Ireland Says Goodbye to Sinéad O’Connor at Funeral Procession

Sinéad O’Connor lived her life poised between tradition and rebellion. Ireland’s farewell to her embraced both.

In keeping with an old custom, her coffin was first carried past her last family home in Ireland, in Bray, County Wicklow.

But many of those who gathered there, or who left her tributes, brought a spirit more in keeping with her life as a rebel who took on the establishment — most notably the Roman Catholic Church — and who spoke up for the oppressed. Among the signs left in front of her family home was one that read “BLACK LIVES MATTER,” “GAY PRIDE” and “REFUGEES WELCOME.”

At noon, the cortege reached Ms. O’Connor’s former home on Bray’s seaside promenade, led by a vintage Volkswagen van playing the song “Natural Mystic” by Bob Marley & The Wailers and draped with the Pride and Rastafarian flags. The crowd broke into prolonged applause, with some raising fists in salute. Many were in tears.

Then, as the police held the crowd back, the hearse, filled with flowers, was driven to a private funeral, followed by vehicles carrying family members and close friends. At 12:30, Irish radio stations coordinated to broadcast Ms. O’Connor’s song “Nothing Compares 2 U” in unison.

Ms. O’Connor, who was found dead in her London apartment last month, was raised Catholic but converted to Islam in 2018, and she received a Muslim burial on Tuesday. Friends including U2’s Bono and The Edge, as well as Bob Geldof, the rock star and activist, were in attendance.

While the family wished to keep the funeral private, they had invited the public to come to Bray for a last goodbye.

Some of those lining the streets were avid fans of her music. Others were activists, and there were also abuse survivors who had drawn strength from Ms. O’Connor’s openness about her own experience of childhood trauma.

Dave Sharp, who said that in his youth he had spent years in Catholic-run orphanages and been the victim of abuse, traveled to Bray from Glasgow on Monday.

“We didn’t have much notice, but I’d promised myself that I’d be there for her,” he said. “Sinéad O’Connor is one of the bravest women I’ve ever known of. She not only put her life and career on the line, but she was ahead of her time.”

Veronica Kelly, a social worker, caught a bus to Bray at 2 a.m. on Tuesday from the town of Carrick-on-Shannon to ensure she could pay her respects as the cortege passed. She said she admired Ms O’Connor’s compassion and the way she “used her voice” to speak for the disenfranchised. She was also a lifelong fan of her music.

“I couldn’t believe it when she died,” she said. “I still don’t want to believe it. She was my first album and the first concert I ever went to. She really spoke to me.”

The funeral was led by Sheikh Umar Al-Qadri, an Islamic scholar and the chief imam at the Islamic Center of Ireland. In his eulogy, which he posted online after the ceremony, he spoke of how Ms. O’Connor’s “otherworldly” voice could reduce listeners to tears, citing her a cappella version of “Danny Boy,” and said that her music carried an undertone of hope that brought solace to many.

He also pointed to her faith. “Sinéad suffered more than her share of hardship and adversity, especially in her formative years, much of it from adults and institutions she revered, and yet she displayed an unflinching and resolute faith in the divine,” he said.

In recent days, among a rolling wave of tributes, a creative agency temporarily augmented a World War II territorial marker on nearby Bray Head to celebrate the singer. Where once it said “Eire” — Irish for Ireland — to warn belligerent aircraft that they were approaching neutral Irish territory, the giant sign now says “Eire 🤍 Sinéad.”

Passionate and often controversial, Ms. O’Connor had slowly become, in the eyes of many, a national treasure, a woman who spoke up for the weak and oppressed, and who took an early stand against the abuses of the Catholic Church in Ireland and elsewhere.

The president of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, attended the funeral with his wife, Sabina. In a statement on Tuesday morning, he described Ms. O’Connor’s “profound impact” on the Irish people. Speaking of her “immense heroism” and the pain it caused her, he added: “That is why all those who are seeking to make a fist of their life, combining its different dimensions in their own way, can feel so free to express their grief at her loss.”

Her public struggles with mental health inspired protective feelings in fans and supporters, and added to the sorrow at news of her untimely death at age 56. Although an autopsy has been completed in London, no cause of death has yet been given.

Myra Dowling, a civil servant from Dublin, had not initially planned to attend Tuesday’s procession. “I was going to just light a candle at home,” she said. “But the rain finally stopped, so I came.”

Surveying the diverse gathering of people that had come together to pay their respects — young and old, men and women, religious and secular, gay and straight — Ms. Dowling noted that everyone was there “for their own reasons.” In her own case, she had been “a huge fan back in the day,” she said, and had shaved her head in 1990, emulating Ms. O’Connor’s defiantly shorn look.

“She gave us permission,” Ms. Dowling said, “to do anything we wanted.”

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