Ireland has lost ‘one of music’s greatest lyricists’: Tributes paid to Shane MacGowan

President leads tributes to Pogues singer-songwriter remembered as ‘one of greatest lyricists’

President Michael D Higgins has led tributes to Shane MacGowan, saying his songs seemed to capture “the measure of our dreams”.

MacGowan’s death at 65 comes after a prolonged period of ill health, including time spent in intensive care. He was best known as the frontman of The Pogues, whose single Fairytale of New York has become a popular Christmas song across Ireland and the UK.

In a statement, Mr Higgins said MacGowan would be remembered “as one of music’s greatest lyricists”.

“His words have connected Irish people all over the globe to their culture and history, encompassing so many human emotions in the most poetic of ways,” he said.


“The genius of Shane’s contribution includes the fact that his songs capture within them, as Shane would put it, the measure of our dreams,” he said.

Fairytale of New York, MacGowan’s best-known song, had a “timeless quality” that would likely see it continue to be listened to every Christmas “for the next century or more”, Mr Higgins said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said MacGowan was an “amazing” musician and artist. “His songs beautifully captured the Irish experience, especially the experience of being Irish abroad,” he said.

Speaking in the Dáil, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said MacGowan was “an iconic musician who blended many different musical disciplines and genres”.

Mr Martin said his death was “particularly poignant” at this time of year in the context of Fairytale of New York, one of the most “enduring” Christmas songs and “resonates with all of us and continues to do so”.

Minister for Culture Catherine Martin described MacGowan as “one of our greatest songwriters and performers. In his work with The Pogues especially, Shane revitalised Irish traditional music, through such seminal albums as Red Roses for Me, Rum Sodomy and the Lash, and If I Should Fall from Grace with God. From The Pogues’ first gigs in Ireland at venues such as the National Stadium, McGonagles and the Olympic Ballroom, his charismatic performances energised and enthralled Irish audiences”.

“But it is his song writing for which he will be mainly remembered. Songs such as A Pair of Brown Eyes (memorably covered by Christy Moore), Sally MacLennane and The Body of an American will be enjoyed for generations to come. And in Fairytale of New York, he created arguably the greatest Christmas song of them all. His ability in particular to capture the Irish emigrant experience in Britain, echoing the literary work of writers such as John Healy whose book The Grass Arena dealt with similar themes, was especially remarkable.”

Ms Martin also referenced “his collaboration with Sinéad O’Connor and of the great talents that have been lost to us this year”. MacGowan and O’Connor, who died in July, collaborated on a 1995 re-recording of Haunted, originally released by the Pogues in 1986.

“Shane’s passing is a reminder that we should value people in life and I am pleased that Shane’s life and work was celebrated in such style on the occasion of his 60th birthday at the National Concert Hall. My deepest condolences to his wife Victoria, his family including connections in Tipperary, and to his legions of fans.”

The singer was born Shane Patrick Lysaght MacGowan on December 25th, 1957, in Pembury, Kent to Irish parents. His father was from Dublin and his mother from Co Tipperary, where he spent many summers in his youth.

His wife Victoria Mary Clarke posted on Instagram that the “love of her life and “measure of her dreams” had died. The pair had married in 2018, having been together for 32 years and engaged for 11 years.

Former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said he was deeply saddened at the death of his “good friend”.

Mr Adams, who said he was with the singer when he was released from hospital last week, said he had been a fan of MacGowan for decades.

“Shane was an extraordinary human being whose music and kindness lifted people’s spirit. His music is tremendous and his lyrics and writing reflect who we are as a people. The Pogues were one of the best bands ever,” he said.

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said Ireland had “lost one of its most beloved icons”.

“Nobody told the Irish story like Shane – stories of emigration, heartache, dislocation, redemption, love and joy,” she said.

The Lord Mayor of Dublin Cllr Daithí de Róiste has opened a book of condolences in the Mansion House and online for the citizens of Dublin to extend their sympathies to the family of MacGowan.

Siobhán McSweeney, the Irish actor who played Sister Michael in Derry Girls, said MacGowan “was the voice of London for us Irish”.

“When I was scared about moving here he lured me over with songs about chancers, drinkers, lovers, poets and scoundrels … He also taught me how to miss home, whatever that may be,” she said.

Gerry O’Boyle, a longtime friend who organised a tribute gala marking MacGowan’s 60th birthday in the National Concert Hall in 2018, said he was “one of the most loyal friends you could ever ask for”.

“He was very kind and caring, he had a deep understanding of the other invisible world, the mystic and time was not important to him because he lived in a timeless world of his creating,” he said. “I was very lucky to have had him as a friend and I am going to miss him a lot,” Mr O’Boyle said.

Singer Imelda May, who had recently visited MacGowan while he was being treated in St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin, paid tribute on Instagram, saying: “Your genius song writing and poetry weaved of words and wisdom that made mortals feel seen, heard and moved from stoney stoicism to quiet tears. In a world of perfection bulls*** you were always real. You always lived your truth.”

MacGowan’s former bandmate Spider Stacy shared a black and white photo of the singer performing on stage, writing: “O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done.”

Singer Billy Bragg hailed MacGowan as “one of the greatest songwriters of my generation”.

He added: “The Pogues reinvigorated folk music in the early 80s and his songs put the focus onto lyric writing, opening doors for the likes of myself and others.”

The Charlatans’ Tim Burgess praised the singer-songwriter as a “lyrical genius” and an “inspiration” to many up-and-coming artists.

“I followed The Pogues to far-flung places, met Shane a few times and watched some of the most exhilarating shows I’ve ever witnessed,” he added.

Australian musician and actor Nick Cave described MacGowan as a “true friend and the greatest songwriter of his generation”.

Music producer Jack Antonoff, who has worked with global artists including Taylor Swift and The 1975, said MacGowan made him “feel something” through his work that nobody else could.

He tweeted: “His way is something I feel inspired by everyday in the studio and on tour.

“Love to those close to him and for the rest of us who wouldn’t be here without his music it’s a sad day.” - Additional reporting PA

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times