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The Live Aid of funerals

By Dr Christine O’Malley - 07th Jan 2024


Shane’s songs were part of the soundtrack of our London lives

It was the Live Aid of funerals. It was a cross between a Corpus Christi procession and a St Patrick’s Day parade. It was our very own State funeral for Shane MacGowan, with President Michael D Higgins in attendance and the world watching.

For a short time, Nenagh and Dromineer seemed to be at the centre of everything, especially the music. The town, shining in its Christmas finery, came to a standstill. Roads were closed, schools shut early. Famous names and local people remembered and celebrated a life less ordinary. An array of famous musicians sang Shane’s songs; prayers were read by Johnny Depp, Bono, and Gerry Adams; two eulogies from Shane’s wife Victoria and sister Siobhan created a living picture in words. Local priest Father Pat Gilbert did an astonishing job, gently corralling the emotion and the music, as the funeral was broadcast live on RTÉ, Sky, and American TV, with live updates on the BBC News website.

It was mad and it was wonderful and a brief distraction from world events. As for the music, my ears are still ringing with Nick Cave’s version of A Rainy Night in Soho. I loved seeing Siobhan and her husband Anthony dancing in the church to Fairytale of New York, sung by Glen Hansard and every Irish musician I’ve ever heard of.

It was a local funeral too. Siobhan and Anthony have lived in Dromineer longer than I have; her Dad lives in Nenagh. On, there are over 50 pages of condolences, an outpouring of respect and affection from fans in Ireland and abroad. Scattered throughout, I see messages from my neighbours and friends, supporting a local family in their time of loss, as we always do.

Since the funeral, there are stories. My stepson Damian, a musician and a fan, was one of many who stood in the cold outside St Mary’s of the Rosary to pay his respects. He spoke on RTÉ News of “the sense of sadness in the air, we’ve lost our most famous son”. In contrast, a local woman went to 11am Mass and didn’t leave the church. Her husband brought her some lunch to keep her going. A singer friend was more fortunate: He had a seat – in a confessional box, with a good view out the glass door. Later the funeral party went to a ‘secret location’, which everyone knew was the Thatched Cottage, just up the road in Ballycommon. Next day, staff told me it was a privilege to work on the night – such talent!

Looking at stirred old memories for me. There were messages saying “Shane, you made it easier to be Irish in London at a difficult time” and “you made it cool to be Irish at a time when the country was struggling”.

Famous names and local people remembered and celebrated
a life less ordinary

At a time of recession back home, London was full of Irish professionals, a new and educated diaspora, and I was one of them. It was also the bleak days of a terror campaign which we did not support, well before any notion of an IRA ceasefire. I remember after yet another London bombing, I was in a shop and hesitated to speak, suddenly afraid to reveal my Irish accent.

Our ideas of Irishness were much more narrow back then, and did not routinely include those who were English born and reared, and had an English accent, like Shane MacGowan. But Shane’s songs were part of the soundtrack of our London lives, and Shane came to epitomise Irishness. To use an old phrase – he was more Irish than the Irish themselves.

As for Gerry Adams, his voice was instantly recognisable reading at his friend’s funeral, in St Mary’s in Nenagh. So it’s strange to recall that, all those years ago in London, we didn’t know what his voice sounded like, because a broadcast ban blocked Sinn Féin off the airwaves. Post-Belfast Agreement, post-Celtic Tiger, post-Brexit, it all seems rather bizarre. Everyone wants to be Irish now, including the English. At a time when some voices are trying to dictate who is Irish and who is not, I find it a useful reminder that ideas of Irishness change. Ireland has changed too. There’ll be local elections this year and maybe also a general election. By the end of 2024, Gerry Adams’s party could be in Government.

In his version of A Rainy Night in Soho, Nick Cave sang: “Now the song is over, we may never find out what it means.” The songs have ended for now, but the story continues. We’ll work out what it all means.

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The Medical Independent 25th June 2024

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