From Fall 2012: How we got Sinead O'Connor wrong. (Atlantic/Blog Riley)
At age 15, Sinead O'Connor was caught shoplifting and was sent to an institution much like those investigated in the Commission Report, a Magdalene laundry full of teenage girls who had been judged too promiscuous or uncooperative for civil society. "We worked in the basement, washing priests' clothes in sinks with cold water and bars of soap," O'Connor has written of her experience. "We studied math and typing. We had limited contact with our families. We earned no wages. One of the nuns, at least, was kind to me and gave me my first guitar." On the grounds of one Dublin Magdalene laundry, a mass grave was uncovered which included 22 unidentified bodies. These institutions have since caught the eye of the United Nations Committee against Torture.
After 18 months, with the help of her father, O'Connor escaped from this brutal system. Very quickly, her voice carried her to stardom. Her former captors were the "enemy" O'Connor spoke of when, as a 25-year-old with a once-in-a-lifetime live television audience, she tore the picture of the Pope and exhorted her viewers to "fight" him. The picture she tore, in fact, had belonged to her abusive mother, then already dead. "The photo itself had been on my mother's bedroom wall since the day the fucker was enthroned in 1978," she told the Irish magazine Hot Press in 2010.