Music

Shane MacGowan’s Undertaker Prepares to Give the Pogues Icon a ‘Good Send-Off’

For years, Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan sketched out his funeral plans to his friend, Philip “Philly” Ryan of Nenagh, County Tipperary, Ireland. “He kept it simple. He wanted it the same as his mother’s,” says Ryan, owner of the 152-year-old family business JJ Ryan Undertaker in Nenagh, where MacGowan’s late mother, Therese, grew up. “A private few prayers and a rosary. A public mass and a private cremation.”

The beloved singer-songwriter, who pioneered a punk approach to Irish music anddied last Thursday at 65, perhaps didn’t anticipate the crowds — Ryan predicts 5,000 to 10,000 mourners for MacGowan’s funeral mass Friday afternoon at St. Mary of the Rosary Church in Nenagh, population 8,000, after a procession with a horse-drawn carriage near MacGowan’s home in the Dublin area. After the mass, a second funeral procession will travel through Nenagh. “The whole town will stop for a few hours while it’s happening,” says Michael O’Connor, the town and county’s director of roads, transportation, active travel, health and safety, adding that Nenagh will add 1,500 local parking spaces for the occasion. “We’ll have his more famous songs played on the public-address system. We’re delighted that he’s coming home.”

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“It’s a big effort down here,” Ryan says by phone from Phil Ryan’s Pub, across the street from the undertaker, where he reminisced about his friend’s Nenagh presence and discussed how the town is preparing for the influx of mourners and fans.

What have the logistics been like for the funeral mass?

The local council, the police, they’re all working together on it. It should pack up nicely. We’re going to bring it up to the Barracks Street end of Nenagh, turning up Pearse Street and onto Church Road. It’s kind of the long way around, so less people to line the routes. Nenagh’s a big enough church for a huge crowd. We’re going to put some amplification outside for the overflow so they can all hear the mass. We’re all going to do our best.

What’s the most attendance you’ve had at a funeral in Nenagh?

Funerals down here are big. Two thousand, regularly. Anything of that size, no. It’s massive.

Have you had to hire more employees for the occasion?

Absolutely. We have security, extra staff on the hearse and my funeral home. I don’t foresee any problems, because, whatever we do, we do funerals very well. It’s a great tradition and we want to give him a good send-off.

Shane MacGowan
Shane MacGowan, vocals, performs with the Pogues on December 4, 1990 at Vredenburg in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

What was your friendship like with MacGowan?

Shane didn’t have that many friends, but I was lucky enough to be one of his close circle. I own the pub as well. The funeral parlor is across from the pub. That was his favorite pub in the country. He was a shy guy behind it all and he loved to come in and just while the time away with the locals. Some stories and laughing. He’d never get up and sing and take over the place. He would never do that.

When was the last time you saw him?

Two weeks ago tomorrow. He was released from the hospital on a Tuesday. A lot of fanfare to him was going home for Christmas. Myself and Brendan Fitzpatrick, his driver for 20 years, went to see him in his apartment. You know what, we knew he was in big trouble. The poor man. We spent a couple of hours with him and we left. I normally go up to him on a Wednesday — I just was a little busy last Wednesday and didn’t make it up. I probably would have gone up on Thursday, but he died on Thursday.

His behavior at Pogues concerts suggested he was a big, boisterous personality. Was that true in your friendship?

No. No. He was anything but boisterous. That was a persona onstage, with that roar of his. Shane was a very, very quiet and gentle person and very kind. Very conscientious. Look, I suppose we all have our moments when we’re on a bender, but I can tell you he was a gentleman.

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Did he discuss what he wanted for his service with you before his passing?

Yeah, he did. Black Sabbath played in Dublin in 2017. That night, we went to a party in Dublin. He was in great form. Same night, he called me and told me what he wanted. We met Nick Cave another night. All night, he was telling Nick, “This is Philly. This is me undertaker!” He was saying, “Shane, I know. You said it already.” It was a running joke.

I imagine the pub will do well this weekend.

Oh, jeez, it’s humming all week. We’re going to convert the lounge into the Shane MacGowan Lounge. We’re going to do something memorable for him.

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