Darragh McManus: 'Dolores O’Riordan wasn't just nice, she was funny, smart, honest, self-deprecating, generous with her time and memories'
A tribute to the late Cranberries singer after her untimely death
Last year I interviewed Dolores O’Riordan for the RTÉ Guide. The Cranberries were promoting their new album – an orchestral reimagining of several classics and some new songs – and an accompanying tour across Europe.
You hear all sorts of things about famous people, and have all sorts of preconceptions and biases. Dolores had been caricatured in the press for years, since the beginning in some ways; I won’t demean her memory by listing it all here. Suffice to say, the grab-all term “difficult” was often used.
In reality, as it turned out, she – and Cranberries guitarist Noel Hogan – were two of the nicest people it’s ever been my pleasure to interview. Not just nice: the woman was funny, smart, honest, self-deprecating, generous with her time and memories.
Dolores had great anecdotes, fascinating insights into life as a musician, amusing observations on herself and her little quirks. (She wanted to quit smoking, she said, as it’s bad for the voice; but she needed to smoke because she felt so nervous all the time. She “woke up in the morning feeling nervous”, and didn’t know why.)
I shouldn’t have been surprised: someone I know told me, a few years back, that Dolores had accompanied her mother’s church group, which was bringing several people with intellectual disabilities on a plane trip to Lourdes. She’d been quiet, unassuming, she pitched in; in no way the diva of tabloid legend.
Essentially, the Dolores O’Riordan I encountered was – to use that mighty and all-encompassing Irish term – sound out. It’s a cliché, but talking to her last year was like talking to a friend, a neighbour, someone you’d meet on the streets of your hometown.
As it happens, I actually grew up near her hometown. The village of Ballybricken is in East Limerick; mine is in West Tipp. Some people from there attended the same County Limerick secondary school as I did.
Naturally, when The Cranberries became mega-successful, almost overnight, we excitedly asked each other, “Did she go to school in Pres de la Salle!?” Sadly, she hadn’t – but we wouldn’t let that stop us feeling a wee bit of ownership, or connection, to this Limerick four-piece, this girl, who’d conquered the music world.
We sometimes forget quite how enormous The Cranberries are, and were. After U2, they’re probably Ireland’s biggest-ever musical export. And the legacy endures, decades after Linger was their first smash-hit.
Prepping for that interview, I watched some old videos on YouTube, and was struck by the huge fondness for Dolores, and the band, still out there. Whether new fans coming to The Cranberries, or old-timers who continued to love them decades later, the comments were nostalgic, sweet, enthusiastic, devoted.
Please come and do a gig in my city! Oh my God I grew up on this band, now my kids are listening to them. I still play their records all the time. Dolores sings like an angel!
And why not? The Cranberries are, by any reasonable reckoning, a very fine pop/rock band, with five or six stone-cold classics in their repertoire and dozens of other excellent songs.
And that voice… Dolores’ voice made the whole thing come together. Snarling, beautiful, ragged, pristine, a full-throated roar: whatever the particular song required, she had the technical chops, and artistic heart and guts, to bring it to life, make the magic happen. And as that new album showed, she still had it: the voice sounded as good as ever.
A lot of snotty music snobs and media loudmouths in Ireland didn’t like the fact that she sang in her own Limerick accent. Personally, I loved that – I thought it showed authenticity – as did millions of fans around the world.
In a really, really weird bit of timing, just last week I got a figary, out of nowhere really, to buy The Cranberries’ Best of. Mostly, I’m thinking now, it was because I’d come across that 2017 interview on my computer, and remembered how decent Dolores and Noel had been.
The CD arrived on Friday, and I listened to it while driving home last weekend, through East Limerick, the area Dolores O’Riordan had come from. It amused me, I guess, to play The Cranberries while on the road between the small towns of Caherconlish and Hospital (which sort of skirts Ballybricken parish).
And it sounded great. Zombie still rocks. Just My Imagination still makes you want to start dancing in the road. Ode to My Family is still affecting and incredibly poignant. Linger is still the best song never used for a romantic drama set in the drowsy, sun-kissed Mediterranean.
Dolores O’Riordan still sings like an angel. And we’ll always have these records, so I guess she always will.