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Dolores O'Riordan: The demons that linger in her life

Barry Egan tells the turbulent and tragic story of rock star Dolores O'Riordan. It involves four years of rape as a child, suicidal thoughts, depression and her arrest for an alleged assault on a plane

Some of us who know - and love - Dolores O'Riordan have been bracing ourselves for disaster for years now. That 'disaster' came at 5am almost a fortnight ago on Flight EI110 from New York to Shannon. I was only surprised it hadn't happened years ago. So, Dolores finally went off the deep end with the most ignominious splash of her career.

With her sanity fast unravelling seemingly, she was arrested for an alleged assault on an Aer Lingus flight attendant and allegedly headbutting and spitting in the face of a guard. It sounds like a tawdry spectacle of which Dolores, no doubt, would be rightly ashamed.

There is, if you allow me to tell it, a context ...

Dolores is not well. She has been an accident waiting to happen for quite some time. Not many people who know Dolores are surprised about what allegedly happened at 10,000 feet over Shannon and on the ground at the airport. Most of the people who know and love Dolores O'Riordan want her to be in a better place. That is easier said than done.

Her mother has spoken of the singer being in a "very vulnerable place". In addition, and without wishing to exonerate or excuse her from her alleged violence, Dolores is carrying quite a burden of pain and torment from her past. I don't use these words lightly or even dramatically. It is easy to throw about phrases like 'dealing with her demons'. Dolores O'Riordan's demons, however, would frighten the life out of most of us.

She told me this in October, 2013: "For four years, when I was a little girl I was sexually abused. I was only a kid."

Dolores kept the dirty secret of what happened to her during her childhood buried inside her all her life. It has cast shadows over her whole life. The dirty secret caused Dolores O'Riordan to have a nervous breakdown - and to be depressed and suicidal and anorexic. She had panic attacks. She didn't sleep or eat properly. How could she?

The story of what was done to Dolores O'Riordan from the age of eight to 12 by someone in the Limerick area who was in a position of trust is heartbreaking and disturbing.

When her father, who had been ill with cancer for seven years, died on November 25, 2011, at home in Ballybricken, Co Limerick, Dolores knew in all likelihood that she would see her abuser at the funeral in Limerick. "I had nightmares for a year before my father's death about meeting him," she told me in November of last year. These fears were realised when the man who abused her "came over and cried and said: 'Sorry'."

I asked her what did you say to him when he said that. "My father had just died. I didn't see him for years and years and then I saw him at my father's funeral. I had blocked him out of my life."

Dolores told me that she blamed herself for that man sexually abusing her for four years beginning when she was eight. "That's what happens. You think it is your own fault. I buried it. It is what you do initially. You bury it because you are ashamed of it. You think: 'Oh my God. How horrible and disgusting I am.' You have this terrible self-loathing. And then I got famous when I was 18 and my career took over. It was even harder then. So then I developed the anorexia.

"When I Googled anorexia and studied it, I found out it was a common pathology that develops later on in life. So I was putting on this charade, this perfect face. I had anorexia, then depression, a breakdown."

I told her that anorexia is a form of suicide: you want to make yourself disappear.

"I knew why," she replied. "I knew why I hated myself. I knew why I loathed myself. I knew why I wanted to make myself disappear. It was something that I noticed manifested itself in my behaviour and the pathologies I began to develop in my early adult life, such as my eating disorder, depression and eventually the breakdowns.

"I think I am getting stronger for sure. But I'll always be a bit of a train wreck. Nobody's perfect. Those people who pretend they are perfect aren't perfect."

You can only imagine the troubled thoughts and feelings that assailed Dolores's mind through her youth and into her adult life - putting an enormous strain on her, psychologically and emotionally. It is no surprise that Dolores has admitted to suffering from anorexia, nervous breakdowns, and suicidal thoughts over the years. This goes some way - but not nearly far enough - to explaining her volatile vulnerability, her precarious psychological state at times.

"I tried to overdose last year," she told me last summer. "I suppose I am meant to stay here for the kids.

"It is just about acknowledgement for me now - not revenge," she said, slowly. "I'm not that type but it will free me to go into group therapy as I go on with my life and I can be a better and stronger mother.

"I am pretty good but sometimes I hit the bottle," she added. "Everything is way worse the next morning. I chain smoke when I drink. I have a bad day when I have bad memories and I can't control them and I hit the bottle. I kind of binge drink. That is kind of my biggest flaw at the moment," she told me.

Talking in Rome last winter, she said that it was "amazing to have the burden lifted off my shoulders; it is almost like going into therapy and confessing it, except you do it the other way around, because when you are famous you just open up and that is it. It does feel good to have that off the shoulders. I feel a definite sense of a relief.

"I don't have to explain it to people. It happened. And you know, I think it makes people understand who you are and how you are a little bit better."

In Rome Dolores said a fascinating thing about her boundaries. "I cannot have sleeping tablets around, because if I have a few drinks I'll take them. On tour, it was just so easy to say: 'I can't sleep, I've had a couple of drinks, maybe I'll take one.' Then you take another. Then you don't wake up. That can happen. I am careful now."

Dolores has no choice but the long road to recovery. She doesn't have to travel down the road of recovery on her own.

In April of this year, I met Dolores and her mother Eileen for lunch near the family home in Bruff, Co Limerick. Eileen said at one point: "I remember my own mother - who was 92 when she died in 1997 - saying to Dolores one morning: 'You'd have been better off if you'd kept your little job in Cassidys in Limerick.'"

Eileen then recalled visiting her famous daughter in Dingle in 1993. "Dolores came to the door. She was in tears. She said, 'Will you help me, mammy?'

"I said, 'What's wrong with you?' She said nothing, then said: 'Nobody can help me now.' I didn't know what she meant and I was very worried about her. She was unable to tell me or explain or communicate very well. It was a long drive home and I thought about it all the way home. That was a turning point for Dolores."

"You get to the point where you want to die," Dolores said, "because you think that you'll get peace when you're dead and you can't get any worse than you are. We built a house in Dingle that we never lived in. It was around the time of (the third Cranberries' album) To The Faithful Departed. All the songs were depressing and I was very depressed and I was extremely anorexic on that record and as it came out, I got progressively worse.

"Looking back now I never thought that I'd be here with two boys and two girls - a beautiful 22-year-old, a beautiful 16-year-old, a beautiful 13-year-old, and a beautiful nine-year-old," Dolores said referring to her children Mollie, Dakota, Taylor and Donnie. "I realise now that life isn't about money, fame. Actually, all that crap. It's simply love that's important."

That's what Dolores O'Riordan needs now more than anything.

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