[May 26, 2000 - Handed by Eamon Donovan]
Source: Hot Press - June 7, 2000

Natural Woman

SINÉAD O'CONNOR has been many things ­ bona fide pop star, tabloid target, controversial activist, mother and priest. But, above all, she is one of Ireland's most compelling musicians. With a new album due for release, she talks to NIALL STOKES about love, sex, the Church, fame, racism and why "it's important to make it soul music."

Sinéad O'Connor has been through the wars. Since she emerged into the public domain with her startling debut album The Lion And The Cobra in 1987, she has led a remarkable and singular life, studded with great artistic achievements, enormous public and commercial success ­ and peppered with controversies, both personal and political.

You could never have planned it and she certainly didn't. But there is in Sinéad, and always has been, an honesty and openness about herself, her feelings and her beliefs that is both unusual and compelling. The complex of things that makes us what we are ­ of genes and experiences; of wants, needs, desires, instincts and convictions ­ is far too complicated to attempt to explain or unravel in a context like this, and it would be a presumptuous knave who would attempt to do so in any event. But whatever it is that has shaped Sinéad O'Connor and made her the fascinating person that she is, the impact that she has made on the public consciousness in Ireland has indisputably been immense. She has spoken and acted publicly on a range of issues about which Irish people had historically perfected the art of silence and evasion. And in doing so she has added considerably to our knowledge, understanding and empathy in relation to those aspects of ourselves, or some of them at least, that it previously seemed more important to deny than to set about healing ­ abortion, child abuse and depression among them.

She has also said and done things which have challenged conventional assumptions on a whole series of questions of central importance to how we live our lives and organise ourselves as a people and as a society ­ at different times and with varied emphases her own witness has been both revealing and instructive on drugs, religion, the priesthood, the status of women, parenthood and, currently, the racism that seems increasingly to be part of what we are.

Through all of this, and the great music and the tangled love life that have been interweaved with it, Sinéad O'Connor has become the most instantly recognisable woman in Ireland, and one of our best-known public figures. She has achieved an iconic status with fans all over the world ­ and especially amongst women, many of whom identify with the battles she has had to fight and the obstacles she has overcome along the way.

There has been a huge cost in this, primarily to Sinéad herself, but also at times to her family and to others who have been close to her. This is something that she understands and acknowledges, but there is no point now in imagining that it might all have happened in some other way. There is no turning back the clock, even if you wanted to, and regret is futile.

Sinéad has two children now ­ Jake who is in his teens and Róisín who is four ­ and she loves them truly, madly, deeply. It is no secret that the last few years of her life have been blighted by a legal (and personal) battle for custody of Róisín, with Róisín's father John Waters, that was fiercely traumatic and bruising. It is not something that she can talk about, or wants to. The important thing is that the major upheavals occasioned by that personal crisis are now in the past, and while it would be wrong to say that everything is rosy in the garden, a sense of equilibrium has been restored.

It is against that backdrop that Sinéad has re-emerged with a new record. The first single, 'No Man's Woman', will already be familiar to people who've got an ear to the radio, and it's an appropriately upful and defiant introduction to an album that is great in its heart, and in its soul. Faith And Courage is full of both, and it confirms Sinéad O'Connor's standing right up there among the great Irish artists, the great woman singers, the great pop stars ­ of all time.

Do I exaggerate? No. Sinéad has become such an integral part of Irish life and of the ongoing static of media coverage here, that this central truth is often and easily overlooked. Sinéad O'Connor is an achingly brilliant, original and expressive singer, songwriter and performer. Faith And Courage reminds us of this, again and again.

This is where it all began ­ with the music. And so this is where we start the interview, with an artist talking about her new work of art. But art and life ­ like love and life ­ are indivisible, and thus we talk about other things too. In particular we talk about love and sex and spirituality, because these are the themes on which the album, in all its manifest power and beauty turns ­ and returns.

As we speak, this much is clear. The Sinéad O'Connor who sits across the table from me, in her bright and airy centre-city apartment, is more relaxed, self-contained, centred and confident than she's been in a long, long time. She's playful and funny, as Sinéad has always been capable of being. But there is also an increased maturity, and reflectiveness, that allows a softer and more sensuous side of her personality to shine through ­ not just in words but in pictures too.

