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Delores O’ Riordan: A Tribute

Singer-songwriter, and musician Dolores O’Riordan, frontwoman of The Cranberries was found dead in her London hotel room on the morning of 15 January earlier this year. While the reason for her death is still unexplained, the police are treating it as unsuspicious, postponing the release of the toxicology report until April.

Since news of O’Riordan’s death was made public, tributes from the music world, along with fans young and old, have poured in with the likes of Dave Davies, U2, James Corden and Hozier praising O’Riordan’s singular voice that for many came to define the nineties, as well as her role as a force of inspiration.

Born on the 6th September 1971 in Ballybricken, County limerick, O’Riordan was the youngest of nine children (two of whom died in infancy). Raised a devout Roman Catholic, she attended Laurel Hill, a Roman Catholic school in Limerick, but has been described as a tomboy, apparently burying her dolls in the garden.

From an early age, music became a vital component of her life. Introduced to heavy metal by her brothers, she also played the organ in church and was enthralled by the Gaelic folk scene. These influences helped mould the desire to create her own music, writing her first song ‘Calling’ at the age of twelve.

But music also became an escape. Sadly, O’Riordan’s early life was one overshadowed by tragedy. Her father, a farm labourer and a man she idolised, suffered brain damage in a biking accident in 1968, leaving him unable to work. In 2013, she revealed in an interview that she had been sexually molested from the age of eight for four years by someone she trusted. ‘I have a lot of secrets about my childhood’ she told The Guardian in 1995.

Thankfully, despite these terrible events, O’Riordan’s fervent desire to create music only grew stronger with age, and eventually in 1990 she replaced the departing lead vocalist of a Limerick band called Cranberry Saw Us, after auditioning with her song ‘Linger’. The band soon after renamed themselves The Cranberries.

Initially described as a shy performer who would perform with her back to the audience, the band’s debut album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? became a sensation, both at home and abroad. The release of their second album in 1994 No Need to Argue, cemented the band’s place in history, with their biggest hit ‘Zombie’, written about the Warrington bomb attacks, reaching the top of numerous music charts worldwide and winning ‘Best Song’ at the 1995 MTV Europe Music Awards. The band went on to release three more albums, though never to reach the heights of success their first two albums attained, before taking a hiatus in 2003.

O’Riordan would subsequently go on to launch her solo career, releasing two albums Are You Listening in 2007 and No Baggage in 2009 before the band reunited in 2009. Four years later, they released Roses, the band’s last album to contain only original material.

But despite this apparent success story, O’Riordan’s life was becoming evermore chaotic. She claims to have attempted suicide by an overdose of painkillers in 2012, as well as battling with a drinking problem and anorexia. Then, in 2014 she divorced her husband of forty years, Don Burton, with whom she had three children, and was arrested the same year for headbutting a police officer as they attempted to arrest her following an alleged air rage incident on a flight from New York to Shannon. The judge declared O’Riordan mentally ill, saving her from a jail sentence, and she was later diagnosed as bipolar. Nevertheless, O’Riordan persevered through the chaos with music, going on to form D.A.R.K with former Smiths bassist Andy Rourke, and in 2016 they released their debut album Science Agrees. Just last year, The Cranberries released Something Else, a collection of unplugged and orchestral versions of previous singles and three original songs.

It seemed that right up to her sudden and untimely death last month, O’Riordan was in good spirits and as fervently dedicated to her art as ever. Dan Waite, a label executive who had worked with The Cranberries in the 90s, stated that ‘She was in a good space’. The day before her body was discovered, she had flown from New York to London to attend a meeting about the near-completed second D.A.R.K album and had spoken to Noel Hogan, long-time guitarist for The Cranberries, three days earlier about a March tour and a sixth studio album, sending him two new songs.

After midnight on January 15th, she left Waite two voicemail messages. In them, she sang a section of “Bitter Sweet Symphony”, and lovingly spoke about her three children. She was found dead later that same morning.

The voice of Dolores O’Riordan was a voice you could never unhear. Wrapped in a thick Limerick accent, it lilted through the white-noise of the mid-nineties with its boots on, initially teasing the ear like the plaintive jingle of hidden windchimes before raising to an anguished wail that both mesmerized and unsettled listeners.

She brought humanity and dignity to her music, an honesty that continues to provide a breath of fresh air whenever contemporary music feels over-polished and streamlined.

Dolores O’Riordan, you will be missed, but never forgotten.

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