Dubliners bid farewell to Shane MacGowan singing his Christmas classic

By Graham Fahy

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Hundreds of Dubliners lined the streets singing The Pogues’ Christmas anthem “Fairytale of New York” to bid farewell to singer Shane MacGowan as his horse-drawn hearse passed through the Irish capital on Friday.

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.

His funeral procession was led through central Dublin on a crisp, wintery morning by a marching band and lone piper before leaving for his funeral in the southern town of Nenagh in Tipperary, the home of the singer’s late mother, Theresa.

In what was a celebration of the poetic lyricist’s life rather than a mournful parade, the crowd young and old sang throughout, joining in as the near 50-piece Artane Band also played other Pogues’ classics like a “A Rainy Night in Soho.”

“Shane MacGowan, man, meant everything to me,” said musician Roland Conroy on the usually busy corner of Westland Row, where a crowd stayed after the procession singing “Dirty Old Town”, the folk classic MacGowan and The Pogues helped make popular.

“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, it’s a tragic day in Ireland. The world mourns,” said Conroy, 50.

Fellow musicians including friend Nick Cave led tributes to MacGowan last week, who became just as well known for his slurred speech, missing teeth and on-stage meltdowns as drug and alcohol abuse took their toll from the 1990s on.

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 the 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 number one, climbed to third position in the charts in recent days with a week to go before this year’s Christmas number one is decided.

“He means everything. 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 by.

(Writing by Padraic Halpin, Editing by Angus MacSwan)