Painful memories | 

Bono recalls how his mother Iris ‘was never spoken of again’ after sudden death

“He’s rushing to get her to the hospital. She has collapsed at the side of the grave as her own father is being lowered into the ground. ‘Iris has fainted. Iris has fainted’”

Iris Hewson

Iris Hewson


Bono's mother Iris Hewson

Bono and his brother Norman carry their father Bob's coffin.


U2 frontman Bono has recalled the distressing scene of being called into a Dublin hospital room, aged just 14, to say goodbye to his mother, Iris, for the last time.

In an excerpt from his new memoir, Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story, published in this week’s New Yorker magazine, Bono recalls entering his mother's hospital room with older brother Norman.

He writes: “I enter the room at war with the universe, but Iris looks peaceful. It’s hard to figure that a large part of her has already left. We hold her hand. There’s a clicking sound, but we don’t hear it.”

Before going into the hospital room, he notices that Iris’s younger sister Ruth is outside the room, “wailing, with my father (Bob), whose eyes have less life in them than my mother’s”.

Three days previous, Iris had collapsed at the funeral of her own father, “Gags” Rankin.

Recalling his grandfather’s funeral, Bono writes: “I spot my father carrying my mother in his arms through a crowd, like a white snooker ball scattering a triangle of colour. He’s rushing to get her to the hospital. She has collapsed at the side of the grave as her own father is being lowered into the ground. ‘Iris has fainted. Iris has fainted.’

"The voices of my aunts and cousins blow around like a breeze through leaves. ‘She’ll be ok, she’s just fainted.’ Before I, or anyone else, can think, my father has Iris in the back of the Hillman Avenger, with my brother Norman at the wheel.”

He continues: “I stay with my cousins to say goodbye to my grandfather, and then we all shuffle back to my grandmother’s tiny red brick house, 8 Cowper Street, where the tiny kitchen has become a factory churning out sandwiches, biscuits, and tea. This two-up-two-down with an outdoor bathroom seems to hold thousands of people.

“Even though it’s Grandda’s funeral, and even though Iris has fainted, we’re kids, cousins, running around and laughing. Until Ruth, my mother’s younger sister, bursts through the door. ‘Iris is dying. She’s had a stroke.’

Bono and his brother Norman carry their father Bob's coffin.

“Everybody crowds around. Iris is one of eight from No 8; five girls and three boys. They’re weeping, wailing, struggling to stand. Someone realises I’m here, too. I’m fourteen and strangely calm. I tell my mother’s sisters and brothers that everything is going to be OK.”

Bono explains that his mother was a Rankin, and "of the five Rankin sisters, three died from an aneurysm. Including Iris".

Earlier, Bono writes: “I have very few memories of my mother, Iris. Neither does my older brother, Norman. The simple explanation is that, in our house, after she died she was never spoken of again.

"I fear it was worse than that. That we rarely thought of her again.

“We were three Irish men, and we avoided the pain that we knew would come from thinking and speaking about her."

In a loving portrayal of his mother, laced with humour, he remembers Iris laughing: "Her humour black as her dark curls. Inappropriate laughing was her weakness.”

He recalls one such moment at home.

“I remember being in the kitchen, watching Iris ironing my brother’s school uniform, the faint buzz of my father’s electric drill from upstairs where he was hanging a shelf he’d made. Suddenly the sound of his voice, screaming. An inhuman sound, an animal noise. ‘Iris! Iris! Call an ambulance!’

“Racing to the bottom of the stairs, we found him at the top, holding the power tool, having apparently drilled into his own crotch. The bit had slipped, and he was frozen stiff with fear that he might never be stiff again. ‘I’ve castrated myself!’ he cried.

“I was in a state of shock at seeing my father, the giant of 10 Cedarwood Road, fallen like a tree. And I didn’t know what that meant. Iris knew what it meant, and she was shocked, too, but that wasn’t the look on her face.


“The look on her face was the look of a beautiful woman suppressing laughter, then the look of a beautiful woman failing to suppress laughter as it took hold of her.

"Peals of laughter like those of a bold girl in church whose efforts not to commit sacrilege just make for a louder eruption when it finally arrives.

“She reached for the telephone, but she couldn’t get it together to dial 999; she was bent double with laughter. Da made it through his flesh wound. Their marriage made it through the incident. The memory made it home.”

Bono says that his mother "heard me sing publicly just once".

He writes: "I played the Pharaoh in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicalJoseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It was really the part of an Elvis impersonator, so that’s what I did.

"Dressed up in one of my mother’s white trouser suits with some silvery sequins glued on, I curled my lip and brought the house down. Iris laughed and laughed. She seemed surprised that I could sing, that I was musical."

The excerpt appears in this week’s New Yorker ahead of a sold-out appearance by Bono at the New Yorker festival on October 7, where Bono will be interviewed live on stage at a New York venue by the magazine’s editor, David Remnick.

Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story,which will contain 40 chapters, each named after a U2 song, is due to be published on November 1.

Today's Headlines

More Irish Showbiz

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

WatchMore Videos