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great escape Sinéad O’Connor on escaping her reformatory boarding school: ‘The final time I ran away I made a big mistake’

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Sinead O'Connor

Sinead O'Connor

Sinead O'Connor

Musician Sinéad O’Connor revealed that she was sent to a boarding school after having been kicked out of three other schools.

However, she still managed to escape every now and then from the religious school to get into town and busk.

In an extract from her new memoir, published in today’s Irish Times, O’Connor reflected on her time in a reformatory - An Grianán (Irish for “the sunshine”).

“I’ve actually been thrown out of, like, three schools in the past nine months,” she writes. “And I still keep getting caught stealing. If a thing ain’t nailed down, I’m stealing it. I don’t even know why. It’s gotten so bad my stepmother called in a social worker, Irene.

“I hate her… Irene told my father and my stepmother to send me off to this place I’m now on the way to in my father’s car, looking at my own two eyes in the window. Knowing they’re the same eyes I’ll see all my life.”

O’Connor describes the school as a “grey place”, home to many nuns that the girls aren’t allowed to speak to. The school did allow students to play two songs on the record player during break time, but they had to let staff know in the morning so they could book a slot.

“The morning I got here, the girls were playing Elkie Brooks’s Don’t Cry Out Loud over and over in the sitting room. It made me crouch down and keen in the corner,” O’Connor writes.

Throughout her stay at the reformatory, she successfully escaped several times, and primarily used that free time to busk in Dublin. She also entered several talent shows in hotels, where she’d “always” win a fiver for singing Don't Cry for Me Argentina.

“The final time I ran away I made a big mistake – I brought another girl with me. An older girl. She ended up shagging a guy against the wall of a block of flats, and his friends ran off with all our stuff, so I got scared and went back to Grianán,” she said.

She writes; “The girl didn’t come back for about two weeks. I never saw my stuff again but luckily I hadn’t lost my new guitar because I’d never put it down.”

In the memoir, O’Connor also says that she was inspired to become a musician by the Fureys, who performed a gig in the school’s concert hall one night.

“They played my favourite song, Sweet Sixteen, which always makes me think of my first love, B,” she said. “I had to leave him when I came here, him and all my other friends.

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“But then they did an instrumental piece, played on a sort of high Irish whistle, that they said Finbar Furey, the lead singer, wrote when he was 12. It was called The Lonesome Boatman. The most beautiful and haunting melody I’ve ever heard. Such grief to have come from a child. It was like he knew my own heart. And no one in this place had ever known my heart.”

After their gig, O’Connor went to speak to the band while they were packing up, and told Finbar how much she looked up to him.

Although they’re friends now, O’Connor says he doesn’t remember meeting her.

“But I will always remember meeting him.

"And to this day, if I so much as see his name on a dressing-room door, as I sometimes do when we are doing the same festivals, I cry.

"Just because his music and his songs are so beautiful."

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