We got to know her in bovver boots, and during the intervening 13 years it has been necessary for Sinéad to be hard and tough, just to survive. But she has come through all that with courage and faith. You cannot predict the future any more than you can undo the past, and we never know, any of us, what new trial will be waiting around the corner, or further on up the road. The hope, however, is that for Sinéad O'Connor, the wars are truly over. And, you know, they might just be...

It's been a long time, so how does it feel to be back with a full Sinéad O'Connor album?

It's very exciting and slightly scary, but mostly very exciting.

And did you set about the album with a particular kind of end result in mind?

I guess I did in terms of the sound of the tracks, particularly those I've done with Adrian Sherwood. That was something I had in mind for a long time ­ to put a reggae and traditional Irish feel together, to mix those two cultures. I wanted to do it before some other fucker did it! That and to have a strong, positive record. Where before Universal Mother was quite vulnerable. I think that's beautiful as well and the same with Gospel Oak, but I wanted this to have a strength in it.

So, from the first time you set about making a demo of a song for it, how did it evolve?

I always write my songs in my sitting room on my own. So I don't really demo them as such. Although the first demo we did for the record was 'What Doesn't Belong To Me', which I did with Adrian and Skip MacDonald in my sitting room with a cassette. Then the following day we went into the studio and just started from scratch.

You have a song written ­ what happens when you take it into the studio?

I would describe roughly what I wanted and be very involved in the process obviously, but I also let producers work, because they are artists in their own right. So to a certain extent you have to be willing to stand back. And we just worked in a very relaxed atmosphere and there was a lot of weed smoked and a lot of dreads around and off we go!

How did Dave Stewart get involved?

Brian Eno really liked 'Emma's Song'. So I sent it to him and he and Dave Stewart were together and apparently burst into tears when they heard it. So Dave Stewart rang and asked me to come round to his flat. So I go round to his flat in Covent Garden and he's there with his guitar and he said 'Start singing'. That was basically how that came about. He's a kind of a workaholic, Dave ­ he'd call you up in the middle of the day and he'd be doing ten things at the same time. MTV would be interviewing him, he'd be shooting a commercial and rehearsing with his band and he'd call you up and say 'we'll do ten minutes, the band are having a little break' and he'd start playing these chords. That's how 'Jealous' came about.

So he had a chord sequence in mind and you sang over that.

Yes. Then I would go off and write words and melody. I said I wanted to do a reggae tune and that's how 'Daddy I'm Fine' came about. He wrote the track and said 'go home and write the story of how you left Dublin and came to London to become a singer'. So I went off and did that.

Collaboration is a very interesting thing, isn't it?

It's wonderful. Obviously it doesn't need saying that each gets out of the other things that they wouldn't have got by themselves. But it does depend entirely on who you're collaborating with. It doesn't always work as beautifully as you might like it to work.

I really admire Wyclef [Jean], but there were things I didn't enjoy about working with him which are nothing to do with him. There was huge pressure. The manager flew in from LA and the record company were there with their computers. And that aspect of things can make a collaboration quite difficult for both people involved. It works best when a friendship is being established.

You recorded in a number of locations ­ London, Dublin, New York, France and Atlanta. Did the places themselves have an impact on the record?

'The Lamb's Book Of Life' is a good example insofar as I was living in Atlanta for four months and spent my entire time watching these preachers on the television. Obviously a lot of the white ones were just complete idiots. But a lot of the black Baptist preachers I found amazing because they were very giving with the magic behind religion, for want of a better word. They talked about things that Catholic churches have deliberately tried to hide and take away from people, which is magic. And songs are magic as well. That's what that song's about.

What about France?

I wouldn't say France had a great influence on it. Although it had an influence on the song, 'What Doesn't Belong To Me', insofar as experiences I had while I was in France on a social level inspired the beginnings of that song. I have a habit of taking photographs of people and I usually ask them questions and then click the expression that comes into their eye just after they've answered the question. I normally start off with 'what's your mother's name?' And it was a particular person whose photograph I was taking who answered 'Iris'. But the person found it terribly hard to say the name because they lost their mother very early. That's how that song began.

Are you constantly making mental notes or starting songs in your head when you're just buzzing around and doing things.

