‘Shane had many acquaintances, but just a few friends . . . we knew who was who’

Pogues singer had a deep connection with Tipperary, and some of its pubs, where he said he felt at home

“There’s a new star in the sky tonight,” Tom Creagh tells the lounge of Philly Ryan’s pub in Nenagh, Co Tipperary. He stands in the centre of the room and sings a few lines of The Broad Majestic Shannon.

The last time I saw you was down at the Greeks,

There was whiskey on Sunday and tears on our cheeks

The singing of The Pogues classic is almost incidental to the story. Tom is talking about the genius of Shane MacGowan. “An unbelievable song,” he says. “In 500 years time, a thousand years time, when we’re all pushing mushrooms up, it’ll . . . "


He stops mid-sentence, takes a deep breath, gathers himself, and continues. “I told him, ‘Shane,’ I said, ‘that song is so familiar to me’.”

In many ways, and for many years, the Nenagh pub was the epicentre of McGowan’s life. His mother Thérèse came from Carney, about 15km north of Nenagh, and in the 1980s she and her husband, Maurice, moved to Tipp from London – to the Silvermines, about 10km south of Nenagh. Shane spent much of his life in north Tipp, and eventually moved into the old family home in Carney Commons in 2000.

“I will stay here for the rest of my life,” he said at the time. “This has always been my home. However far I wander, this is where I belong. I am very rarely here on my own for more than a day or two because I have got relatives and friends living around the area that I have known all my life.”

You sang me a song that was pure as the breeze,

On a road leading up Glenaveigh

The writer, singer and musician would sometimes meet his family at the Whiskey Still bar and restaurant in Dromineer, on the banks of Lough Derg, where his sister Siobhán lives.

“One of Shane’s biggest draws to the area was the roots,” says Joe Ryan (no relation of Philly), owner of the Whiskey Still. “All the neighbours and all the aunts and uncles back in the day out in Carney. That was his people. He really felt at home in that ordinary, every day set-up, with no airs and graces. That was a huge thing.”

In recent months, Tom and Philly Ryan – the owner of the bar – were up and down the road to Dublin to check on Shane. It was difficult to watch a friend’s gradual, steady decline. They’re much keener to talk about all the car journeys they took in happier times.

“I went to Belfast one time to see the White Stripes,” says Philly. “Seán Fay (a Puckane man who spent much of his life working as a carriage driver in New York’s Central Park), BP Fallon (the musician and author) and Shane.”

“I got lost in Belfast, and I was a bit nervous – I had a Tipp supporters club sticker on the car, and Shane in the back seat. So, I said, ‘we’ll ask this old man walking along the road’. I pulled up beside him. He looked in and said, ‘Shane MacGowan, how are you’?

“Shane looked out and said, ‘Hurricane, get in with us’. Alex Higgins said he had no money, but Shane said not to worry about that. So off we went – Shane MacGowan, Alex Higgins and BP Fallon in the back seat of the car to see White Stripes. Some craic.”

I sat for a while at the cross at Finnoe,

Where young lovers would meet when the flowers were in bloom

“Shane had many acquaintances, but just a few friends,” says Joe. “We knew who was who. He loved the area, here.”

A celebrity with a drink and drugs problem is a beacon for some. “Shane’s situation always attracted that element,” Joe continues. “It’s hard to sort the chaff from the wheat when drink is involved and all the rest. It’s difficult.

“They loved each other,” he adds, pointing at Tom, before adding, laughing: “I’d say he would have driven Shane crazy at times.”

Tom is still holding court in the centre of the room. “Shane sat down one time and I said, ‘are you alright’? And he said, ‘Tom, turn off the TV’. I asked did he want to go asleep. ‘No’, he said, ‘I just want to listen to the conversation between you and me. I want to tell you something. I’ve never felt more at home in all my life’.”

Heard the men coming home from the fair at Shinrone,

Their hearts in Tipperary wherever they go

The Broad Majestic Shannon is never far from the conversation. “I was talking to a man today who said he was asked to sing a Tipperary song recently,” says Philly. “He said he wouldn’t sing Sliabh na mBan. He sang The Broad Majestic Shannon. It captures his love of Tipp.”

“I read it out on the altar for Deirdre,” says Joe, referring to his sister’s funeral last year.

Take my hand and dry your tears, babe,

Take my hand, forget your fears, babe

Philly Ryan stopped running the pub himself more than a decade ago. “The week I leased it out, the Nips (the precursor to The Pogues) reformed for the night and played here in the bar. Shane loved it.”

Philly still runs the funeral home across the road, and so his role, which was often taking care of Shane, isn’t over yet. “Victoria’s birthday, we were at something in Monkstown. He called me aside. He was in a wheelchair at that stage, he wasn’t in good form. We had a chat, and he told me what he wanted.”

The Canadian TV presenter George Stroumboulopoulos once interviewed McGowan in the Nenagh pub.

“He asked Shane why he liked this pub,” says Tom. “‘Well,’ said Shane, ‘the pub is here, beside us is the flower shop, and across the street is the undertakers – so, you’re within walking or carrying distance’.”

There’s no pain, there’s no more sorrow,

They’re all gone, gone in the years, babe

Damian Cullen

Damian Cullen

Damian Cullen is Health & Family Editor of The Irish Times