‘I’m Shane MacGowan’s undertaker… after pulling him pints for 20 years’

The man in charge of The Pogues singer’s funeral also used to run his favourite pub in Tipperary

Barney Davis
in Tipperary
Thursday 07 December 2023 15:27 GMT
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Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan dies aged 65

Shane MacGowan is getting one of the most poetically perfect send-offs in history – his favourite pub landlord has become his undertaker and funeral boss.

The Pogues singer spent 20 years drinking at Phillip “Philly” Ryan’s pub in Nenagh, County Tipperary, where he will be laid to rest on Friday.

And six years ago he told Philly exactly how he wanted him to arrange his funeral.

Philly – who runs JJ Ryan’s undertakers as well as his bar and who saw MacGowan days before his death – exclusively told The Independent: “Yes, I am the only undertaker for Shane.

“We removed him from Dublin the day he died and into my care. He is in my care now. He will have a good send-off.

“I am conflicted about it. I saw him at his house the day he came home after getting out of hospital and I felt so sorry for him. He was just so sick.

“The following day he was back in hospital. Sometimes it’s merciful that you’re not left struggling.”

Philly and Shane outside the singer’s favourite pub

MacGowan died aged 65 on 30 November weeks before what would have been his 66th birthday, on Christmas Day – when his hit “Fairytale of New York” will be ringing out in millions of homes.

He’d been receiving treatment for viral encephalitis, which leads to brain swelling, and had been rushed to hospital with his wife, Victoria Mary Clarke, by his side before he was moved back home where he died surrounded by his family.

Speaking about arranging MacGowan’s final farewell, Philly said: “I suppose I feel privileged and I just hope I can honour him well on his last instruction.

“Most people’s final wishes are to die surrounded by the people they love and Shane was no different.”

Mr Ryan with his hearse

Philly, whose pub will host MacGowan’s wake, said the singer approached him in 2017 to talk about his funeral at his wife Victoria’s birthday party in Dublin.

He said: “Shane’s funeral is exactly as he discussed with me. He wanted private prayers with his family, a public mass and then a private cremation. It’s exactly as he wished.

“People say to me verbally what they like and sometimes it doesn’t transpire as other people have other ideas.

“But I still remember it – it was January 20, 2017. It was an after-party for Victoria’s birthday after a Black Sabbath gig in Dublin.

MacGowan at a concert in January 2018 to celebrate his 60th birthday

“Shane was there in a wheelchair. He just wasn’t in great form that night. I knew that, I could see he wasn’t well. He just beckoned me over at some stage and said, ‘I want to sort everything out.’

“I said, ‘Look Shane I hear you, but we don’t really need to talk about this now.’

“That is a natural thing to say as an undertaker. That conversation is harder than doing any funeral believe it or not. Somebody looking at you and telling you what they want. It is very hard for people to understand.

“I didn’t need notes. The word between two people is worth more than the paper it’s written on.

“I know he didn’t want to die but he knew the two things we’re sure of in this life were death and taxes. He made that known to me. It was his will to live that sustained him for so long.”

Philly’s name hangs high above the Phil Ryan pub in Nenagh, where the singer spent many Christmases drinking, reading books or playing pool alone.

MacGowan’s casket will be paraded through the streets of Dublin before being escorted back to St Mary of the Rosary church across the road from his beloved boozer.

MacGowan in 1985

Brendan Fitzpatrick, MacGowan’s personal driver of 20 years who ferried him to gigs in London and then back home to Tipperary where his ancestral cottage was, will be in the hearse alongside Philly.

Bono and Johnny Depp are also rumored to be planning to attend the event.

MacGowan spent his first six years in his mother’s family home of Carney, Co Tipperary, and regularly returned there after his parents moved the family to England.

His parents eventually moved back to Silvermines, also in Tipperary, and over the years Philly’s Pub in Nenagh became the singer’s favourite watering hole.

Philly added about the funeral arrangements: “We have some very good artists lined up it will be interesting to see who turns up.”

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