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The Tiny Irish Village Where Sinéad O’Connor Escaped the World


Few people come to Knockananna without good reason, the journey requiring a long, serpentine drive up the country roads that wind through Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains.

And the village itself is a simple place, little more than a crossroads with a pub, a smattering of pretty white stone houses — some with thatched roofs — and a shop with a single gas pump out front. Cellphone service is patchy, adding to the world-apart feeling.

But some people do find their way to Knockananna, among them Sinéad O’Connor, who enjoyed a sanctuary of sorts in the village during some of the final years of her life.

“Down the mountain, as I call it, nobody can forget about Sinéad O’Connor,” the musician said in a 2021 interview. In the village, she said, nobody much cared — “which is beautiful for me.”

Ms. O’Connor described becoming friends with the local women who came by offering bread and scones, welcoming her to a place where everyone knows everyone else but which can nevertheless still feel a bit lonely.

“We bury bodies for each other,” she said. “It’s lovely having friends.”

Now those friends, and the village that asked little of her but offered much, are remembering Ms. O’Connor with fondness and familiarity following her death on Wednesday at age 56.

For years the singer had fought mental health battles. It was no secret to her neighbors in Knockananna.

“I hope that her happy was here, you know?” said Jude, 57, who became close with Ms. O’Connor, her voice cracking with emotion. “Because that’s all she ever really wanted to be — was just what other people take for granted.”

Jude, who like others in the village asked that her last name not be used over privacy concerns, remembers arriving at the door with scones when her new neighbor first arrived up the road in early 2020.

For all her fame, Knockananna’s newest resident was content with a simple life.

She watched crime thrillers on Netflix on a television the size of the wall. She knit, fed horses and smoked — a lot.

Ms. O’Connor, who was born near Dublin, also wrote a bit for Irish newspapers, which she loved doing, Jude said. The two women talked about everything from the philosophical to the frivolous. “She has a wicked sense of humor, too,” Jude said. “She just gave you that look.”

Ms. O’Connor’s son Shane was a frequent visitor, and she would often fry him breakfast on the weekend.

“All she just wanted was not to be lonely,” Jude said. “That’s all. And her time here, it was, I suppose, it was one of a very fulfilling time, because she was just a mammy here.”

Residents of the community were quite protective of the singer, even those who barely knew her. She came and went as she pleased, mostly keeping to herself, and they let her be. Even when she went through trying times.

Patsy, who was tending the flower baskets outside of O’Keeffe’s pub at the heart of Knockananna, shook his head and muttered the word, “terrible” as he spoke of Ms. O’Connor’s death.

She never really went to the pub, which was closed because of coronavirus restrictions during most of the time she lived here. And besides, she wasn’t a drinker. But she did visit the little shop up the road, buying ice cream and bread and other bits and bobs.

“She struggled with her nerves you know,” Patsy said, putting carefully what villagers knew: that the musician’s troubles had a way of finding their way in. She was frequently in and out St Patrick’s psychiatric hospital in Dublin; she would joke that they had a room there just for her.

Her happiness in the village burned bright but for a short time. In early 2022, her son Shane died by suicide, at 17. Even Knockananna no longer felt like a sanctuary. Ms. O’Connor sold her home on the main street.

“There’s only so much loneliness a human can take,” Jude said. “And she had dealt with so many tragedies, dramas, terrible things in her mind, whether they were real or not real. She dealt with them. And she just couldn’t keep on dealing.”

In life and in death, many people tried to claim a piece of the musician.

On Thursday, in the seaside town of Bray that Ms. O’Connor had called home for over a decade before moving to her mountain retreat at the start of the pandemic, a steady stream of fans left handwritten tributes and bouquets by her home, and television crews set up live shots.

“Thank you for the music,” read one note. Another offered an apology: “I am sorry for how you were treated and pray that you have found peace.”

Knockananna is not a place for such ostentatious display. Villagers were happy to celebrate their neighbor, just quietly. Even for the launch of her 2021 memoir, “Rememberings,” Ms. O’Connor had a dinner party with a small group of friends in the village to toast the book.

“Those who think they know her so well, you know, did they know how many sugars she took in her tea? Too many,” Jude said with a laugh. She drank it out of a big tin cup, because she thought it kept it hot longer.

On Thursday, Ms. O’Connor’s house was a construction site. Its new owners are doing work, and a red wooden door, its top panels broken, lay in the front yard among the detritus of other building materials. It was a remnant of a previous life.

Jude said she would miss the new neighbor who became a friend.

“I hope that the light that she had here is shining somewhere where there’s unconditional love,” she said. “This world wasn’t big enough for her light to be cherished. I don’t think we understood her enough.”


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