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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Barney Davis and Jacob Stolworthy

Johnny Depp and Nick Cave join thousands to celebrate life of Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan

Getty Images

On a rainy night in Tipperary, mourners turned to revellers and partied deep into the night to bid farewell to one of music’s last great hellraisers.

The funeral of Shane MacGowan saw tens of thousands of fans gather in Ireland to sing, pray and remember the irrepressible Pogues frontman who was given a send-off to remember.

Stars aligned for the Anglo-Irish poet, as Hollywood actors and legendary musicians paid tribute during a funeral that was as musical – and eccletic – as one would expect for a man who so delighted in subverting expectations.

There was joy and sorrow, tears and applause, sunshine and showers. A stirring sense of optimism chased with a melancholy that those, like MacGowan, who have battled with alcoholism will know all too well.

James Joyce novels, bartop bric-a-brac collected while on the lash, a hurling stick, and even Irish favourite Barry’s teabags were held aloft during the rousing service held at the Saint Mary of the Rosary Church in Nenagh, Co Tipperary.

Johnny Depp, Bob Geldof and Game of Thrones star Aidan Gillen each gave emotional readings, while rumours of thousands of euros left behind the bar at pubs scattered across the county swirled among attendees.

Everyone had a story or a picture of “Uncle Shane”, in a town where MacGowan chose to hide from the limelight.

Lots of places: London, Dublin, New York even Tunbridge Wells lay claim to being his home, but Tiperrary has the honour of the poet’s final resting place, with his ashes to be spread in his beloved River Shannon.

Depp, who was best man at MacGowan’s wedding, read out one of the prayers of the faithful.

Musician Nick Cave was also at the public Mass and performed a rendition of 1985 Pogues classic “A Rainy Night in Soho”. Cave previously sang the track at MacGowan’s 60th birthday party in 2017.

U2 frontman Bono, who was expected to be in attendance, pre-recorded a reading, which was played to those gathered.

MacGowan’s funeral procession started in Dublin, with more than 30,000 mourners taking to the streets in celebration of the musician’s life.

The crowd belted out lyrics to his Christmas classic “Fairytale of New York” while the coffin was driven to Nenagh, with singers Glen Hansard and Lisa O’Neill later performing the song at the funeral with the backing of a full Irish band.

Street cleaners had spent the last week blitzing the high street with power washers and leaf blowers putting paid to “Dirty Old Town” blasting over the dozens of speakers co-opted from the upcoming Christmas Tree festival.

In the church, a picture of a young MacGowan stood atop his coffin alongside red roses as singers Imelda May and Declan O’Rourke, who were friends of MacGowan’s, performed an emotional rendition of MacGowan’s Máire Brennan duet, “You’re the One”.

Grizzled old punks with purple hair were let under the velvet rope to join the close friends and family seats. Everyone else, and it felt like the whole of Ninagh had skipped work, were left to fend for themselves squeezing in wherever they could.

Johnny Depp at Shane MacGowan’s funeral
— (Facebook)

MacGowan’s widow, Victoria Mary Clarke, went on to introduce symbols of importance for her husband.

These symbols included a Buddha, which she said represented his interest in many religions, a Tipperary flag and his book of songs and poems.

In a tribute to him, she said that his death “took us all by surprise” – as she everyone “thought he’d come home”.

She said she “fell in love with his soul” as she recalled how they first met, adding that she “felt like I’d won the lottery”.

Ms Clarke added: “It would be greedy, really to want more than we got. We got so much. Of course I’m going to miss him.

“I’ve been devastated and I’ve been crying and crying and crying but at the same time as crying I think it’s possible to feel that my heart has got bigger – it has got so much bigger as a result of our relationship and I feel that it will never go back.”

The priest leading the mass, Father Pat Gilbert, said of MacGowan’s widow: “I know he adored you Victoria, and you him. You carried, cared and caressed him, right to the very end.”

Father Gilbert paid tribute to MacGowan, stating: “A poet, lyricist, singer, trailblazer, Shane reflected life as lived in our time, calling out accepted norms that oftentimes appear unacceptable.”

Victoria Mary Clarke, Shane MacGowan’s widow, delivers a reading
— (Facebook)

At one stage, Father Gilbert also said he felt it’s “right” that MacGowan, who was born on Christmas Day, shared a birthday with Jesus, and had a funeral on the birthday of late Irish singer Sinead O’Connor, who died in July.

“I think my brother would have enjoyed that actually” Shane’s sister Siobhan said in a moving reading once it had died down.

“Shane’s veins run with Irish blood, Tipperary was his spiritual home.”

She recalled her mother’s cottage out in The Commons where Shane sang with aunties in front of the fire and sparks flying from the floor as people danced the night away in the “magical mayhem of that cottage”.

“We are so proud of you, so proud of you my darling,” she said towards her brother’s casket.

MacGowan had suffered from a number of health issues over the years, and had recently been discharged from hospital in Dublin, where he was being treated for encephalitis.

His funeral brought the rural town of Nenagh to a standstill, with local schools shutting down early due to traffic restrictions. Many residents attempted to switch shifts in order to get time off work so they could join in the celebration of MacGowan’s life.

People threw roses and cheered as MacGowan’s simple wicker casket left the abbey for a private cremation. He was given a huge cheer and was followed out of the church by the Irish president Michael D Higgins, who shook hands with everyone as he departed.

As the crowds dispersed and the Tipperary pubs opened their doors, all that was left was the sound of Pogues songs carried along by the wind, and a legacy – like the poets and authors who inspired him – that will endure.

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