For me it doesn't work like I start them as such, but they start singing themselves to me. Or another way of putting it, probably more accurately, is that one's soul starts singing to oneself. There's some part of yourself that starts singing to you. I don't really make mental notes.

Music permeates or starts to germinate. But when do you consciously decide 'I'm going to pursue that'?

From the moment you wake up until the moment you go to sleep, in fact even while you're asleep, your soul is speaking and communicating to you all the time. So I let it sing itself and create itself inside me. Although sometimes I do sit down with a guitar, but that's more when it's cooked inside me, if you like.

You could get into a really interesting theology with this ­ all the songs that try to come into being...

Definitely. And there are thousands of them. Your soul is constantly making music and so is everybody else's. So a song writes itself. But up to a point, because obviously you're in a studio and you haven't got the fucking second verse and you've got to go home with your tape and have to listen to it a thousand times until you get it. Sometimes I know what I want to write about. Take a song like 'Famine', for example. How do you write a song about the famine in the space of three minutes and make it rhyme? So you've got to do a lot of work on that kind of stuff.

You said you wanted to make a strong record. Can you say a bit more about what you meant?

I wanted to encourage myself. That's the best way of putting it. I love Universal Mother and I love Gospel Oak, but what is loveable about those records and what is good about them is their vulnerability. Becoming successful, etc., did take away a lot of my strength. A lot of rot went on over the thirteen years and indeed before that. So it was, let's say, an obstacle course, and it did take away a lot of my spirit. So there was something about getting my spirit back on its feet and standing up ­ of growing through that.

The track 'The Healing Room' obviously springs from something very personal.

I think it's very important not to really explain too literally what songs are about because you then take away their magical power to a certain extent. Why they are magical is because people imagine that they are about them. So you can't really spoil it. But 'The Healing Room' is probably my favourite song on the record. I've studied since I was about 18, on and off, in London at a college called The College of Psychic Studies. Part of the training involves guided meditations and the study of Kabala, where they're taking you inside yourself to begin a relationship with your soul. And some of the things that happen when you go on those meditations are just mindblowing ­ incredible things that you see and the things that then happen in your life and the effect they have on your life. And also the effect that exercising your psychic faculties has ­ and the joy that gives you. So the song in a way is a meditation ­ it's a going in, and the thing inside starts singing.

Taking it as an album largely about love, you get this sense of people being torn between different perspectives on this thing.

Obviously love is the most important thing and is all that actually really exists. There are things which test that and every person, including me, is full of contradictions and it's very hard to love sometimes. And it's very hard to discern what actually is love because it's a word that's bandied about a lot. We can focus too much sometimes on romantic love and ignore an inner love, a soul love. So you're right. It is a record about love. I'm someone who wants to love. And I think I'm very loved and I have a lot of love around me. And obviously I love a lot of people. But I have a desire to love on a massive scale, which I'm sure lots of people do. Love is the most important thing and that's the aim, but sometimes being a human being can get in the way. Also romantic love can be a real confuser, a real trickster, and get in the way of real love.

Obviously that's how most people immediately think of love. Is that something that you've shared?

Jesus, yes. I can't speak for everyone but for me it came from growing up in a society where you're not necessarily physically held, or physically loved. But then when you get to be a young teenager your first experiences of real physical affection can be romantic ­ boys. So you get the impression that the only place you can find this love is from a boy or a man. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that. It's beautiful. But you don't really have things that teach you about soul love.

Do you remember your first kiss?

I'll never forget it. My first kiss was in Spiddal. My father used to bring us down to Connemara and we used to stay at this place called The Bridge House Hotel and there was this boy there. And my father went for a drive and there was a river beside the hotel. I was eight and this boy was about seven or so. And my dad went off and I decided I was going to kiss this boy. We were standing on the river bank and we had a kiss and somehow his trousers fell off and I don't know how this happened, but the trousers fell into the river and I jumped into the river to get them and I couldn't swim. So I was almost drowning and luckily my father came back and rescued me. I think that's a kind of symbol for how it's been since. I'm quite like a man in a lot of ways. I'm the one diving into the river to get his trousers and my father has to come and get me!

That's very young if there was a sexual intent.

I was seriously lusting after grown-ups by the time I was eight. I had a huge crush on my swimming teacher. I was seriously sexed-up.

