Such sad news, the death of singer Dolores O’Riordan, earlier this week. The many tributes for the 47 year old, from fans and musos alike, were truly heartfelt. And for those who have not listened to the Cranberries for a while would without a doubt will remember Dolores’ haunting voice. Into her music she poured her defiance, her sensitivity, her soul – her music will certainly live on.
Why the Cranberries came to be called the Cranberries is not very clear. When Dolores first auditioned for the Limerick guitar band they were called, ‘The Cranberry Saw Us’. But for Dolores, it’s though, the band and it’s name were her destiny.
In the plant world cranberries are associated with hardiness. Low growing, creeping shrubs or vines, they have slender, wiry stems and small evergreen leaves. The flowers are dark pink, with distinct petals and stem. So like the neck, head, and bill of a crane this is the likely source of their name (from the Low German – kranebeere). They bear fruit larger than the leaves of the plant; initially light green, then red when ripe. These berries are naturally coated with a waxy substance that acts as a preservative, they keep for weeks (and were historically given to sailors on trading ships to prevent scurvy.)
Dolores was resilient too. The youngest of 7 children she was born in Ballybricken, near Limerick, Ireland. Her father; Terence (1937–2011), was a farm labourer (who suffered brain damage after a motorbike accident in 1968), her mother, Eileen, a school caterer. The family home was strictly Catholic and Dolores wasn’t permitted make-up or fashionable clothes. In her late teens Dolores began to rebel – the pixie haircut and DM boots, the pissed attitude. At 18 she ran away (to Limerick, just down the road) and found the band that would be her making. But she was still very shy and it took some time to truly show herself (she sang with sideways to the crowd in early gigs). But she persevered and when she found her voice, her ethereal voice, the Cranberries broke through, rocketing through the 90s with five successful albums.
Cranberries are said to be a cure for heartache. Possibly a reference to their Pequot Indian name, ibimi, or “bitter berry” (ripe cranberries are more acidic than sweet); their heart-red dye, or their healing properties; raw, they have an astringent effect that reduces bleeding.
Heartache, anguish and sorrow infused Dolores’ music, singing for the Cranberries seemingly her cure. Her searing vocal she attributed to her father who taught her to yodel (from cowboy songs) as a child. But there was real heartache in her upbringing too; between the ages of 8 and 12 she was abused by “a person of trust”. The hurt manifested itself later, in anorexia, in depression, in mental breakdown, and a suicide attempt.
She found some solace in marriage (to her tour manager, Don Burton) and motherhood (three children, Taylor, 20, daughter Molly, 16, and daughter Dakota, 12). But in 2014 divorced and was later very publicly arrested for an air-rage incident. She was diagnosed bi-polar and suffered from severe back pain forcing her to cancel a recent tour with the Cranberries.
This insecurity and uncertainty lay behind her powerful voice. But she wasn’t wallowing, she was seeking a cure. She sang of a call to action, she wanted to galvanize. Her songs asked questions to get answers. She wanted to show her pain, she did.
Cranberries are of huge commercial significance particularly along the north-eastern seaboard of America and Canada (from Massachusetts to Quebec). Grown in bogs that are flooded at harvest time the floating berries are skimmed by machine. Today 10 million barrels are produced a year for worldwide consumption.
The Cranberries hit their stride in the 1990s and went on to sell 40 millions records over the next decade. Their standing as an Irish Alt band with voice found them fans around the world.
Back then cranberries, as juice or jelly, mainly appeared at Christmas, as accompaniment to the turkey. But as a berry with benefits they’ve since risen in standing. A rich source of antioxidants (and with a high dose of vitamin C and fibre) they are health helpers – lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and health fighters (from urinary infection to stomach ulcers, possibly even cancer). Today they are hailed as a superfood.
Dolores superstar status never waned, despite her personal difficulties and periodic absences from the music scene (she lived with her family for many years in Canada).
Her journey from small town girl to internationally renowned star was the stuff of big dreams. Delores knew she was imperfect but she embraced her faults and insodoing inspired many girls, particularly in Ireland. She was undoubtedly talented, honest, full of soul and courageous.
Cranberry by name, Cranberry by nature.
May she now find peace.