||Theology|
|"Illegal Attacks" (with Ian Brown)||16||The World is Yours|
|2008||"We People (Who Are Darker Than Blue)" (with Republic of Loose)||Theology|