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Tuesday 11 December 2018

Shane's Fairytale of Earlsfort Terrace

One of the nation's finest songwriters, one of our great seanchai, Shane MacGowan, is ready to celebrate a big birthday

Birthday boy: Shane will celebrate his 60th with a hooley tomorrow
Birthday boy: Shane will celebrate his 60th with a hooley tomorrow
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Born on Christmas Day in 1957, Shane MacGowan will be publicly celebrating his 60th birthday tomorrow night with a hooley (of sorts) at the National Concert Hall.

His old muckers like Nick Cave and Johnny Depp will pitch up to help the Tipperary existentialist make it a Fairytale of Earlsfort Terrace.

A bona fide genius, one of Ireland's few echt philosophers, Shane founded The Pogues in 1982 and wrote some of the greatest songs of his or any generation along the way - songs like A Pair Of Brown Eyes, Rainy Night In Soho, Fairytale Of New York, If I Should Fall From Grace With God, to name but a few.

Many of us, perhaps even Shane, might have thought Shane would have fallen, fatally, before God by now - but he didn't, and long may he prosper.

Shane deserves all the plaudits, and more, he will get tomorrow night. Not just because he is one of the nation's most brilliant ever writers of song, but also because he is one of the nicest fellas around the place.

From his reputation, you might expect, to quote Charles Bukowski, "a hell-fish in the night, swimming upward, sideways down". But in reality, he is a lovely bloke. Or a lovely bunch of blokes.

He once made me dinner in his house in Sandymount. He also once brought me on a pub crawl in some boozers around the back of Wormwood Scrubs clink many years ago. And in 1993 took me and his beautiful muse Victoria Mary Clarke around the taverns of Dublin before alighting in La Stampa for a midnight supper.

It was here around 2am where Shane waxed sad-but-lyrical of the Ireland of his youth and his parents, and how that vision of Ireland has long since rotted grimly into dust...

"There's McDonald's everywhere. Even in Tipperary. That's always the first sign," he observed in 1993. "The Americanisation of anywhere leads to the loss of a nation's soul.

"I'm not saying I don't hate every f**king thing the English did to Ireland but they never managed to get rid of the Irish soul. Ireland's not as good as it was, probably because the people died or moved away, and the towns died."

I asked him did he think the Irish who had to move to England because people like Charlie Haughey couldn't find them work in Ireland are angry at this country.

"I can't be a spokesman for the rest of the London Irish, but I know a lot of them who are very bitter, yeah, especially the ones who've been in prison.

"The anti-Irishness is not as strong as it was in the 1970s in London - because Londoners are too busy hanging each other nowadays to pick out any particular social group."

"I do my very best to enjoy life," he said later (albeit a mountain lake of drink later). How does he do his very best to enjoy life?

"By doing whatever I want as much as I possibly can without hurting other people."

"If Shane's got any philosophy, it's that everything comes back round, and whatever you do comes back to you. That's karma, simple," interjected girlfriend Victoria Mary Clarke. "He's a classic example of someone who's always been very good to people. Not just financially, he's incredibly generous in spirit as well."

"I had a whole family in Tipperary who were incredibly generous in spirit," Shane went on. "They were beautiful people. They were old people. So they're dead."

Shane also talked about Joyce, Yeats, God and Ireland having lost her soul. Then he segued into a telling of the tale of Yukio Mishima, the author and poet who committed harakiri in the Japanese army HQ in Tokyo on November 25, 1970.

"He thought the Japanese nation had lost its soul. He hated the way the country was being run by bread-obsessed capitalists and finally found that he couldn't write anything angry enough. So he topped himself. He committed ritual hara-kiri."

Would Shane ever consider committing ritual suicide?

"Naah!" Shane chortled.

Glad to hear it.

Happy birthday, Shane. May you drown in high praise; and fine wine.

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