Irreverent, excessive but what a talent – the late Shane MacGowan, RIP

by Rose Barrett
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Irreverent, excessive in his talent for songwriting and song adaptation, and in his drinking and socializing, there will only ever be one Shane MacGowan.

The singer who has often been likened to the great Irish writer, Brendan Behan (both for his gifts and excesses), will be laid to rest on Friday next, December 8.

His remains will arrive at the carpark off the Shelbourne Park Greyhound Stadium, Ringsend at 10.30am and be transferred to a horse-drawn carriage. From there, the Artane Band and a piper will lead the cortege and family onto South Lotts Rdoad, across McMahon Bridge, and down Pearse St to the junction of Lombard St East and Westland Row. From Lincoln Place into Fenian St and then travel on to Denzille Lane where the coffin will be transferred back into the hearse privately.

A traffic management plan will be put in place by Gardaí, and the procession is expected to last circa an hour and a quarter.  The singer’s remains will then return to Nenagh where he will be cremated and his ashes spread on the River Shannon, the inspiration of his song, The Broad Majestic Shannon.

Founded in 1982 initially as ‘Pogue Mahone’ (another irreverent slight at the English establishment), the band later shortened its name to The Pogues. Based in London, the band emerged during the punk era and soon became renowned for their Anglo-Irish Celtic punk take on Irish trad music.

In a frank interview last weekend with Brendan O’Connor on RTÉ Radio 1, MacGowan’s wife Victoria spoke of meeting the dynamic singer in a pub in London when she was only 16 years old. Even then, she was struck by his arrogance – and his style!

“I met him with Spider, and Shane said ‘It’s his birthday, buy him a drink’ to which I replied ‘Fk Off’. This was the era of Boy George and punk, colourful clothes, long dreadlocks or punk hairdos. But Shane even then didn’t go with convention. He wore a Crombie, loved jumpers and cardigans but always wore tailored trousers and black shoes. “

Victoria, a native of Cork, stated she was initially shocked at the group’s take on big Irish classics – The Fields of Athenry (Pete St John), Dirty Ol’ Town (Ewan MacColl, father of the late Kirsty), The Irish Rover and many more. But then she realized they were serious and passionate about their Irish roots and music. In time, they became the leading band to identify with the vast Irish population living in England, in London, Manchester, Birmingham, etc.

And if Shane MacGowan espoused the thumbs up to the establishment as per the Punk era, he was in many ways, utterly old fashioned and conventional in their courtship.

“I went to a gig with Spiker who fell asleep but it was Shane who got me home safely, he was a real gentleman with old fashioned manners. I had a boyfriend then and no way would Shane shift me when I had a partner! He wouldn’t snog me either in the presence of his mother. But he was a great dancer, a northern soul dancer, we both loved dancing.”

Undoubtedly, The Fairytale of New York is one of MacGowan’s greatest compositions and set to be Number One for Christmas yet again. Recorded with Kirsty MacColl, the singer died in a tragic boating accident in 2000.

While their recordings with The Dubliners of The Irish Rover, Dirty Ol’ Town and Streams of Whiskey are typical of the bawdy and boozy style of The Pogues, there were so many tender and evocative songs performed or penned by MacGowan and other members of the group: A Rainy Night In Soho, If I should fall from Grace, Thousands are Sailing, Sally MacLennane, a Pair of Brown Eyes, etc.

“We didn’t realise the last few months were his end of life journey…We thought he’d be in hospital for a few months and then he’d be back home.”  Bono, Moya Brennan, Jim Sheridan, Imelda, the lads from The Pogues and so many friends from the world of entertainment called in. “He had constant company and entertainment. He couldn’t drink or smoke so he watched DVDs. He had stopped drinking, he just didn’t want to do it anymore.”

The couple married in November 2018 in Copenhagen, following a long engagement. He is survived by Victoria, his sister Siobhan and his father, Maurice, family and a large circle of friends, and sadly predeceased by his mother, Therese.

 Shane MacGowan, December 1957-November 2023, may he rock his way to the next level, amen. Rose

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