It was a rainy day in Nenagh and the wind was whispering threats as well as charms.
But the people of Shane MacGowan’s hometown more than compensated for the dampness, presenting a warm front to welcome him back one last time and turning the funeral into a rousing celebration of his life.
At times it was more like a Pogues concert than a requiem Mass. Such was the demand for seats and standing room in St Mary of the Rosary Church that, at one point, there were doubts whether even the star attraction would get in.
Repeated announcements urged those without a seat to clear the aisles and allow the MacGowan family enter in comfort. As one plea put it, alarmingly: “At the moment, Shane himself is not going to be able to access the church.”
Polite local ushers, meanwhile, were no match for some of the overflow-ers, veteran concert goers who had blagged their ways into many a sold-out gig.
But the former frontman’s entry, when it came, was a dramatic one: his coffin draped in a tricolour, a distinction usually reserved for soldiers of the Republic, official and otherwise.
That theme continued with the first reader – MacGowan’s choice, apparently – Gerry Adams (or just “Gerry” as he was announced, it being an occasion for first names only). Adams quoted the biblical Songs of Songs but also struck a strident political note, declaring MacGowan a proud Tipperary republican who had rejected “the revisionists” and “fumblers in greasy tills”.
After that, it was mostly music and religion, in a combination rarely seen. The Mass may have made history by including a reading of the Book of Shane, verse two. That’s the one that begins “You’re a bum, you’re a punk/You’re an old slut on junk”: sentiments not normally heard in a church.
But there was also a cameo appearance by the Buddha, one of many symbols brought to the altar to represent the dead man’s life. “Is this the first time the Buddha has been in a Catholic Church?” wondered MacGowan’s wife, Victoria Mary Clarke.
The symbols were a short story in themselves, but a complex one, worthy of James Joyce. Joyce was of course included, via a copy of Finnegans Wake, as was Flann O’Brien (An Béal Bocht), although the symbols most popular with the congregation were a Tipperary GAA flag and a hurley.
In his homily, Fr Pat Gilbert entered the spirit of the occasion, mixing the musical with the spiritual.
“I grew up listening to the music of [Thin] Lizzy, the Horslips, the Rats, the Undertones and the Pogues,” he recalled, saying that such bands had alerted his generation “to what was happening around us” but had also given them pride in being Irish.
“Shane and the Pogues made it international and cool to play the tin whistle, banjo or accordion,” he said, adding to laughter: “And for a young fella struggling to play the button accordion, that was salvation.”
Johnny Depp raised eyebrows and iPhone cameras when delivering one of the prayers of the faithful, expressing hope that we could all learn to “feel the pain of others... and reach out to all who suffer in any way with the continuous love that is rooted in faith and peace”.
Nick Cave sang A Rainy Night in Soho, poignantly dropping the word “nearly” from the original line, “Now the song is nearly over/We may never find out what it means,” while playing up the optimistic conclusion: “Still there’s a light I hold before me/You’re the measure of my dreams.”
Camille O’Sullivan and Mundy delivered a magnificent version of I Want to be Haunted by Your Ghost. Peadar Ó Riada and his Cór Cúil Aodha sang Ag Críost an Síol, Mo Ghile Mear, and other non-Pogue classics.
But the show (and Mass) stopper was Fairytale of New York, with Glen Hansard and Lisa O’Neill deputising for Shane and Kirsty MacColl and the whole congregation joining in.
It finished to a roar of applause more usual in Vicar Street than at Mass. But nobody disagreed with Siobhán MacGowan, when she said of her brother: “I think Shane would have enjoyed that. That was some send-off.”
Victoria Mary Clarke spoke at length about her husband, describing virtually every aspect of the late singer’s character and makeup.
In her eulogy, she explained his spirituality, his care for the poor and disadvantaged, his creativity, often influenced by various substances. At times she spoke candidly about his indulgences and their effects – how he had once carried an encyclopedia of pharmacology to learn them.
“His physical body lasted a very long time considering what he did to it,” she said, perhaps verbalising what many had long thought.
“Music could take us places that were so heavenly that it was like God. I think music in a way was like God to Shane.”
And in describing his deep religious sensibilities, of all creeds, there were lighter moments too.
He prayed constantly but was the “only man ever busted” by a priest for taking Holy Communion on a daily basis, she recalled fondly.
Then with a potentially awkward nod to the actor Johnny Depp, she said: “I hope you don’t mind me saying this Johnny but when Johnny had a court case involving his ex-wife Amber [Heard] and Shane had a long conversation with you, didn’t he, and urged you to forgive Amber. He just thought it was the best thing to do,” she said.
“And I’m sure you have by now haven’t you? Of course you have.” There was muffled laughter.
In a personal eulogy, MacGowan’s sister, Siobhán, recalled that his life had begun against the backdrop of a “hooley” on Christmas Day 1957, when his mother’s labour pains competed for attention with a nurses’ party. And almost 65 years later, thanks to his family, friends and many admirers, Shane MacGowan went out against the backdrop of a hooley too.