Constant Sorrow And Compassion

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Sinéad O’Connor

Last week, police in Illinois released a statement expressing their concern for singer Sinéad O’Connor as she had gone for a cycle and hadn’t returned within 24 hours. She was later found safe and well.

Further to this…

Ciaran Tierney writes:

When my best friend Joe died, I was an angry young man. We got drunk, we got stoned, we attended the Funeral . . . and then life just went on. The world kept turning and there was no such thing as counselling or grief recovery in the early 1990s.

It was nobody’s fault. Everyone around me was trying to cope with their grief in their own way and my little sister, Cliona, had passed away less than a year earlier. People shrugged and told me to get on with things.

As a young Irishman, I didn’t know how to talk about feelings . . . not without alcohol on board at any rate.

Of course, there was no Internet in those days. I didn’t rant on Facebook after returning home from the pub at 4am or put up photos on Instagram of my friends and I drinking ourselves into oblivion, which was the norm for most of my friends at the time.

We didn’t think there was anything unusual about our hard drinking, we were just wild, out for the craic, living all the Irish clichés. It probably took years for me to realise that there was a lot of pain hidden behind that heavy drinking.

For me, one of the constants at the time was the music of Sinead O’Connor. I came home from a summer in London to become enraptured by this gorgeous, provocative diminutive singer who seemed to speak out for my generation in a way nobody else dared to.

I was 20 and I hated Ireland. I wanted to be back in London, going to punk and metal gigs, following my beloved Liverpool FC around. I wanted the freedom of meeting women from Italy or Spain or England, who were far more liberated than I was.

Back home, I wondered how somebody from my generation could be so daring, so sexy, so sure of her own voice in late 1980s Ireland.

When she sang ‘I Want Your Hands On Me’, Sinéad was sexy in a way which seemed almost impossible for a young Irish person at the time. In those days we wore woolly jumpers as though we were ashamed of our own bodies.

In a country in which there was no contraception, no divorce, no abortion, this young woman from Dublin sang with a raw honesty which was simply incredible. Hell, there were still women living in Magdalene Laundries at the time.

Women who had committed the ‘crime’ of getting pregnant in Catholic Ireland were locked up barely a ten minute walk from my newspaper office, the sex abuse cases which rocked the Church had not yet been exposed, and hardly anybody questioned what was going on.

When Sinéad (she’s so familiar, we call her by her first name) combined with the brilliant Benjamin Zephaniah to sing a song about the crimes committed by the British Empire, I was immensely proud.

When she reached number one with ‘Nothing Compares To You’, it felt as though there were boundless possibilities for a young Irish person who spoke out or sang the truth. I wasn’t mad into pop songs, but there was such passion in her voice.

I grew up on metal and punk, outlets for my rage in a very repressive Catholic Ireland, and here was an amazing young woman from Dublin who was willing to take on the world.

When she tore up a photo of the Pope, I thought she was a little misguided but I was also immensely proud. Nobody, yes nobody, was that brave in Ireland at the time.

Sinead O’Connor’s music has been a constant in my life for more than half my life. I don’t claim to know her, although I did meet her once in Galway during the height of a summer Arts Festival. I was struck by how unassuming and shy she was that night, for someone who was a hero for so many of my generation on the Emerald Isle.

I thought about Sinead again this week, when a friend of mine alerted me to a troubling post on her Facebook page.

It was deeply personal and should never have appeared on a public social media site in the first place.

It shocked me when I did a Google search to find that quite a number of media outlets had shared the post in full, as though this very public meltdown by a ‘celebrity’ – or cry for help – deserved to become a form of entertainment.

No doubt the post, and the subsequent media reports, must have caused anguish to her close friends and family members as Sinead was clearly not in a good place when she wrote it.

I didn’t read it in detail and I most certainly didn’t want to read the comments underneath, but what shocked me was the fact that more than 1,000 people had taken the ‘trouble’ to ‘share’ it with their friends.

This was just two days after she had been reported missing by friends where she was staying, near Chicago. Thankfully, she was found safe and well.

Social media has transformed our lives in many ways, but have we become so dehumanised that we see entertainment value or ‘news’ in someone else’s anguish?

She might be a famous singer, but she is also a human being, facing the kind of troubles, challenges, and life-changing events we all have to face every day.

If she was clearly not in a good place on Tuesday night, where was the value in reading her deeply personal rant, aimed at some of the people closest to her, or sharing it on social media?

Or, worse, making jokes on Twitter about the whole sorry affair?

When Sinead went missing two days earlier, The Daily Telegraph felt that the ‘event’ merited a ‘live blog’.

