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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 11°C
Fiachna Ó Braonáin Fiachna and Sinéad for the Imeall Geal programme.

Fiachna Ó Braonáin Sinéad was a gifted, intelligent and sensitive soul - we will miss her

The Hothouse Flowers musician pays tribute to the singer who died this week.

LAST UPDATE | Jul 29th 2023, 12:01 AM

LIKE SO MANY people Sinéad O’Connor has been at the forefront of my thoughts in the past few days since the terrible news of her passing was announced last Wednesday evening.

I was sitting in my kitchen at home preparing dinner for the kids and having turned the rice down to a simmer allowed myself a quiet moment to scroll through my phone as one does during the infrequent lulls in family life!

I couldn’t believe my eyes when the terrible news came into view. I really didn’t want to believe it so I checked various other news sources straight away and sure enough, with heart sinking, there was the confirmation in stark black and white.

The first of so many black and white images I would scroll through in the ensuing hours with Sinéad’s date of birth followed by the date of her death printed under her beautiful, brave face.

Musical family

Sinead’s housemate in London, back in the late 1980s, was a close mutual friend and she and I would often get together to go out for dinner or to go and see a band play whenever I was in London recording or gigging with my own band Hothouse Flowers. Which was often.

Occasionally I would just pop into the house for a coffee and it was there I first met Sinéad. She was quiet and very shy and I knew instantly that she was a sensitive soul. Over time we got to know each other a little bit.

I found her intelligence and her insights into the world fascinating.

She had incredibly strong opinions about the Catholic Church in Ireland and the child abuse that they were perpetrating. I had no idea, having grown up in more sheltered and secure circumstances where the church was still more or less sacrosanct just how prescient and prophetic her insights were.

Her passion for music that wouldn’t appear on my folk-rock radar was fascinating and educating too.

Hip hop and reggae and Middle-Eastern grooves pumping out of the stereo. We had many friends in common in Dublin and in London… an extended chosen family of wonderful people, all of us in our early to mid-20s who hung out together through thick and thin. It is a source of huge fulfilment and joy in my life now that most of us still do.

sinead-oconnor-irish-pop-singer-about-1990 Alamy Stock Photo Sinéad performing in 1990. Alamy Stock Photo

It was also around this time that I became great friends with John Reynolds, Sinead’s lifelong musical collaborator, producer and father to their son Jake. When Hothouse Flowers went on hiatus in the mid-1990s I was at a point in my own life where my own future was looking somewhat unsure.

My band had decided to take a break for a few years, I had two young children to co-parent and I had no particular road map to get through all of this. So at the end of a Hothouse Flowers tour of Japan, which was to be our last tour for at least a year, I decided to break the journey home by stopping off in London to stay with John and hang out with him for a while.

00065411 RollingNews Hothouse Flowers pictured at the Meteor Ireland Music Awards 2004 in The Point Depot . RollingNews

He, like me, was also a relatively recently separated musician and father at the time, and he was just the company I needed. John had a studio at his house and he would play music that he was working on.

I had a few tin whistles in my bag and ended up recording tin whistle on his incredibly beautiful and transporting piece called Cowboys And Indians that appeared on the debut Ghostland album.

He was working with Jah Wobble with whom he was making some extraordinary grooves also and of course with Sinéad with whom he was working on what would become her 1994 album Universal Mother and album overflowing with beautifully raw emotion.


A few weeks later, as I was settling into a new chapter in my own life, learning to stand on my own two feet as a musician in my own right, writing my own songs and exploring new collaborations, the phone rang. It was John, wondering if I would be interested in coming to play guitar in Sinéad’s band of which he was the drummer and musical director.

They were just about to release Universal Mother and there were television shows, radio sessions and a concert tour being planned.

Would I what?! I was there in a flash… And before I knew it we were all gathered in a rehearsal room in London running through the songs… Fire on Babylon, Thank You For Hearing Me, Famine, All Apologies, In This Heart, John, I Love You and so many more.

And it was in this context I got to witness Sinéad at work. Her extraordinary voice that could go from the intimate whisper of In This Heart to the roar of FIIII-RE in Fire on Babylon.

Before I knew it, there we all were, playing together on the David Letterman show in New York City, or on French Television’s legendary Taratata programme in Paris… Top Of The Pops in London – miming a guitar part I hadn’t even recorded – then a TV show in Budapest where we met Smokie!

“Alice, Alice who the f*** is Alice!” we chanted playfully… radio sessions with just myself, my acoustic guitar and Sinéad singing Kurt Cobain’s All Apologies with an otherworldy tenderness. And all along the way there was laughter and wonderful, insightful, intelligent and playful conversation.

london-uk-27112011-sinead-oconnor-singing-live-at-mencaps-little-noise-sessions-in-the-church-of-st-john-at-hackney-london-the-event-is-the-final-concert-of-six-by-various-artists-in-aid-of-m Alamy Stock Photo Sinead O’Connor singing live at Mencap’s Little Noise Sessions in the church of St John-at-Hackney, London. Alamy Stock Photo

We were neighbours in Dublin at one point and Sinéad would bring Jake to play in our garden while the rest of us sat in the kitchen drinking coffee and talking about life, love and the universe.

I once captured Jake with my VHS camera falling off the climbing frame in the back garden whereupon he roared “me arse, me arse, me fuckin arse!“. That became a catchphrase between us all in the years that followed and still gets a great laugh to this day – I still need to find the tape!

Good times… happy times.

One of the last times I spent in Sinéad’s company was at her home in Bray a few short years ago where we engaged in an honest, open and wonderful conversation for the TG4 television program Imeall.

fiachna and sinead Fiachna Ó Braonáin Fiachna and Sinéad for the Imeall Geal programme. Fiachna Ó Braonáin

She wasn’t afraid to talk about the dark times and how music truly saved her. It was more of a conversation between old pals than a formal interview and when it was broadcast on TG4 I got a lovely text from her saying how much she loved it… she was in a really good place at the time. And we’d had a lovely day.

I trust she is in a really good place now too… and I will cherish the times shared over the years. Thank you Sinéad. Sing on….

Fiachna Ó Braonáin is a musician and broadcaster from Dublin, Ireland. He is a founding member of the Hothouse Flowers.


Fiachna Ó Braonáin