The keynote address will be given by Dr. Aileen Dillane, a lecturer in music at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, University of Limerick. She co-founded/co-directs the Popular Music, Popular Culture research cluster at UL, which has an associated book series, Popular Musics Matter: Social, Cultural and Political Interventions (Rowman & Littlefield). Aileen is co-editor of Songs of Social Protest: International Perspectives (2018), Atrocity Exhibition: Essays on Joy Division (forthcoming 2018), David Bowie: Critical Perspectives (2015), and Morrissey: Fandom, Representations, Identities (2011). She is currently completing a monograph on Irish music performance and history in Chicago. Aileen plays with the Templeglantine Ceilí Band.
Title: Raging Mother Ireland: The intersection of faith, fury, and feminism in the body and voice of Madga Davitt (FKA Sinéad O’Connor)
In August 2018, Magda Davitt (FKA Sinéad O’Connor) released a demo song ‘Milestones’ that addresses a continuing struggle with mental health issues. Her very public downward spiral in recent years, culminating in her appearance with TV therapist Dr. Phil (2017), the long-standing and persistent critique of her apparent rejection of feminism (Miley Cyrus exchange, 2013), and the bemused response to her ordination in a Catholic sect (1999) have, for many, combined to present an artist as out of touch and unstable, if not broken, and increasingly irrelevant.
Drawing upon Ahmed’s idea of brokenness and fragility as ‘a record of life’ (2017) and Naiman’s insights into the ageing female artist (2017) her voice is not only understood here in terms of its sonic ‘Irishness’ (O’Flynn 2009; Smyth 2016), but is reinserted into a ravaged, over-productive and over-truthful body that physically and metaphorically evidences the impact of abuse and mistreatment of the female body in Ireland by church and state (horrifically revealed in the ‘Tuam Babies’ scandal uncovered by Catherine Coreless, as reported in The Irish Times and The New York Times, Oct 2017 and featured prominently during the recent papal visit to Ireland). Such disciplining of the female body also speaks to gendered, Irish colonial narratives that are deeply embedded in the native Irish song tradition from which she draws, further underpinned and complicated by her Catholic and nationalist/republican ideals (something unacknowledged or misunderstood by many critics, including Richardson on Sean Nos Nua in Pitchfork, 2003).
Grounding this discussion in a selection of the artist’s songs from present and back to the nineties, I argue that this ‘ageing’, and ‘unstable’ artist should not simply be dismissed as a lost and alienating, ‘second-wave feminist’ (Petrusich 2016), but rather should be viewed as a radical protester, social critic and complex feminist who was years before her time. Her songs and stories are powerful and poignant, resonating both historically and in the current moment, with various inflections of Irish womanhood.