Singer’s beloved 17-year-old son was found dead on Friday after going missing
This is to mother you
To comfort you and get you through
Through when your nights are lonely
Through when your dreams are only blue
This is to mother you
Sinéad O’Connor, To Mother You
On Friday, Sinéad O’Connor received the most devastating news any parent could hear. Gardaí informed her they had found the body of her 17-year-old son, Shane.
Late that night, she wrote on Twitter: “My beautiful son, Nevi’im Nesta Ali Shane O’Connor, the very light of my life, decided to end his earthly struggle today and is now with God. May he rest in peace and may no one follow his example. My baby. I love you so much. Please be at peace.”
She posted a picture of Shane, who, with his beautiful eyes and shaved head, bore a striking resemblance to his mother.
He had been missing in the days before his death. Sinéad wrote that he had been on suicide watch at Tallaght Hospital and had made two serious attempts on his own life.
On Twitter, she made a number of anguished pleas. One read: “Shane, your life is precious. God didn’t chisel that beautiful smile on your beautiful face for nothing. My world would collapse without you. You are my heart. Please don’t stop it from beating. Please don’t harm yourself. Go to the gardaí and let’s get you to hospital.”
On Friday, gardaí had made a plea for help in finding Shane, stating that he had last been seen in the Tallaght area. Gardaí said they were “concerned for Shane’s welfare”. It was later confirmed the search had been stood down. Garda HQ subsequently stated that “an investigation file is being conducted for the coroner”.
When Shane O’Connor was born in 2004, he was a brother for Sinéad’s two older children, Jake (now 33) and Róisín (now 25), whose fathers are, respectively, the musician John Reynolds and the journalist John Waters. Sinéad would go on to have another child, Yeshua, with businessman Frank Bonadio in 2006.
Shane’s father was the noted musician and former Planxty and Moving Hearts star Dónal Lunny. He had worked with Sinéad on her 2002 album, Sean Nós Nua.
There was, Sinéad later observed “great controversy” around the fact that they were having a child, as Lunny was married. During Sinéad’s pregnancy, which was “a surprise”, she was caught in the middle of an earthquake in Malta, a fact her young son would later intuit.
Shane was a gifted child. At the age of eight he was assessed and found to have the vocabulary and mathematical reasoning of a 16-year-old. As a child he was enrolled to study third-level science but broke it off after he found he didn’t enjoy it.
In his adolescence he had mental health issues and was in the care of Tusla, the children and family agency. In 2019, Sinéad wrote online of her concern after he went missing for two days.
On her follow-up album to Sean Nós Nua, How About I Be Me (And You Be You), Sinéad wrote a song called I Had A Baby. Its lyrics seemed to address the circumstances of Shane’s birth and the transformative power of their love for each other:
I had a baby
And he looks just like me
A bald-headed baby
He’s been the makings of me
His eyes are so blue, just like you
But you haven’t seen him
And I don’t know what to tell him
I don’t know what to tell him.
Despite these difficulties, Shane was a special young man, with great spirit and heart. He was deeply loved by his siblings, wider family and mother.
She wrote of him in her recent memoir, Rememberings: “He reminds me very much of Clint Eastwood. He could get himself into all kinds of trouble, but he is so calm and so sweet and so genuinely charming that he manages to sail through things without them affecting him terribly badly and I admire him for that.
“I know it is said that children like Shane can be difficult and challenging. But it is actually easy for me, because I’m an unusual kind of mother.
“Shane is not a square peg to be shoved into a round hole. He is the child who is most like me, I believe, to look at and by his nature — although he is of course the version with reason and logic. As Jack Nicholson might say, he is a very cool customer, Shane.
“I suspect that this child is going to go into some kind of work that involves helping people; he may turn out to be a very good chef.”
Like his mother, Shane had a mischievous sense of humour — last year she wryly told the Sunday Independent that he flicked straight to the pages of her memoir in which he appeared, despite her pleas that he read the whole thing.
And he also inherited her gift for writing. He wrote a poem, which she later said was her favourite thing of 2020. It read:
The blood never ends.
The failure of men.
Is to pick up a knife as quick as a pen.
How many lives must we spend again.
For the freedom of my cock and the love of my hen.
Would you swap place with a man out of tune if the birds of December became birds of June.
Would you go to old places just to make them look new or bring memories with you when out in the blue.
I say you give up all that you have, and for what you have left you remain glad.
Before Shane’s death, and in its aftermath, Sinéad has expressed her distress at the way his care was handled by state agencies.
Yesterday afternoon, she wrote on Twitter: “26 hours after my son died in the so-called care of the Irish State in the form of Tusla, I have yet to receive any contact from Tusla or their representatives.”
Last night, she posted a series of further tweets. One read: “I have now formally identified the remains of my son, Shane. May God forgive the Irish State for I never will.”
Another accused Tusla of issuing a “dishonest ass covering statement in response to international questioning. A load of lies, refusals to accept responsibility. Couched as always in the omnipotent and false concern they claim to have for the privacy of the children who die on their watch.”
Thousands of people expressed their condolences on Sinéad’s Twitter page, including friend and sometime collaborator Shane MacGowan, who wrote: “You have always tried to heal & help. I pray you can be comforted & find strength, healing & peace in your own sorrow & loss.”
The loss of Shane will devastate everyone who knew him. I met him several times, and he was a sweet and gentle young man, who had so much life in front of him.
My heart breaks for his siblings and friends and, most of all, for my friend, Sinéad. Her music has been a consolation to me and so many of us as we have tried to make sense of death, and at this moment of annihilating grief, music is a comfort to her too.
On Friday, she posted a Bob Marley song, Ride Natty Ride, and accompanied it with the caption:
“This is for my Shaney.
“The light of my life. The lamp of my soul.
“My blue-eyed baby. You will always be my light.
“We will always be together. No boundary can separate us.”
If you have been affected by issues mentioned in this article, you can contact Samaritans on freephone 116 123, email email@example.com or call Pieta House on 1800 247 247.