It was clearly of no concern to the online editors that this in-depth coverage of such a vulnerable woman in distress might be deeply hurtful to Sinead and her family and friends.

Getting clicks on their website was clearly of far more importance than the well-being of a woman who was going through a tough time.

In 2016, a public figure’s meltdown can become a form of entertainment which would have been unthinkable back when my friend Joe died back in 1990.

Life was hard enough for me and my friends back then, without people making jokes on Facebook or posting insensitive remarks.

So … have we really moved on?

Ireland is going through a mental health crisis and the turn-out at this month’s Darkness Into Light walks (an estimated 120,000 across the country) showed that thousands upon thousands of people felt that the State is not doing a good enough job in this area.

Organisations like Pieta House and Console exist because our State health service is not addressing the crisis in mental health.

When I was in A&E with the MRSA ‘superbug’ last year, a young man who clearly had mental health problems was left languishing in a hospital corridor for hours.

He should have been in a state-of-the-art unit, not mixing with elderly people and accident victims lying on trolleys in an overcrowded corridor.

I wonder sometimes if the support available to a 20-year old whose best friend dies in 2016 is any better than it was in Ireland a quarter of a century ago.

I treasure Sinead as one of the most gifted songwriters of my, or any, generation. I firmly believe that people will still listen to the music of Sinéad and Shane MacGowan long after most of today’s artists are forgotten.

But her personal demons are none of my business. I’m not going to ‘share’ them on Facebook as some form of titillation for my friends. I’m certainly not going to make hurtful jokes about a troubled soul on Twitter.

I only hope she gets the help she needs.

That’s all that matters right now for Sinead, her family, and her friends.

The reaction on social media made me wonder whether we really have progressed from the witch trials and public hangings of the Middle Ages.

For all our technology, have we become so dehumanised that a public figure’s tragic meltdown is worthy of a click on a keyboard, or a Facebook share, on social media?

Do people even stop to think about the damage they cause when they post vicious or mocking posts about someone who is clearly going through a tough time?

It doesn’t seem that way. People post words on social media which they would never dare to utter to a person’s face.

We might be “connected” to each other 24/7 through our laptops, tablets, and smart phones, but in many ways we’ve become “disconnected” from our fellow human beings … We sit behind keyboards, poking fun at people who only need our help and good wishes as they struggle to make the most of this crazy, complicated life.

And, what’s worse, many of us don’t even think we are doing anything wrong.

Have we really moved on? (Ciaran Tierney)

41 thoughts on “Constant Sorrow And Compassion

  1. MoyestWithExcitement

    It’s an unfortunate part of human nature but it’s not new. It’s just more visible. The well discussed public desire for intricate details of Princess Diana’s life via the tabloid press was long before social media, for instance. We can’t exactly reverse the prevalence of social media though bar authoritarian policing. We can only affect how we think about the words we see on it. Perception is reality and all that.

  2. Eoin

    I’m not a fan of Sinead O’Connors music (though I did enjoy her at the electric Picnic a few years back), but I always thought she was a great representative of Ireland. Sad, troubled, dangerous, rebellious, beautiful, talented and probably ultimately doomed. Fingers crossed for her.

  3. Tony

    Hang on here. The truth is we love the gossip and the outrage and the rubber necking at the car crash of others lives. Michaela, Madeliene, Sinead whoever. Its part of our nature to be morbidly interested in the minutiae and the failings of others. Unless you want to change human nature (and I know many on here do), you may as well tut tut into the wind.

    1. Dόn 'The Unstoppable Force' Pídgéόní

      Human nature isn’t static, it can be changed. Better to try than just throw up your hands in despair.

      1. Tony

        Not in despair. but in awe at the complexity of life and the diversity within. I think it is you who constantly despairs. Thats why you give about about everything in such a joyless fashion. :-((

        1. Dόn 'The Unstoppable Force' Pídgéόní

          “I think it is you who constantly despairs. Thats why you give about about everything in such a joyless fashion. :-((”

          But I thought you were in awe at the complexity of life and the diversity within? But now I am reminded you are just a tw*t

  4. Gary

    She has a Messiah victimhood type complex that irritates people simple as that .And her music is terribly self indulgent and unlistenable most of the time.

    1. Kieran NYC

      “She has a Messiah victimhood type complex”

      As does half of Broadsheet. Are you saying she deserves the abuse?

      1. Gary

        Facebook abuse should never be taken seriously. Of course no one deserves it . I f i t proves distressing then best not reading it. Like Dubh Linn acting the tough guy above its not to be taken seriously.

  5. sǝɯǝɯʇɐpɐq

    Well said Ciaran.