As a teenager, would you have seen yourself as a femme fatale, as somebody who could have anyone she wanted?

No, but I had a keen interest in sex. I liked introducing boys to sex. I enjoyed that. But I didn't see myself as a femme fatale and I wouldn't want to.

I know you wouldn't now, but there's a difference with somebody younger.

I was Irish for a start. I did really like sex but at the same time I felt that it was my duty almost to act like I didn't like it. You would initiate it, but you would also not really be allowed to express how much you did like it. I would have hidden that until I was older. There's another side of me which BP [Fallon], who's one of my best friends, calls Lola. There was always a Lola. I did used to meet people under Cleary's clock in my red jumpsuit, my Britney gear. But to be Irish and 15 years of age, it's very difficult to think of yourself as a femme fatale.

What was your biggest disaster in that arena?

Well, I wouldn't really say that there had been disasters. But there was a guy I went out with in Waterford and we were having it off in the Sixth Form common-room and the history teacher caught us. He was very good and he wouldn't tell on us, but every day in history class he would read stuff with double entendres in it and he would look at us! Then another time when I was about 23, I had an acting teacher who was about 55 and I seduced him and got into bed with him and it was completely dark. And he suddenly loomed over me and he had no hair. Up until that point he had hair and I didn't realise he was wearing a wig. That was pretty disastrous.

If a man is interested in a young woman it can seem like a perversion, whereas if a woman is interested in a young man it's taken on a more humorous level?

People do mock those women who go out with people younger than them. I personally like men who are older than me. But my experience from reading newspapers is that they slag off women who are married to younger guys, people like Chrissie Hynde.

Do you have any sense of age having a negative impact in that people are assumed to become less sexual as they get older?

Well, I think I've a few more years to run. In fact I've only started! In one sense I do. I looked in a mirror one time and I saw this vision of my self and my father when I'm about fifty. It was actually a beautiful thing to see. We were holding onto each others' arms and I could see exactly what I looked like. And I could see my soul being much more present and more loving and light. I think what happens when you get older is a sort of settling into yourself, but also, as a woman, a sense of freedom in not looking as attractive. That you're not therefore caught up in this thing of trying to attract men or trying to be beautiful.

'No Man's Woman' ­ is that something that in five years' time you'll see as having been a temporary response to things?

I wouldn't take it too literally. In one sense, yes, it's a song about a moment in time, blurting something out as you feel it ­ 'I don't want to know'. But on a different level it's examining the question of celibacy. It is to a certain extent a calling I would have, although part of me says 'I don't want it'.

Riding's more fun?

It depends on who you're riding. Sometimes it can be a lot less fun. It can be a real distraction. But more deeply the song is about this idea of not wanting to have to conform to rules which have been made by men way back in the past, by which women must live now, i.e. that women can't be priests. Stuff like women get paid less money for doing the same jobs done by men. Women have to have long hair and make-up and all this pressure to look beautiful, etc. So it's about not wanting to conform to those kind of rules. It talks about the different types of relationships you can have with men. It honours men in a huge way as well. I would say that I'm a feminist, but I'm not a man-hater. I wish there was a men's movement which wasn't anti-women.

You said in passing in HQ that you have an allergy to the idea of marriage.

Yes, I do. I don't know if you've seen the video, there's a runaway bride. It's totally about that. I have a pathological fear of marriage.

How many times have you been proposed to?

Only once. I've done a lot of proposing!

Do you think there's a distinction between marriage and a commitment to having a long-term relationship with a person?

I like the idea of getting married after you've done that, after you've been together for forty years and you wake up one morning and you're 72 years of age, then you get married. I feel strongly that I know how I would want to feel about that someone and I won't settle for anything less. While I've loved a lot of people, I haven't felt that way about a person that I would want to feel, if I was going to make that kind of commitment and keep it. I think that's something that grows over the years, but I'm no expert at relationships. I imagine inside myself, you know those things at the fair that you hit and it goes 'dong' ­ I have one of them inside me and whoever it is I would settle with would have to hit the thing and get all the way up there. If you don't get married, you're there because you want to be there, and not because you have to be there. I don't want to belong to someone as if I'm their chattel. For women it can be a bit of a death for them. You lose your name and to a certain extent lose yourself. I wouldn't want that. And I like my financial independence and I don't like cleaning piss off the toilets!

