She could sing like no other. She wrote hushed hymns and wailing battle cries. She hiccuped her way into the hearts of music lovers world-wide and turned a defiant protest song about her homeland into an international hit. Dolores O’Riordan was a force to be reckoned with and one of the most well known voices of Irish music for more than twenty-five years.
O’Riordan’s voice was unique and decidedly Irish. The Cranberries steered away from traditional Irish music tropes and had an appeal across many musical genres, but there was no doubt where the singer was from. She lilted and keened her way through their albums and sang about her beloved Ireland a lot. Dolores was certainly not the first to do so, but she did it in a way that made her popular in both Irish music circles and pop charts across the world. It was a gift that many don’t have and it kept the band in heavy rotation on music television shows and radio even when they were not making music. It also kept her in the spotlight.
When the Cranberries split up, Dolores worked with other artists regularly and put out some solo work of her own. She sang with opera legends, string orchestras, and blues masters. She performed for a pope and a princess. Music was never far from her life no matter how chaotic it got, and boy did it get chaotic.
O’Riordan had a lot to overcome and process and she did not have a lot of privacy to do that in. She was troubled and it showed increasingly over the last decade of her life. She revealed that she’d been sexually abused as a little girl. She was profoundly affected by the violence that happened in Ireland while she was growing up. She also struggled with depression, suicidal thoughts, anorexia, chronic pain, and bipolar disorder. Sometimes she was erratic and other times, despondent. Her marriage of twenty years ended and she started coming apart publicly. Her friends and family worried, but Dolores dealt with it all as best she could while in the spotlight. She began planning a ‘comeback’ tour and took a position on “The Voice of Ireland” as a judge. She was a survivor who was determined to make the best of some really terrible life blows and was looking forward to some new collaborations, a new Cranberries album, and a tour.
That seemingly bright future ended abruptly on Jan. 15th, 2018 when Dolores O’Riordan passed away at the age of forty-six. Her official cause of death was not disclosed until nine months later, but the eventual official conclusion was that the singer had accidentally drowned in a bathtub, due to previous alcohol consumption. In their opinion, Dolores had a few cocktails and then made a fatal decision to take a bath, drowning when she passed out in the tub.
As the news spread throughout the world, tributes began to pour in. Musicians sang covers of Cranberries songs during their concerts. The media retold every sensational tidbit they ever had on her. Advocates tried to keep the very important conversation about mental health and wellness going. Television shows quickly spliced her voice into their stories (as if the end of “Derry Girls” wasn’t emotional enough already) and the Cranberries rose up through the charts again. Prominent Irish politicians and stars came out in droves to heap praise on the singer and icon. Meanwhile, her fans, friends, and family made the journey back to Limerick, where O’Riordan lay in repose for three days before her funeral.
Dolores O’Riordan was a fierce woman who battled her demons throughout her music and her life. She was doing her best to leave them behind and was looking to her future, rather than her past. Her sudden death was particularly heartbreaking because it happened on the upswing, when things were starting to pick up for her again. She deserved better and was reaching for it when she passed on this day in 2018. Her voice moved everyone who heard it. It was unique, heart-wrenching, innocent, loving, and unforgettable – much like the woman who wielded it. Thankfully, we still have that.