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Sinead, you are my goddess still: nothing will ever compare 2U

IHAVE to say I felt for Sinead O'Connor last week. It was a tough one -- even by her standards. Always the bride and never the bridesmaid and all that.

We Irish never have been able to handle what we see as desperation in others. It doesn't sit well with us. It gives us the heebie-jeebies. We'd prefer that the person disappear for a while and deal with it in private.

And poor Sinead has been doing anything but. She has, entirely by her own actions and words, put it all out there in front of us, this kind of tragi-comical soap opera of so little real importance but so totally packed with real human interest.

It's impossible not to wonder how she has managed to become such a parody of herself, how her life appears to have become so unbelievably daft.

Somehow though, I really did want it to work out for her this time, unlikely though it seemed after her antics of the last six months. I just hoped the entirely predictable wouldn't transpire for a change.

I wanted to believe what she believed in those mental few days in Vegas, and for a few days after, that a true fairytale was in the making. I had my fingers crossed.

Why? Because Sinead O'Connor has always been a hero of mine, right up there with Richard Harris or Paul McGrath -- one of those brilliant but slightly damaged Irish icons.

When I hit my teens, she was the very definition of the type of rebel I wanted to be. She was gorgeous, talented, Irish, well-spoken and seemingly as mad as a brush.

Prince wanted to marry her when she was probably one of the only women in the world who didn't want to marry Prince. She said and did what she liked.

In Ireland we've always had a tendency to be protective of people like that. It has always been the talent that mattered more -- or it did until recently, when this lurid style of British tabloid culture "build 'em up and knock 'em down" began to become more prevalent.

This is a shame.

My mother, who grew up on Sherkin Island in west Cork, was an unapologetic progressive, but when the mood took her she could also be a fierce conservative.

She adored Sinead O'Connor. She believed O'Connor to be a rebel with a cause . . . a kindred spirit. She used to revel in watching the precocious shaven-headed O'Connor jousting with Gay Byrne on the Late Late Show, cigarette in hand, exuding all that youthful attitude and confidence which her early success had brought her.

She was vibrant and bright and she had a message. Her whole thing transcended petty feminism. It seemed so much stronger than that.

More than feminism, it was individualism. She had everything that Phil Lynott or Bob Geldof had. She had the looks, and yet more importantly, she had the talent to back it up.

In Nothing Compares 2U she packed more soulful beauty into five minutes than most of us do into a lifetime and topped the charts in 15 countries -- including the USA -- at a time when Ireland needed chart-toppers.

One of the things that has always annoyed me has been this bogus pretence from her many detractors that they didn't know where she was going with the female priest thing.

In reality, we knew exactly what it was. It was a protest, a dissenting female voice, pointing out that this institution, that had so much power over us as a nation, was misogynistic to its core.

That her actions seemed unsophisticated only serves to highlight what a simplistic imbalance she was trying to highlight. In fairness, it was all just a bit rock 'n' roll. We reckoned she should just stick with the singing and leave the other stuff to the experts.

So we pretended not to understand. We preferred to pass it off as attention-seeking, and it probably was. Indeed, acute attention-seeking may very well be what she has been engaging in recently. At the end of her letter explaining why her recent marriage had failed she said: "... so now u can all go ahead and have a great laugh, media wise, and be horrid if u desire to..." Most probably will be horrid, but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt once more.

She's certainly a bit out there. She did the big Vegas thing and it backfired. She advertised for a husband on her website and in the media. She found one and lost him again in 16 days.

It really is madness -- but so what? She's still a legend in my eyes.

Sunday Independent