Ireland farewells Shane MacGowan singing Christmas classic

Shane MacGowan's friends and family sang and danced in the aisles to a rousing rendition of The Pogues' Christmas anthem Fairytale of New York at a joyous funeral marking the singer's colourful life. 

Hundreds of Dubliners had earlier lined the streets on Friday, singing the same festive classic before MacGowan's horse-drawn hearse headed for the small southern town of Nenagh, the home of the singer's late mother, where friends including actor Johnny Depp and singer Nick Cave led tributes.

MacGowan, the London-Irish punk who transformed Irish traditional music with The Pogues and penned some of the 1980s' most haunting ballads before sinking into alcohol and drug addiction, died last week aged 65.

"I think Shane would have enjoyed that. That's some send-off for my brother," said MacGowan's sister Siobhan, after she and other family members turned the front of the church into an impromptu dancefloor as Irish singers Glen Hansard and Lisa O'Neill played Fairytale of New York from the altar.

A hearse carrying the coffin of singer Shane MacGowan during his funeral procession in Tipperary....
A hearse carrying the coffin of singer Shane MacGowan during his funeral procession in Tipperary. Photo: Reuters

Australian musician Cave, who last week described MacGowan as the greatest songwriter of his generation, gave an emotional rendition of A Rainy Night in Soho. Some of MacGowan's Pogues' bandmates sang the traditional ballad The Parting Glass.

Irish President Michael D. Higgins was also among the mourners, while actor Aiden Gillen, former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and U2 singer Bono - via a recorded message - read prayers and readings during the two-and-a-half hour service.

Just as the funeral was a celebration of the lyricist's life, the crowd young and old that earlier gathered for a procession through central Dublin joined in as a near 50-piece marching band and lone piper played Pogues' classics.

"Shane MacGowan, man, meant everything to me," said musician Roland Conroy, 50. "Irish punk rocker, he embodied everything: James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, William Butler-Yeats. A poet, just (brings) a tear to the eye. It's a sad day."

MacGowan became almost as well known for his slurred speech, missing teeth and on-stage meltdowns as drug and alcohol abuse took their toll from the 1990s.

His wife, Victoria Mary Clarke, told mourners that when she met MacGowan for the first time, his friends told her he would be dead within six months.

The height of his success came in 1987 with Fairytale of New York, which MacGowan sang in a duet with Kirsty MacColl to create an instant Christmas classic in which an estranged couple exchange insults.

The song, which has returned to the UK Top 40 singles chart every year since 2005 but has never made it to No 1, climbed to third position in the charts in recent days with a week to go before this year's Christmas No 1 is decided.

"He's a legend. What you see is what you get with Shane. He enjoyed life," said John Farrell, his hair spiked upright in the punk style, as MacGowan's coffin, draped in an Irish flag, passed through Dublin.