Sunday 26 May 2019

Why Sinead O'Connor sent those toxic texts to Mary Coughlan

Anne Harris

IT'S fair to say that Robert Evans, Hollywood producer, womaniser, coke addict and bankrupt was not anybody's idea of an intellectual. Yet maybe it was precisely this villain's charter which gave him one great insight: that in every story, there are three sides. My side. Your side. The truth. And nobody's lying.

If ever a story exemplified the Evans dictum, it is the story of Mary Coughlan, her estranged husband Frank Bonadio and Sinead O'Connor.

Last week saw Ireland's two iconic women singers at war, and one man in the middle. But if the battle drew its energy from the circulation wars of the tabloids, the weapons of destruction were modern technology - the long lenses of the paparazzi and toxic texting.

And what was the prize? Was it really one large soft-faced man with a name worthy of a Soprano character? Was it a power struggle which properly belongs in the family law courts? Or was it a natural competitiveness to show who was the better woman?

Apart from one or two hints and blind items in social diaries, the real media battle began on Wednesday when the Irish Mail published snatched pictures of Sinead O'Connor and Frank Bonadio snogging in New York, along with a story where helpful "friends" of Mary Coughlan spoke about her husband and an alleged peccadillo with "the nanny". It climaxed yesterday as the Irish Mirror published transcripts of abusive texts which Sinead O'Connor had sent to Mary Coughlan. In between, as the week progressed and each tabloid lifted from the other, the facts of the story became blurred. "Don't Blame Me for Mary and Frank's Split," screamed the headlines.

In fact, this was never an "eternal triangle" story - there never was a question of Sinead O'Connor wrecking this marriage. It had been over for almost a year when she met Frank Bonadio, but something she and the other protagonists may not have given due consideration to was the amount of potent post-marital debris hanging around.

The chronology of the story is simple. The factors which caused it to explode into public consciousness are far more complex.

After 14 years and two children together, Mary Coughlan and Frank Bonadio got married in 2002. The wedding was a celebration of the longevity of love as well as being a showbusiness showcase. Neil Jordan was the best man. Less than three years later Frank and Mary separated and she subsequently began another relationship. This has all been in the public domain.

Last Christmas, at a party for about 20 people in the home of Neil Jordan and his wife Brenda, Sinead O'Connor and Frank Bonadio met. Sinead decided to fix him up with a friend and late in January, they met again over dinner with the Jordans. Frank and Sinead's friend did not hit it off, but the following day Frank rang Sinead and asked if her daughter would like to go swimming with his kids.

At the time a relationship between Sinead O'Connor and a reggae musician who lives in Miami was in its dying throes. The die was cast for the new relationship.

So why did this ordinary tale of love, sex and marriage breakdown in modern Ireland escalate into such a complex web?

One obvious explanation is the tortuous business of disentangling a long relationship, some of it lived out in public. The other is the over-developed sense of media savvy of the two singers.

On the last week in February, Sinead O'Connor made a call to this office, with the stated purpose of making "a pre-emptive move". She claimed that Mary Coughlan had stated that the Sunday Independent would be carrying a story about herself and Coughlan's estranged husband Frank Bonadio, that it was a complete fabrication and that we were being used by Mary Coughlan.

It was the first this newspaper heard of it. The hard facts of the matter are that any newspaper which would not make a few discreet enquiries - prior to making a judgement call - on foot of such a phonecall, does not inhabit the harsh world of the modern newspaper market. The matter was limited to a couple of discreet enquiries and then dropped. O'Connor was assured that no story could, or would, be printed without contacting herself and the others concerned. As far as this paper was concerned, there was no story at the time.

Sinead O'Connor was, however, not convinced. Her belief that we were "snooping" and ready to publish Mary Coughlan's version, persisted. She called to the editor's house and threatened to go public on a brief relationship between the two at a time when both were single.

Her suspicions were groundless. No story was planned, no story was published. The fact that O'Connor and Bonadio were now in a relationship, notwithstanding, she allowed a newspaper to print a story that her real lover was a reggae musician.

But now, another lethal chemical had been added to the cocktail. O'Connor believed that her reputation as a mother was being impugned. She learned of texts in which Coughlan had said she collected "trophy babies". Motherhood is every mother's nuclear button. Sinead O'Connor is no different. This is not the first time her's has been pushed and when it is she is as helpless, floundering and furious as any other mother. Her great friend, the late Jonathan Philbin Bowman, once went to bat for her on this one and there could be no more eloquent defence of her than his golden pen.

"The Irish Independent" he wrote in February 1999, "has a great big picture of Sinead O'Connor on page one, with the unlikely suggestion that someone somewhere has accused her of neglecting one of her children. I know Sinead O'Connor for several years (I knew her before she was in Labour, you might say) and I have stayed in her house several times. You could say a lot of things about Sinead O'Connor and there are a lot of things about her that might drive anyone to distraction but not once, ever, could I conceive of anyone accusing her of being a bad mother.

"She is the most idealistically infanto-centric creature I have ever seen. Given the chance of a night out with celebrity chancers, celebrated dancers, or even your columnist, she would decline in favour of staying at home and roasting a chicken for the kids. You can say what you like about Sinead O'Connor, and many do, but don't ever suggest she's not a good mother.

"Or do, at your peril, and then pay the price. Although I don't know any of the details, I can spot a crock charge when I see one. And I'd turn up in court for her any time. The worst, and most hurtful, charge you could lay at the door of any caring parent is that they don't. And Sinead certainly doesn't deserve that. Neither do her kids."

Her pain at the suggestion of trophy babies is obvious, but it doesn't fully explain how she came to send such abusive texts to Coughlan, texts which would strike fear in the heart of any man or woman. Texts saying "Be very afraid, by the time I'm finished, you will be crying for your Mummy. I eat crazy bitches like you for breakfast." She also threatened to break Coughlan's face.

Why? After all, Mary Coughlan wasn't texting Sinead O'Connor, was she? No, but she was texting her husband.

A measure of how complicated this situation is can be seen in the fact that Mary Coughlan was in possession of a text sent by Sinead O'Connor to Frank Bonadio. This shows the degree to which Sinead O'Connor got sucked into the fall-out between a warring husband and wife.

For the reason she did, one need look no further than O'Connor's history.

Sinead O'Connor, the world knows, was abused at the hands of her mother. Sinead O'Connor, the world knows, always goes to bat for those whom she perceives as the underdog. The problem is that this time she perceived the underdog as Frank Bonadio, Mary Coughlan'shusband.

Frank Bonadio, according to those who know him, is not a philanderer and had not dated anyone since the break-up of his marriage. Into his lonely life came Sinead. He leant on her. He cried on her shoulder, he hid behind her trousers and big boots and she took on his battles.

And this is where the whole business turned toxic and left the realms of marital breakdown, catfight, call it what you will. Sinead was now fighting on two fronts. She was fighting Frank Bonadio's battles (apparently without his knowledge) and she was fighting a battle to defend herself. Now it was two women at war, a war between two women who didn't get where they are today without fiercely developed competitive streaks.

As of this minute, Bonadio does truly care for O'Connor. He sees the angelic side of this complex woman. And once again O'Connor's private life has been played out in public.

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