    Personally I believe that Sinéad’s ‘demons’ are exaggerated by the popular press.
    She’s made some incredibly brilliant music in her career, ground-breaking stuff….political stuff….songs that make you cry…It’s maybe a bit too much for the wine-drinkers out there who drink with their ‘friends’, but ideal for those who drink alone. (Yeah, YOU.)

    The media can’t handle mavericks, no matter what their artistic merit is…IF THEY ARE A PRETTY GIRL. -They aren’t allowed to stop being a pretty girl.

    My name is sǝɯǝɯʇɐpɐq. I am a Feminist and I support this message.

    1. Brother Barnabas

      Yeah to all that.

      I’d add that I always find the inane “she’s just an attention seeker” line from 99% of commentators to be fairly thick. I can’t think of too many ‘pop stars’ over the last 25 years with more talent than Sinead. She could have been massive if she’d wanted to be – seems to me she purposely stepped away from fame and limelight. So hardly someone who craves attention.

      I’ve met her a couple of times [in a drunken “Sinead you’re the fupping business” sort of way] and, from my experience, you couldnt meet a nicer, more gentle, unassuming, unpretentious ‘celebrity’ everywhere.

      1. Dόn 'The Unstoppable Force' Pídgéόní

        Surprising how many people are suddenly able to diagnosis psychiatric disorders when things like this happen isn’t it

  6. Karen

    Horrible to see that post on Facebook (and only saw it as others were tagged in it) as she is obviously in a massive amount of pain. Equally horrible to read the abhorrent way she spoke to her children in that post. Really sad.

    1. Karen

      I’ve also met her when I was working with an organisation that she was involved with a couple of years ago and she was very nice & quiet so very jarring to see her Facebook posts.

  7. some old queen

    There is no point lamenting the social media world we live in. It exists and will remain to do so but we all choose what we devolve. You cannot publish details of your personal life for the entire world to see then complain about how people who don’t know will react.

    Sinéad has courted publicity for a very long time and for most of us this was just another attention seeking stunt. It really is getting old now. If Sinéad has problems then it is time she or others around her found some help. End of.

      1. Kieran NYC

        He used ‘End of’ so you know he’s serious. Sinead’s mental health issues are totally her own fault and easily fixable. End of.

        1. Hashtag McMór

          They are her own *responsibility*. Not *fault*. Whether they are fixable or not is not for you to know or say.

        1. Dόn 'The Unstoppable Force' Pídgéόní

          Drama llamas? Right, that’s what it is. Not a mental health crisis

        2. Brother Barnabas

          ah here, some old…

          I’ve read lots of your comments in the past so I know you’re one of the good guys, but ‘drama lama’? fupp off with that.

    1. some old queen

      Look, everyone is complaining about the bad comments but no one mentions the fact that even the good are just as voyeuristic. I do not know Sinéad so what I write is not personal. Is she ill? I have no idea but if she is then I wish her a full recovery. I do not read what she writes because she has a right to her privacy, even if right now she herself doesn’t think so.

      And as for this ‘mental illness’ tag. While the growing awareness is good what people really need is professional help, just like any other sickness. What they do not need is people discussing their business ad nauseam, either in real life or on the internet.

  8. Hashtag McMór

    If 25% of those Twitterati who bleated about Sinead being well and we need a discussion about mental health and funding in Ireland actually bought a Sinead O’Connor concert ticket she’d be a lot better off.

    Sorry dipsh1ts but you won’t hashshag this away.

    1. Gary

      So we should buy a ticket to listen to her godawful music because she is mentally ill???

        1. Gary

          I fail to see why I deserve that type of social media abuse??Luckily I’m not Sinead O Connor who might be more sensitive to this schoolyard namecalling.

          1. Gary

            Her antics has been a freak show/side show for years…..while the whole country sat back and laughed at her ,long before social media existed. And Ciaran Tierney can mythologise his youth all he wants by linking it with this ridiculous woman ‘s attempt at music. She is an attention seeking drone and always has been regardless of her mental health issues.I wish her well in her recovery. I would just prefer not to hear about it.

          2. Charlie

            Gary. In a somewhat ironic way I would suggest you need help just as much as Sinead. Lots of hugs would be a good starting point.

        2. Gary

          I would suggest you drive over to Sineads house now with a box of marshmallows and give her a ten minute hug. Embracing each other as children of the universe in a timely reminder of humanity while shedding a tear for us cold and compassion free internet trolls.

  9. Dόn 'The Unstoppable Force' Pídgéόní

    While this was awful (manly driven by TMZ as well, who are scum), social media can be used for good and for benefiting people with mental health problems and printing providing support. This is why we can’t have nice things.

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