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Tuesday 12 December 2023

Shane MacGowan's Funeral - A Fairytale of New York

"Fairytale of New York" is a song written by and recorded by London-based band the Pogues, featuring singer-songwriter Kirsty MacColl on vocals. 

If you don’t know the song, it is an Irish folk-style ballad and was written as a duet, with the Pogues' singer Shane MacGowan taking the role of the male character and Kirsty MacColl playing the female character. 

It was originally released as a single on 23 November 1987 and later featured on the Pogues' 1988 album 'If I Should Fall from Grace with God'. It is frequently cited as the best Christmas song of all time in various television, radio, and magazine-related polls.

A reading from the songbook of Shane MacGowan:

It was Christmas Eve, babe, in the drunk tank

An old man said to me, “Won’t see another one”

And then he sang a song: “The Rare Old Mountain Dew”

I turned my face away and dreamed about you

Sadly this year we lost Shane MacGowan, an incredible and poignant soulful Irish singer. MacGowan would have turned 66 on Christmas Day. Both singers of the song Kirsty and Shane have now passed. 

Much like the haunting melodies and poignant lyrics of "Fairytale of New York," grief can evoke a myriad of emotions—sadness, nostalgia, anger, and even a touch of bittersweet humor.

The song's melodic verses capture the essence of this emotional journey—a tale of shattered dreams, dashed hopes, and the yearning for something more. Just as the characters in the song grapple with their past and present, we too navigate the intricate pathways of grief. We remember moments of joy and love, only to be reminded of their absence.  It's in these moments of raw vulnerability that we learn the true strength of the human spirit. The song's poignant narrative resonates, depicting the struggle to find solace and hope in the midst of despair. Yet, within the depths of sorrow, there's a profound beauty—a beauty that arises from the memories shared and the love that transcends time. 

Shane's funeral took place in his home place of Nenagh, Co Tipperary with Father Pat Gilbert, the local priest overseeing the service and it was filled with incredible readings, prayers and music that filled the church of St. Mary of the Rosary

(It is, and was, an incredible testament to how the Irish 'do' funerals. People dancing in the aisles, laughing, crying and memorializing. We at Muldowney Memorials try to bring that Irish spirit of celebrating a life while mourning a loss into every service that we do. It was lovely to see our dear friends Green Graveyard/Green Coffins on display too showcasing Irish artisans) Shane's funeral epitomized this equal life celebration and mourning of the incredible musician and man that he was.)

Infamous actor Johnny Depp read the first Prayer of the Faithful (see below). There were readings from incredible “Game of Thrones” Irish actor Aiden Gillen and former Irish Political leader (Sinn Féin) Gerry Adams. 

“We pray for a deeper spirit of compassion in the world....May we feel the pain of others, understand their need and reach out to all who suffer in any way with a continuous love that is rooted in faith and peace. Lord, hear us.” ~ Johnny Depp - Prayer of the Faithful

Spoken words were interspersed with beautiful renditions of Shane MacGowan’s music including:

  • Nick Cave performed “A Rainy Night in Soho” accompanied by Colm Mac Con Iomaire on the fiddle and Glen Hansard on guitar. 
  • MacGowan’s former bandmate, Cáit O’Riordan, sang The Pogues’s traditional song ‘A Man You Don’t Meet Everyday’ alongside Irish folk musician, John Francis Flynn. 
  • Glen Hansard and Lisa O'Neill sang “Fairytale of New York.” (see below video)
  • Irish singers Mundy and Camille O'Sullivan sang "Haunted" - a duet that MacGowan recorded with the late Sinead O'Connor who also died earlier this year. Mundy described his performance at the Mass as "a moment I'll never forget"
  • Four of the surviving Pogues - Jem Finer, Terry Woods, Spider Stacy, and James Fearnley, performed the Funeral Service finale “The Parting Glass.” (see below video)
  • The funeral procession that began that morning in Dublin and ended at the church paused at one point as the infamous Artane Band, (a marching band of young musicians) played an instrumental “Fairytale of New York,” while the local Irish crowd sang along. Along the route, other impromptu musicians performed “Dirty Old Town,” which was first recorded by an English folk singer called Ewan MacColl but later made famous by Shane's band The Pogues and others played The Pogues “A Pair of Brown Eyes.”

Coffin/Casket was by our dear friends Green Coffins Ireland

Also as part of the funeral service, Shane MacGowan’s wife, Victoria May Clarke, presented some tokens/symbols in an offering which included:

  • His Crock of Gold book 
  • A Buddha
  • Book of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake
  • A Led Zeppelin album
  • His wedding photo with Victoria
  • And a tray that Pogues member Spider Stacy would sometimes “bash over Shane’s head” 

She said:

“so many beautiful people are pouring their hearts and souls into making it magnificent and magical and memorable for him and for us who are left behind.”

It's a reminder that even in the darkest of times, there's a glimmer of light, 

a hope that sustains us through the storm.

Fairytale of New York

As we listen to the verses of "Fairytale of New York," let us acknowledge that grief is not a linear journey. It's an unpredictable dance between heartache and healing. Just like the song's lyrics paint a vivid picture of life's struggles, grief, too, paints a canvas of emotions that make us human.

May the song's melody serve as a reminder that amidst the pain, there's a harmony waiting to be heard—a melody of love, resilience, and the enduring spirit that helps us navigate the intricate notes of grief. 

Let us cherish the memories, honor the past, and find solace in the love that remains.

Parting Glass

“Shane’s veins ran with Irish blood,” Shane's sister Siobhan said. 

“Shane, you did what you dreamed, You did what you said were going to do in those long ago days in Tipperary, and you did it with such heart and fire – a fire that is not dimmed by death.”


  1. It is Janice, a sad year all round for Irish Legendary musicians ....