Is there a sense also of having a fear of your own restlessness?

Yes. I would be restless unless I felt that particular set of feelings I would want to feel about a person. I wouldn't be restless with the right person. That person would allow me to be restless. I can go travelling and I can disappear for a week at a time and wouldn't have to phone them every day and that person knows I'm not fucking around and I'm phoning because I want to phone, you know?

I get a sense in terms of your sexual instinct that there's an impulsive thing to it which wouldn't necessarily be contained in the context of even having a very strong core relationship?

How do you get that sense? Who's been telling you what? I quite often have crushes on people but I wouldn't always act on those. So I'm not so impulsive now, at 33 years of age, that I'm going to act on those all the time. But I'm very honest. If I'm with someone and I suddenly feel like that about someone else, to me, that means I'm not in love with the person I'm with. I'm not a cheat. But, yes, I'm pretty sexed-up, I suppose. I would feel like that about a lot of people but I wouldn't do much about it all the time. I guess doing what I do for a living makes it very difficult to trust people. So I wouldn't be that stupid as to go to bed with every person I feel attracted to. But I guess I'm a bit of a slut as well. I guess I'm Lola as well. Feeling like it doesn't mean you're going to do it all the time.

But Lola in the Kinks song is also a transgender thing. You described yourself as being like the bloke in some ways, jumping in the river. Does that involve an attraction to women as well?

Yes. I don't believe there's any such thing as gay or straight. And though I have slept with women, I am much more attracted to men. And I am very impulsive. Luckily. And highly sexed. And when I said that I'm quite like a man in a lot of ways, I didn't mean that I feel more like a man. I don't. I feel all woman. I love being a woman. And Lola is not literally an alter-ego. It's who I am when I'm no one's mother or lover or sister or "Sinéad O'Connor" anything ­ but a strong, independent, pagan, young woman. So that's who Lola really is.

I was interested that 'Daddy I'm Fine' came from Dave Stewart saying 'tell the story'. Is there any sense of potential embarrassment with your father?

My father always pats me on the back. 'You're a chip off the old block, that's my girl' would be his attitude. He hasn't heard the song yet but I know he'll just roar laughing. He's very relaxed about sexuality.

Are you expecting lots of radio play for that?

There's a bleeped radio version. Unfortunately you have to do that. The song is true as well. That's why people like to be on stage. They feel so sexy. When you're that age that's why you get into the business. You want everyone to fancy you. I think my dad will love it.

In a song like 'Jealous', how important is it to have a specific subject in mind?

That was a song where Dave had a specific person in mind, a friend of his who was treating him quite badly. He had the melody and music in mind and he asked me to go off and write about it. But if you mean is it important to find something in your own life so that it comes across as true, I think that's important in every song, really. 'Jealous' is a soul song. A lot of the songs are, that's what the record is. It's important to put your soul in, to make it soul music and therefore you can't put anything but real experience into it. And that communicates through to other people because they're having similar experiences.

When I got an early tape of the album I thought there was some sense of this being Sinéad's Blood On The Tracks.

That's exactly what I thought myself, very much so. But I think there are oases of happiness in it, which aren't necessarily in Blood On The Tracks. That's not to say that Blood On The Tracks is not God, because it is!

The finished album has more sun in it and it's almost poppier in some ways.

Obviously as an artist you're put under a certain amount of pressure by your record company to have hits. So you have to have some poppy tunes, so that you can get your other tunes out. But I was very conscious again that I didn't want to stay stuck in writing sad songs. The best way of describing it is that I had a dream one time and I was in a lift with some people and there were two floors you could get out. When the doors opened on one floor it was raining and on the other floor further up it was sunny. And I wanted to get out on the sunny floor. That's the thing. I want to get out on the sunny floor. I don't want to stay stuck in sadness and pain so as to be an artiste that people can throw their pain onto the bonfire of. I can write pop songs and I like pop records as well. But you can also make pop records that have some soul in them. I didn't want it to be fully Blood On The Tracks, it doesn't have happiness in it. I definitely wanted there to be a resolution. When I see the journeys of people like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison who I'm very inspired by, I see they haven't made it into happiness. When I'm 50 or 60 I want it to be very obvious that there's happiness going on there. I don't really know how to explain it. I think it's terribly important to have light, poppy things, but equally to have soul in them. Lola, basically. It's like it says in 'Daddy, I'm Fine' ­ a huge part of me only wants to do this because I want to put on sexy trousers and make-up and get on stage and have a laugh. It's not that it has to be very deep and meaningful all the time and that we have to save the universe. We just want to shake our booty.

