Homily for the Funeral Mass of Shane MacGowan RIP by Father Pat Gilbert

11 Dec 2023

On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Funeral Mass for the late Shane MacGowan RIP was celebrated at 3.30pm in Saint Mary of the Rosary Church, Nenagh, Diocese of Killaloe.  The Chief Celebrant for this Mass was Father Pat Gilbert, Co-Parish Priest.

  • Father Gilbert: “What Seán Ó Riada expressed in the life of liturgy, Shane MacGowan expressed in the raw life of living.  He connected the cultural, the sociological, the spiritual, the physical and the metaphysical into a coherent translation of what was happening all around us. 

Homily delivered by Father Pat Gilbert
Shane participated in Nick Cave’s rendition of the Dylan classic Death is not the end :
‘For the tree of life is growing 
how the spirit never dies 
and the bright light of salvation shines 
in dark and empty skies 
not the end not the end 
just remember that death is not the end 
not the end, not the end just remember that death is not the end.’ 
I grew up listening to the music of Lizzy, the Horslips, the Rats, the Undertones and the Pogues.  As teenagers the music and the lyrics alerted us to what was happening around us.
There was also the pride of being Irish, what they could say, sing and share was right and reasoned as far as we were concerned.  In fact, Shane and the Pogues made it international and cool to play the tin whistle, banjo or accordion.
As teenagers, not being able to verbalize our uneasiness, displeasure, our uncomfortable assessment of what was happening all around us, we found an outlet, a channel, a conduit in the music and lyric of the day.  In the words of Dickens, ‘It was the best of times and the worst of times.’  The music and the lyric were tremendous, and Shane was the master of them all. 
As Brendan Behan did in prose, Shane MacGowan did in poetry. 
The raw vibrant energetic earthy soul-filled expression gave us hope and heart and hankering.  

What Seán Ó Riada expressed in the life of liturgy, Shane MacGowan expressed in the raw life of living.  He connected the cultural, the sociological, the spiritual, the physical and the metaphysical into a coherent translation of what was happening all around us. 
Shane also contributed to a beautiful rendition of Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth, performing alongside the Catholic tenor trio ‘The Priests’, who said that Shane came across as a deeper, richer person who had a depth and a sincerity that wasn’t often picked up by people.  
Our modern-day bard, the social commentator, the songsmith, the son, the brother, husband and friend: I know that he adored you Victoria and you him, and you were so loving, supportive and kind throughout your lives together.  You carried and cared and caressed him right to the very end.  And I am also aware of the strong bonds of love and affection that knit you together as a family Maurice, Siobhan and Anthony.
I know that you all will miss Shane terribly.  A voice, a presence around you and with you, is suddenly silent – and coping with that loss is always difficult.  But in that grief, you are supported by the friendship and concerns of other people, and you are supported too by what our Christian faith tells us about death and what it means.  For Shane had great faith in Our Blessed Lady and received Holy Communion from this church regularly.  A man who often knelt before a fellow human being on the side of the road and offered kindness, assistance and care.
Born on the birthday of Jesus and passing on the same days as Oscar Wilde and Patrick Kavanagh, and his funeral celebration Mass today on this great Feast of Mary and Sinead’s birthday, all seems right.  
In one of Shane’s best loved songs, The sick bed of Cúchulainn, he interrupts his own funeral, snarling:
“and they’ll take you to Cloughprior 
and shove you in the ground 
and you will stick your head back out and shout  
‘We’ll have another round’.”
But mortality was always at the heart of his music. 
A poet, lyricist, singer, trailblazer, Shane reflected life as lived in our time, calling out accepted norms that oftentimes appear unacceptable.  But, in order to speak, to be heard, and to have that revolutionary edge to life, the first step is to listen.  And Shane listened.
Mary’s character in the gospel story listens, and she is deemed to have chosen the better part.  In listening she recognises the revolutionary Jesus who would eventually take mortality on, so life could have … ‘another round’.
There Lazarus would feature in the prequel to his own resurrection.  He listened to the plight of the sister’s grief.  His listening morphed into something life-giving.
Our poet, lyricist, singer and trailblazer, gave successive generations the benefit of his listening to the disquiet of life.  Shane spoke and sang from the listened depths of his own journey and in doing so – as poets, lyricists and trailblazers do so well – he spoke to life’s realities for the many who are numbered as his fans.  Life giving words.

As for Martha, she responds to Jesus with those life-giving words: ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah.’

‘For the tree of life is growing
how the spirit never dies
and the bright life of salvation shines
in dark and empty skies
not the end not the end
just remember that death is not an end.’

Your life gave growth to so many of us Shane, and your bright light gave salvation to our often dark and empty skies.
May the Lord of earth and sky welcome you into eternal  light and salvation.  As you knelt before Altar, and the person in need, may you now stand before your God who loved you in life and now welcomes you in death.

‘Not the end, not the end, just remember that death is not the end.’

Rest in peace Shane.


  • Father Pat Gilbert is Co-Parish Priest of Nenagh in the Diocese of Killaloe.