Shane MacGowan was a man you don’t meet every day. As befitting an iconoclast of his stature, MacGowan’s funeral at St Mary of the Rosary Church, Nenagh, County Tipperary, Republic of Ireland, on 8 December 2023, was an extraordinary event. The Irish President was in the pews, upfront. Near the beginning of the service, an eclectic assemblage of 20 items symbolising the life of the late Pogues singer and songwriter were presented at the altar and held aloft by the celebrant, Father Pat Gilbert.
The items included LPs (one being Led Zep 2, a cherished gift to MacGowan’s on his last birthday), books (Shane’s Crock of Gold, J.P. Donleavy’s Ireland, James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, Flann O’Brien’s An Béal Bocht, and Siobhan MacGowan’ The Graces), the metal tray that Spider Stacey bashed on his head during Pogues’ gig’s, the Casio-tone on which Shane composed Summer in Siam, a Madonna statuette, and a Buddha. The music played at the funeral is making global headlines. Here is Nick Cave:
Shane MacGowan fans might know that Nick Cave released a cover of The Pogues’ A Rainy Night in Soho on the MacGowan/Cave EP What A Wonderful World (1992). MacGowan and Cave were friends. Nick Hodges comments on YouTube, “One of the most powerful things I’ve ever seen”. Sonny Boy Neil writes, “Bless you Nick, your eyes on Shane’s casket as you sang for him. Incredible friend”. Allan Roepke states: “Not sure how Nick made it through the song. It hits me like a ton of bricks just listening.”
The music for Shane MacGowan’s funeral was coordinated by Irish singer, songwriter, and musician Glen Hansard. Hansard’s feisty arrangement of the Pogues’s popular Christmas song (played w. Spider, Jem, James & Terry from The Pogues and John Sheehan from The Dubliners) matched the mood. One commentator said: “Glen Hansard and Lisa O’Neill sing Fairytale of New York as a reflection after Communion. I can honestly say this is the first time I’ve ever seen dancing in the aisles at a funeral.”
A reporter from the Independent was in the church. He reported, “Glen Hansard and Lisa O’Neill belted out as good a version of Fairytale Of New York as you’re likely to hear. During the finale, people were grabbing strangers by the hand and swinging them around, following the MacGowan family lead.”
In an obituary notice, Tom Waits wrote “Ah, the blessings of the cursed. Shane McGowan’s torrid and mighty voice is mud and roses punched out with a swaggering stagger, ancient longing that is blasted all to hell. A Bard’s bard, may he cast his spell upon us all forevermore.” If anyone needs further evidence of Shane MacGowan’s status as a songwriter, here is Mundy & Camille O’Sullivan singing Haunted at the funeral. Shane wrote the song for the Sid and Nancy soundtrack.
The forthright, unrepentant, proud, loving eulogies by Shane’s sister, Siobhan MacGowan, and his wife, Victoria Mary Clarke are well worth listening to too. (The service was broadcast live and is available on YouTube). Watching it live, it was like a play (the chaotic life, idiosyncratic wisdom, and music of Shane MacGowan) within a play (a formally structured rural Irish Catholic Funeral Mass with a priest wise to literature, music and living with soul). It was as powerful a couple of hours of television as I have ever seen.
I intended skipping over some great musical moments (including Imelda May and the awe-inspiring Irish hymns sung by the Cór Chúil Aodha choir) to conclude this article with I’m A Man You Don’t Meet Every Say, sung at the funeral by John Francis Flynn and the Pogues bassist, Cáit O’Riordan, who sang lead on this traditional song on the fantastic Pogues’ second album Rum, Sodomy, & the Lash (1985). Unfortunately I can’t find it on YouTube. I’ll leave you instead with The Parting Glass played by some of the remaining Pogues with Glen Hansard, sung by Spider Stacy. Hats off Gentlemen.