It struck me that there was an element of defiance in the record. In a general sense 'don't let the bastards grind you down'.

Yes, I guess there's an element of defending oneself in the face of very serious onslaughts. I can't go into it, but I was involved in a legal situation throughout the entire time I was making this record and the recording process became very much a survival tool for me. To that extent there would have been a defiance in my soul, saying 'don't die'. There's definitely a suicidal element on the record as well. I was literally trying not to die.

How did you source the cover versions?

'Hold Back The Night' came during the Dave Stewart session. He is friends with Bobby Blue, who wrote the song for a movie about child abuse. I identified with the subject matter. I felt the song was better than the movie in a lot of ways. So I kept the song for the record and Bobby didn't let it go to the movie.

'The State I'm In' was written by Scott Cutler and Anne Preven.

My record company wanted me to work with Scott and Anne. I wrote 'No Man's Woman' with them. I like 'The State I'm In' ­ it's the sort of song that will get played and that will help them to get the album played. Atlantic are a very radio-driven company. That's helpful when you've got two children: if I don't want to go on tour I've got to be willing to do some pop stuff as well. Actually 'Daddy I'm Fine' is the only song my son has ever liked. He thinks it's really great, which is a good sign!

In terms of your own musical instincts ­ is it important to be diverse and to draw on different sources of music in a global sense?

I love Jamaican music, and for a long time I've wanted to make a record which mixed up Jamaican music and traditional Irish music. So this would be the first record ever where I've consciously wanted to draw on other cultures than my own. With Universal Mother I did very consciously try to make a more Irish-sounding record. And rather than culturally, I started trying to make 'religious'-sounding records or meditations that would provide soothing, kind of spiritual records. But this is the first time I've tried to mix up cultures.

In a sense you could say it's timely because of what's going on in Ireland at the moment.

I was thinking that recently. Music has always been very helpful in situations like this. In London the whole acid house and druggy music culture did a lot to mix up people and heal racism. It brought a lot of people together.

Having been away, you're now back and living here. So what's your response in terms of the spirit of the place?

I love living here and I never thought it would happen. Circumstances forced me to move back. I never would have decided to, but I'm glad circumstances did. Living where I live, and the height of where I live, I get to see a lot of what goes on. I watch what happens in the street and I spend a lot of time walking around the streets at all times of the day or night observing what goes on. Around where I live I see a lot of very old people who wander about the streets very confused about how quickly everything is changing. The buildings they knew are gone and that frightens them. There are a lot more people living on the streets, begging. It's very obvious and hardly needs stating that this whole Celtic Tiger is eating us. There's a lot of money coming in but it's being spent on wallpapering and a lot of people are slipping through the cracks.

How do you respond to the changing face of Ireland, to the influx of people of different nationalities?

It's a beautiful thing to watch ­ this Exodus ­ or the face of a nation changing. But I can see why to some people it's frightening because everything they've known is changing. Ireland will never be the same. It's like what happened in London in the fifties. But it's early days. We weren't prepared for this. We should have been because our Government knew this was going to happen. But they're very silent about the whole thing, leaving everybody in the shit.

What about the hostility that's surfaced?

That makes me ashamed to be Irish. I'm embarrassed and ashamed about what I see in the newspapers and what I hear people say. I've had experiences where I've brought people to this country after telling them what a great country this is ­ and I've brought them to work here and they've been spat at outside hotels. I think the media have a terrible responsibility in all of this, jumping on the whole thing and drumming up racist bullshit and harassing people. We exported ourselves all over the world and we expected to be helped, so we should at least pay back. There's a lot of people coming into this country and I think it's the best thing that could happen. They could teach us a lot if we want to learn. It will change the religious face of this country, the political face of the country, everything. It can be a gift if we are willing to see it that way, rather than something to be so hateful about.

