Dolores O'Riordan: Music was the story of her life and final consolation for the bereaved

Norma Prendiville


Norma Prendiville

Mourners at Dolores O'Riordan's funeral this week, including her mother Eileen, centre Picture: Liam Burke/Press 22

Mourners at Dolores O'Riordan's funeral this week, including her mother Eileen, centre Picture: Liam Burke/Press 22

SHE was a skinny, plucky girl from Ballybricken in County Limerick who went out into world, armed only with her voice and talent, and took it by storm. And the world loved her right back.

But on Tuesday, Dolores came home to Ballybricken for the last time, and the place that had nurtured her and given her roots, folded her back into itself for safekeeping. Forever.

It was all done simply, with great dignity and with no fancy trappings.  After the huge outpouring of public grief and sympathy, after the thousands of public tributes from all over the world, after the long, long queues at St Joseph’s in Limerick and the removal in Ballyneety, Tuesday’s funeral seemed, by contrast,  a quiet, low-key affair.

And even the presence of some well-known faces from the music world or the presence of large numbers of camera crews, photographers and reporters, could not change that.

Dolores’ family, her friends and neighbours had come to say a final farewell in their own, traditional, way. And to honour her in the language she knew best: music.

As mourners arrived, there was the mournful skirl of pipes, reaching down across the small roads of Ballybricken and across to Tommy Grady’s Hill. The seats of the tiny Ballybricken Church, where the altar was banked high with flowers, filled early to the soft strains of the Irish Chamber Orchestra quartet.

This was the same church, we were told, where Dolores was baptised, where she sang in the choir and where, later, she played the organ.

And during the Mass, there was the heart-stopping moment when two of Dolores’ nieces, Katie and Noelle, sang unaccompanied, their voices, exquisite and moving, drawing on a deep well of feeling.

But it was Dolores’ own voice that nearly broke us, her haunting and evocative Ave Maria which she recorded with Luciano Pavorotti, pouring out from the church into the weak winter sunshine.

Once more and yet again, people turned to one another to ask: How could this great voice and talent be stilled, lost now to us forever?

The gifts brought to the altar as symbols of Dolores’ shortened life underlined this sense of loss: a guitar, a platinum record, a poetry book. A nephew, Patrick, brought a family heirloom, the picture of Our Lady of Dolours, after whom Dolores was named, and which has been passed down through the generations.  

The fact that Tuesday was also the anniversary of the death of Dolores’ baby brother, Gerard, packed a double punch. 

The readings spoke of love and compassion for others, something which all those who knew Dolores would say she had in barrow loads. 

In his homily, family friend, Canon Liam McNamara, spoke of Dolores’ “kind, loving  and generous heart”  and her enquiring mind.

But again and again he was brought back to her mindfulness of others.

 “No  words are adequate to describe Dolores or to accurately state the influence for good she has been over the years,” he said. “It must be added that the numbers she rescued from the darkness of depression are impossible to count.”

In the many local, national and international tributes paid following Dolores’ death last week, people spoke her immense talent. So too did Canon McNamara, but he had his own unique insight into it, knowing Dolores as he had done for almost 20 years.

“She possessed a very special singing voice – a talent worth its weight in gold,” he said.

But Dolores’ gift was inextricably tied to her faith, he explained, a point echoed later by the Archbishop of Cashel and Emly. 

“She also knew that talents were given by almighty God to be used generously for the benefit of others,” Canon McNamara said.

Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly in his later remarks  chose to refer to something Dolores herself said.

“In an interview after meeting the now Saint Pope John Paul II, Dolores stated that her faith was one of her greatest musical influences,” Archbishop O’Reilly said.

“She said the Church had nurtured her development as an artist and musician and, for her, her faith was always important – a source of strength in her life.”

Dolores’ singing voice was “unique, far-reaching and distinctly Irish”, Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly, Archbishop of Cashel and said.

“She has been an inspiration and source of encouragement to many young artists over the years.

"Her gifts have resonated in the lives of many and will continue to do so as her music and her songs will continue to be played and listened to.”

Those with faith know well that we have not lost that gifted and talented singer, Canon McNamara said in his turn. She was, he continued, “now singing in the heavenly choir”. 

These were words of consolation to the afflicted on a bleak day when consolation seemed poor reward for the loss of a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, on a day when grief was etched almost too raw to witness on the faces of the chief mourners.

But they all carried their grief with dignity: her children Taylor, Molly and Dakota and their father Don, her mother Eileen, sister Angela and brothers Terence, Brendan, Donal, Joseph and PJ and her brother-in-law, sisters-in-law and all the nieces and nephews as well as extended family relations and friends. 

There was a moment of release as Dolores’ carved coffin was brought down the aisle, and the congregation clapped: a last ovation for Dolores but a mark of solidarity to the family to the soundtrack of When You’re Gone. 

The clapping continued as the coffin slipped past the small shrine set up in her honour in a corner of the church and only faded when  four pipers, two of them Dolores’ nephews, played the first lonesome notes of Hard Times.

But it was, fittingly, Dolores’ voice that hung in the air as the cortege finally set off on its last journey to Caherelly where she was buried with her father, Terence, and a last Ave lingered over the Ballybricken countryside. 

Miss you now you’re gone, Dolores.