The hard-living lead singer of The Pogues, Shane MacGowan, received a rousing Irish send-off with music, song and dancing on Friday, after his death at the age of 65. Stars including Johnny Depp, Bono and Nick Cave joined Ireland’s President Michael D. Higgins and former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams at a funeral mass in Nenagh, County Tipperary, west of Dublin. Cave performed a version of the Celtic folk-punk band’s wistful “A Rainy Night in Soho” in a service that resonated to the sounds of the fiddle, flute and organ, as well as cheers, whistles and applause.
There was dancing in the aisles to a rousing acoustic rendition of his most famous tune, “Fairytale of New York” — a duet from 1987 with the late Kirsty MacColl, which is tipped to be this year’s Christmas number one. “Shane would have enjoyed that,” his sister Siobhan told St Mary of the Rosary Church, where their mother Therese used to attend Roman Catholic mass every Sunday.
Father Pat Gilbert, who led the ceremony on the day the late Irish singer Sinead O’Connor would have been 57, welcomed “the world” to the funeral of a man whom he said, “influenced, encouraged, entertained and touched” everyone he encountered. MacGowan, who died from pneumonia on November 30 after a period of ill health, was “a poet, lyricist, singer, trailblazer” who had a “revolutionary edge to life”, the priest said.
“Pirates of the Caribbean” star Depp, a close friend of the singer-songwriter, referred to MacGowan as “maestro” before reciting a prayer. Another was read by The Boomtown Rats singer and LiveAid founder Bob Geldof. Symbols of MacGowan’s life, including a Tipperary flag, a statue of the Virgin Mary, a Led Zeppelin record, a novel by Irish author James Joyce and a hurling stick, were brought to the altar.
Earlier in the day, thousands lined the streets of Dublin to their pay respects, applauding as MacGowan’s wicker coffin was carried the through the city in a horse-drawn carriage. Members of the public turned out in force in the Irish capital and threw flowers while musicians played his best-known songs.
The Pogues fused punk and Irish folk music, with MacGowan, a heavy drinker and drug taker, quickly becoming its figurehead as the band’s lead singer and songwriter. His wife, Victoria Mary Clarke, told the church he used to carry an encyclopedia of pharmacology and consulted it to decide whether to take a drug, and was once found eating a copy of a Beach Boys album.
“He explored the boundaries of what you can do, while you are still in a physical body. His body lasted a long time considering what he did to it,” she said. “He was creating music and lyrics all the time he was doing this.” MacGowan, hailed as a genius in the Irish poetic tradition, was born in England but spent much of his childhood in Ireland with his mother’s family.
The band became an international symbol of Irishness at home and for the country’s sprawling diaspora, with MacGowan’s contribution recognized in a slew of tributes from political leaders. Prime Minister Leo Varadkar called MacGowan “an amazing musician and artist” whose songs “beautifully captured the Irish experience, especially the experience of being Irish abroad”.
Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army paramilitary group that fought for decades against British rule in Northern Ireland, praised his support. The Pogues’ 1988 song “Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six”, which recounted the plight of six Irishmen wrongly imprisoned for deadly pub bombings in Birmingham, was banned from British airwaves.
Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald called MacGowan “a poet, dreamer and social justice champion”. “He was a republican and a proud Irishman. Nobody told the Irish story like Shane. He sang to us of dreams and captured stories of emigration,” she said. MacGowan, who was due to celebrate his birthday on Christmas Day, was taken for cremation in a private ceremony. — AFP