As news broke on Monday that Dolores O’Riordan had died suddenly in London, colleagues and friends remembered the former Cranberries singer, whose “storm of a voice,” as the members of U2 described it in a statement, influenced countless musicians. O’Riordan’s yodeling vocals, sung in her thick brogue, were as distinctive as her shorn head and punkish on-stage persona, helping to usher The Cranberries onto the global stage during the early 1990s.
The singer knew how to make a statement. Described in 1995 by Rolling Stone as “part Audrey Hepburn, part David Bowie,” O’Riordan once arrived for a set at London’s Royal Albert Hall in oversized Victorian formal garb. But perhaps her most powerful statement was contained in the lyrics of her band’s biggest hit, “Zombie”:
The story behind the hit is one of tragedy, as the BBC has explained. In 1993, O’Riordan was on tour in England and watching television when a news report on an Irish Republican Army bombing appeared onscreen. That bombing, the second to rock the English town of Warrington in a short period of time, would mark a flashpoint in the violence in Northern Ireland, after two young boys, Johnathan Ball, 3, and Tim Parry, 12, died after the explosion of two IRA bombs that had been hidden in trash cans. The victims’ youth would inspire many on both sides of the conflict to speak out about what had happened — and O’Riordan would be one of them.
“I remember seeing one of the mothers on television, just devastated,” she later told Vox magazine.
O’Riordan wrote “Zombie” on an acoustic guitar in her apartment in Limerick, Ireland. In later rehearsals, the song became the rock anthem fans know today, with a fierce, contorted chorus backed by searing guitars. In the music video, close-ups of O’Riordan covered in gold paint, standing in front of a huge cross, were interspersed with black-and-white clips of children and British soldiers. When it was released on the album No Need to Argue, O’Riordan told TIME that the band was getting “a bit more outspoken.”
Following O’Riordan’s death, the father of one of the bomb victims who inspired “Zombie” offered his own tribute to the singer on Irish television. Speaking on BBC Breakfast Ulster, Colin Parry, whose son Tim was killed, described the song as “very, very powerful”, and thanked O’Riordan for the “majestic and very real” lyrics.
“The event at Warrington, like the many events that happened all over Ireland and Great Britain, affected families in a very real way and many people have become immune to the pain and suffering that so many people experienced during that armed campaign,” he said. “To read the words written by an Irish band in such compelling way was very, very powerful.”