The Irish Times view on Shane MacGowan: a diamond of the diaspora

A creature of the late night, MacGowan seemed to rage against the dawning of the day as much as the dying of the light

Shane MacGowan’s stature was epitomised by the rollcall of talent – Nick Cave, Bono, Sinéad O’Connor, Imelda May, Damien Dempsey, Lisa O’Neill and Cerys Mathews – that sang his songs at the National Concert Hall in January 2018, marking his 60th birthday and the presentation of a lifetime achievement award by President Michael D Higgins.

For a singer born on December 25th, 1957, it is perhaps apt that his most famous song, Fairytale of New York, is Christmas-themed, and that its title comes from a work by Irish-American author JP Donleavy, given his love of Irish literature, from James Clarence Mangan to Brendan Behan, and his own hyphenated identity.

Born in England to Irish parents but reared as much in rural Ireland as on the streets of London, his creative imagination stretched from the broad majestic Shannon to the narrow streets of Soho, his mental map from the A-Z of London to deepest, off-grid Tipperary. Like so many Irish in Britain, his identity married the nation of his parents with the city where he lived: London-, Manchester-, Birmingham-, not Anglo-Irish.

He was a rough diamond of the diaspora whose imaginative input was key to the resurgence of Irish cultural confidence in the late ‘80s and ‘90s from Jack Charlton’s football team dominated by British-born players to the international success of U2′s music, the films of Neil Jordan and Jim Sheridan, the plays of Martin McDonagh and the dancing of Michael Flatley and Jean Butler.


A creature of the late night, MacGowan seemed to rage against the dawning of the day as much as the dying of the light. He sang with passion of lives lived with a reckless abandon, gambling, fighting and fornicating, old songs on the jukebox, hard times and harder partying. Yet some of his finest moments are love songs: duets such as Haunted with Sinéad O’Connor; You’re The One with Clannad’s Máire Brennan and of course Fairytale... with Kirsty MacColl.

Such genius, rather like the protagonist in another of his classics, The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn, defies mortality.