Did you feel an empathy, because of your own experiences, with the people who are treated in a hostile way?

Of course. I would have any way, before I even started doing this for a living, because of the way in which I was brought up. But, yes, I would identify now because of 13 years of being a 'pop star'. I've become a piece of paper. I would identify with how other people can be made into pieces of paper.

What is the effect of constantly being in the media spotlight?

What it does is it imprisons you. It makes it very hard to conduct relationships. As soon as you're seen going down the road to dinner with some man, you're suddenly in love on the front page of some fucking newspaper. It affects how those around you treat you. It's very hard to form friendships. It's very isolating. It's a kind of soul murder. In my case, I accept a certain amount of responsibility for that myself.

In what way?

Well, I was very young and quite naive and wasn't aware of the damage which could be done to me by being so honest about certain things, or the damage it could do to my family. It's not that I regret things. But now I would be more cagey and wouldn't be quite so open about my vulnerabilities and let everyone have a look at my bleeding heart and trample all over it. The one thing I hate in this life is the mockery of people for being emotionally distressed or psychiatrically ill. I hate the use of the term 'mad' as a term of abuse. That's something I felt I suffered from and, on behalf of other people, I get really angry about it. That somehow by showing one's weaknesses or pain, that's then taken as a stick to beat a person with.

You also have dealt with the forces and you've kind of gone past a stage where they think they can get to you.

Yes. It doesn't get to me now because it's not so wicked now. The worst thing that they ever did was mock me for being in pain. That was the most damaging thing because it affects the way people deal with you. But it was a very interesting education in the world and how disgusting it is, that it mocks its afflicted. Now that can't be done because it's been done. And that's the worst thing that could be done. I've had all the lies that could possibly be told about a person told about me. I'm used to it now. I don't take it very personally and I do see that people need to make a living. And if my existing allows them to make a living, then, well, fine. So many times I have met people who've written the most disgusting things about me sitting in bars at 3 o'clock in the morning crying into their pint because they're so sorry they said it. They give you the story that they were forced to do it, editors this and editors that. And I accept that and now I don't hurt so much over it. I see they're in such a prison doing what they do.

There is a line about trust in 'No Man's Woman'.

Has the whole experience affected your ability to trust? Yes, enormously. It wasn't intact anyway because of the circumstances under which I was brought up. What I do for a living makes trust difficult in romantic relationships especially. I don't like the goldfish bowl aspect of it. I find that hard living in Dublin. I can't just kiss someone in the street or it'll be all over the front page.

Do you ever think of a place you can get to, where all of that is but a distant memory?

Oh yes. I don't now. I've worked through that. I went through a major depression and I was suicidal for years. To me, that was the only place. But I've grown out of that. I can't get away from it, so all I can do is come to terms with it and be me, and not let it affect my inner life. Also I've learned over the years that you can survive it very well if you see something in each person that you can love. The fact that you can't go to the shop without someone saying something to you, you can see as a gift or as a curse. It depends on how you look at it. I try and see each person I have an encounter with as an education. People are really nice as well, here, especially. But I can't get away from it.

Has there been any reaction from the Catholic church directly about your priesthood?

I feel they've been very tolerant. The only statement they put out was that they said 'it's good that someone wanted to live a spiritual life'. That's all. So I think as long I as I don't fuck with them, they're not going to fuck with me. And I'm not intending to go around disrespecting them. I'm not going to talk about being a priest a lot in public because I didn't do it for publicity. Equally I don't hold with certain things the Church believe. I'm not anti-abortion. I'm not anti-gay. But I see myself as someone who can help them to come out of old ways of thinking. I have been a help in my own Order which had a very anti-gay attitude, but doesn't have that now.

Obviously it arises from a personal commitment, but isn't also part of it reclaiming a place for women?

Yes, very much so. Definitely. I would feel that women can be treated as second-class citizens because most religions teach that God is a man and that women are not divine. So there is a place about reclaiming for women.

Would you envisage fifty years hence, a situation where there is a completely shared priesthood between men and women?

I think it will be a lot sooner than that. And not just women but married priests and gay priests and all types of people who have been excluded. And part-time priests, where I think the future is.

Sinéad O'Connor will perform at the hotpress Uncovered gig, HQ, Dublin, 29th May.