LONDON (AP) — Sinéad O’Connor was remembered Tuesday for bringing “joy to countless people the world over” and then honored by emotional fans who thronged the streets of the Irish coastal town she had called home. They sang “Nothing Compares 2 U” as a hearse passed by carrying the singer’s casket to its final resting place.
The funeral held for loved ones and friends reflected her spirituality and the impact she had on her homeland and the music world. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and President Michael Higgins attended along with musical luminaries such as Bono of U2 and Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats.
But the procession to a cemetery for a private burial reflected the broader impact of her life on devotees moved by her pure voice and emotional depth and touched by her sometimes troubled life. Hundreds of people made the pilgrimage to her former home in Bray, the seaside village south of Dublin where O’Connor lived for 15 years before she recently moved to London, where she was found dead in her home last month.
They sang, they cried, they tossed flowers on the hearse and laid their hands on the vehicle when it came to a stop outside the white house with its distinctive pink entrance and a corner painted in the alternating green, yellow and red of the Rastafarian flag. Bouquets of flowers and written tributes were laid against the stone wall outside.
“She was adored by everyone in all her talent and beauty, and the voice she gave to us when we weren’t able to say the things that were happening to us,” said Simone George, who had listened to O’Connor since she was a girl. “She was able to be brave and I think that’s why this is really painful for people in a way: that it isn’t just a celebrity, it isn’t any other artist. I think she symbolizes something very different for Irish people.”
A vintage VW camper van with rooftop speakers blasting some of the singer’s best-known songs led the hearse at walking pace through the thick crowd of admirers in the town. It was playing “Natural Mystic,” by Bob Marley, her hero, as the procession stopped outside her former home and was greeted with lengthy applause. O’Connor, who was raised Catholic and became a controversial figure after she tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live in 1992, later converted to Islam. An imam delivered a eulogy that bridged both worlds.
O’Connor had “brought diverse souls together through her art” as he “bid farewell to a remarkable soul who touched us all,” said Shaykh Dr. Umar Al-Qadri of the Islamic Center of Ireland. “Gifted with a voice that moved a generation of young people, she could reduce listeners to tears by her otherworldly resonance,” he said in the eulogy posted online. “The Irish people have long found solace in song from the sufferings of this lower abode, and Sinéad was no exception, and in sharing that solace, she brought joy to countless people the world over.”
A group that had been waiting well over an hour outside O’Connor’s former home, singing her songs at times, snapped photos through the windows of the hearse where her coffin was dwarfed by a pile of blue hydrangeas and pink roses. A black and white photo of the younger singer smiling with her trademark shaven head and her large eyes could be seen through the rear window.
Ruth O’Shea, who had come to Bray with her two daughters, became teary as she spoke of O’Connor’s significance, saying she had “meant the world” to her. “She was so rebellious and empowering and inspiring, and my mother hated me listening to her music,” O’Shea said. “She was just brilliant. Brilliant—I loved her, and then the kids, I suppose by osmosis because I played her when they were both growing up, they’d go, ‘Oh God, mom’s listening to Sinéad O’Connor, she’s obviously had a rough day.’ She just gave me hope. And I just loved her.”
O’Connor, 56, was found unresponsive at her London home on July 26. Police have not shared a cause of death, though they said her death was not suspicious. O’Connor’s family, meanwhile, had invited the public to pay their respects during the funeral procession.
“Sinéad loved living in Bray and the people in it,” her family said in a statement. “With this procession, her family would like to acknowledge the outpouring of love for her from the people of Wicklow (county) and beyond, since she left … to go to another place.”
Fans tucked handwritten notes and flowers behind a chain wrapped around a granite post at the entrance to her former home, thanking her for sharing her voice and her music. One sign listed causes that the singer had expressed support for, including welcoming refugees. “Thanks for your short special life,” one note read. “Gone too soon.”
O’Connor, a multi-octave mezzo-soprano of extraordinary emotional range who was recognizable by her shaved head, began her career singing on the streets of Dublin and soon rose to international fame. She became a sensation in 1990 with her cover of Prince’s ballad “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which topped charts from Europe to Australia.
She was a critic of the Roman Catholic Church well before allegations of sexual abuse were widely reported and denounced the church as the enemy. She was public about her struggles with mental illness. When her teenage son Shane died by suicide last year, O’Connor tweeted there was “no point living without him” and she was soon hospitalized. Her final tweet, sent July 17, read “For all mothers of Suicided children,” and linked to a Tibetan compassion mantra.
The U.S. suicide and crisis lifeline is available by calling or texting 988. There is also an online chat at 988lifeline.org. In the U.K., the Samaritans can be reached at 116 123.