Meaning of “Troy” by Sinéad O’Connor

Being released through Chrysalis Records in 1987, “Troy” marks the earliest entry in the late Sinead O’Connor’s discography. In other words, it is the lead single from her debut album, “The Lion and the Cobra”. And from early on, with 1987 being the year she turned 21, we can see that Sinead was indeed about that life, with a completely-bald head and dropping a song about a controversial topic, that being child abuse.

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Sinéad O’Connor's Troy at

Lyrics of “Troy”

What has been revealed or known is that this song revolves around abuse Sinead experienced as a child at the hands of her mother, Johanna Marie O’Grady, who’s supposed to be the addressee of the lyrics. 

The wording of this song isn’t overly specific. In fact, a listener would have a hard time coming to the above realization without that foreknowledge in tow. For instance, the second verse reads as if the vocalist herself may be the abuser in this relationship. But what has been rather argued concerning those types of segments is that O’Conner is taking on the role of her mother, i.e. switching back and forth between perspectives.

Also, whereas it can be gleaned that the narrative focuses on the toxic relationship between the vocalist and addressee, the lyrics are very abstract. In other words, even if a listener does approach “Troy” with already knowing what it’s about, there are still certain lyrics that one must piece together on his or her own or use their imagination in order to understand.

For instance, there is the chorus. When Sinead puts forth that she “will rise” and “return… from the flame” like “the Phoenix”, it is easy to determine that she must be speaking to her resiliency in light of having been abused. 

However, in the first rendering of the chorus, she makes that same “Phoenix” statement towards the addressee. And with that in mind, it can also be gathered that permeating throughout this piece is a sentiment of concern for her mom, i.e. the person being sung to, as if O’Connor empathizes with her. 

Or at least she does initially before seemingly ultimately concluding, in the outro, that this person will never repent, i.e. live up to her mistakes.

“You will rise
You’ll return
The Phoenix from the flame
You will learn”

She continues:

You will rise
You’ll return
Being what you are
There is no other Troy
For you to burn”

Furthermore, trying to determine what exactly the “Troy” reference is pointing to in the chorus is a bit challenging. Those particular lines, “being what you are, there is no other no other Troy for you to burn”, is from a poem titled No Second Troy by late 19th century poet William Butler Yeats (who, like O’Connor, was Irish). 

Yeats, as a writer, won the Nobel Peace Prize, so relatedly trying to dissect No Second Troy can be considered a major analytical task in and of itself. But seemingly it is similar in nature to Sinead’s piece, i.e. the narrator having a love/hate relationship with the subject/addressee, someone he admires yet who ‘fills his days with misery’.

So in the title, Sinead is not referring to the Trojan Horse or anything like that. Rather, to note, Yeats’ poem is based on Helen of Troy.  And with that in mind, perhaps what O’Connor is alluding to is her mom no longer being in a position to abuse her as Helen did Troy, if you will. Therefore, she might as well just repent and come clean instead of cleaving to her old mentality.

Noteworthy Stuff

There are a couple of other facts that should be pointed out before we wrap this section up. First is that the allegations Sinead made against her mom are quite serious, having stated for instance that mom dukes “ran a torture chamber” as far as parenting her is concerned. 

Along those lines, the songstress let it be known that she did confront her mother about the entire matter shortly before she unexpectedly passed away, but her mom just proceeded to deny it all, as if it never happened. 

And secondly is that Sinead’s brother, Joe, has implied that tales of their mother’s abuse have been embellished by Sinead, with other family members also reportedly taking such a stance.

But obviously in her mind, what she says happened is true. Or let’s say that it’s hard to imagine that someone would decide to lambast an innocent parent throughout an entire song, especially considering that Johanna had already died a couple of years before this track was dropped. 

That would imply that even after the addressee’s passing, Sinead was still traumatized by what she did to her. And as insinuated in the first verse especially, that’s because she was an innocent child when all of the alleged had transpired. 

But on a more positive note later down the lines, some 30 years after “Troy” came out, O’Connor did reveal that she forgave her mom and regretted that Johanna wasn’t around long enough for her to fully appreciate and share her success with.

Who wrote “Troy”?

Sinead O’Connor wrote and produced this song.

Success of “Troy”

Upon original release, “Troy” charted in Belgium and the Netherlands, in the latter case breaking the top 10 of both the Dutch Top 40 (peaking at number 5) and Single Top 40 (number 8).

An official remix of “Troy” was released in 2002, with that rendition peaking at number 3 on the US Dance Club Songs chart.


2 Responses

  1. Gillian says:

    Denial is classic in very dysfunctional families. There is too much blanket shame (& shock first) when serious abuse is brought up. The accuser becomes accused of lying. Perhaps what she was referencing also in the song.

  2. robles says:

    this song is a masterpiece.

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