Irish priest calls musician Shane MacGowan’s raucous funeral Mass ‘a scandal’ 

St. Mary of the Rosary Nenagh County Ireland Shane MacGowan’s funeral Mass took place Friday, Dec. 8, 2023, at St. Mary of the Rosary Church in Nenagh, County Tipperary, Ireland. | Credit: National Inventory of Architectural Heritage

A Catholic priest in Northern Ireland has called last week’s funeral Mass for Irish musician Shane MacGowan a scandal. 

“This is an abuse of the liturgy. It’s sacrilegious. A requiem Mass is not for the purpose they used it for,” Father Paddy MacCafferty, parish priest in West Belfast, told CNA on Friday. 

Ignoring the Church’s norms for well-known people has become common, the priest said. 

“There needs to be something done about these so-called celebrity funerals in a Catholic church,” McCafferty said. 

MacGowan, 65, founder and former lead singer of the Pogues, a band that fused Irish music and punk rock, died Nov. 30 after a long illness. He is best known as the co-author and co-singer of “Fairy Tale of New York,” a 1987 Christmas song that still enters the charts some 36 years after its original release. 

Though a heavy drinker, drug user, and womanizer for much of his life, MacGowan identified as a Catholic. He had a statue of Mary in his hospital room and he received the last rites of the Church shortly before his death, his family said. 

MacGowan’s funeral Mass took place Friday, Dec. 8 at St. Mary of the Rosary Church in Nenagh, County Tipperary, Ireland. His sister Siobhan MacGowan said Shane sometimes accompanied their late mother to Mass there. 

His funeral Mass last week began with individual displays of 19 objects that were meaningful to MacGowan, which were held up as “symbols” for the congregation between the altar and the coffin by the principal celebrant, Father Pat Gilbert. They included a statue of Buddha, a DVD of "The Godfather," a package of Barry’s tea, and a copy of James Joyce’s "Finnegan’s Wake." 

The Buddha statue was included “because Shane was a lover of all religions, and particularly Buddhism,” said MacGowan’s wife, Victoria Mary Clarke, who described each object at the lectern before it was given to the priest. 

After Father Gilbert held up the statue over his head with two hands grasping the bottom, Clarke said:  “Is that the first time they’ve held up a Buddha in a Catholic church?” 

‘Fairy Tale of New York’ after Communion 

Most of the music during the funeral Mass was non-religious. 

After the first reading, from the Book of Revelation, a man and woman performed “Haunted by the Ghost,” a love song MacGowan composed. 

The second reading, also from the Book of Revelation, was followed by a live performance of “Rainy Night in Soho,” another of MacGowan’s love songs. 

A third reading, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, was done by Bono, the lead singer of U2, by recording

The prayers of the faithful were followed by a performance of “I’m A Man You Don’t Meet Every Day,” a Scottish music hall song that MacGowan sang backup on for the Pogues’ second album. 

After communion, two singers and a band performed “Fairy Tale of New York,” a Christmastime song that at one point depicts a heated argument between two lovers that includes vulgar words for a condom, a homosexual man, and a woman’s rear end, along with the word “slut” and a slang word for heroin. 

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The raucous version of the song got pewsitters clapping and some dancing in the aisles

Father McCafferty told CNA “Fairytale of New York” was not appropriate for the setting. 

“It’s not a bad song. But it’s not a song to be sung after Holy Communion during the Mass,” McCafferty said. “It’s a mockery. I don’t think everyone present meant to be mocking. But that’s how it came across. And it needs to stop.” 

Father McCafferty said MacGowan deserved better. 

“The man was entitled to a requiem Mass. He was a practicing Catholic. He was a child of God. But that other stuff they brought into the Mass – that should have been at a secular venue, either later or at some other time. Don’t do it in the house of God,” Father McCafferty said. 

MacGowan’s funeral Mass has drawn mostly praise from online commenters who watched a livestream version of it. 

McCaffery, 60, a native of Belfast, told CNA he got involved in the story earlier this week when he retweeted and commented on a published criticism of MacGowan’s funeral by John McGuirk, the editor of Gript, a conservative news web site in Ireland, who called the gathering a “funeral concert.” 

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BelfastLive, an online news site in Northern Ireland, got in touch with the priest and interviewed him, publishing a story on Thursday, Dec. 13 that quoted McCafferty calling MacGowan’s funeral Mass “a scandal.” 

In the aftermath, Father McCafferty said he has gotten a supportive telephone call from one priest and some private messages from laypeople supporting what he said. 

“I’m not aware of another priest who has publicly said anything. It’s typical,” Father McCafferty said. 

Much of the reaction to Father McCafferty’s comments has been negative. 

“I know I’m going to get flack. I know I’m going to get ridiculed. And I have,” Father McCafferty said. “That’s a price I’m more than willing to pay.” 

‘The Christian meaning of death’ 

On Thursday, CNA contacted Father Gilbert, the principal celebrant of MacGowan’s funeral Mass; Bishop Fintan Monahan, the bishop of Killaloe, the diocese where the funeral Mass took place; and the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. CNA had not heard back from any of them as of Friday afternoon. 

The Diocese of Killaloe does not appear to have guidelines for funerals on its web site. 

But to the south, the Diocese of Cloyne’s Guidelines for the Celebration of Funerals says that “The guiding principle is that music during the liturgy should be liturgical or other sacred music …” and that “hymns that convey the Christian meaning of death, offer prayer for the dead, and express the hope of eternal life … should be used in the funeral liturgy.” 

The Cloyne diocese guidelines also envision that “extraordinary pastoral circumstances will sometimes necessitate that the funeral rites be adapted to meet particular needs …” 

This article was first published on Dec. 14, 2023 and updated on Dec. 15, 2023.

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