I FIRST heard it through the wall. On the day Shane MacGowan died, his voice began drifting from my neighbour’s flat into mine in the late afternoon.

It being the last day of November, with the Christmas lights up and nights drawing in, I did not immediately find it strange to hear the unmistakeable melody of Fairytale of New York. Then I read the news and was struck once again by an understanding you never fully get used to – the singer has departed the stage, and songs are all that’s left.

Under most circumstances, the notion of statesmen lionising erstwhile punk legends may seem somewhat counter-intuitive; in MacGowan’s case, it was entirely appropriate that President Michael Higgins led tributes to the man who did so much to give Ireland a voice.

As Higgins put it: “So many of his songs would be perfectly crafted poems, if that would not have deprived us of the opportunity to hear him sing them."

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That opportunity first arose on a mass scale with the emergence of the Pogues, for whom MacGowan acted as an unforgettable frontman and lyricist.

In truth, the band was always an odd fit for the London punk scene, which was already on the downturn by the time of their formation in 1982; not simply because of the defiantly Irish aspect of their identity (or the fact they could actually play their instruments), but a profound understanding of their place within a musical tradition which stretched back way beyond the advent of the Sex Pistols.

MacGowan’s articulation of the Irish experience was not that of a tourist board. His insights were too complex and too raw to fit within a St Patrick’s Day-sized box. Laden with dense allusions to Irish literature and history, his songwriting also displayed a political intelligence so keen and fearless that some found it dangerous.

The National:

In 1988, under the same laws which forbade the voice of any Sinn Féin representative from UK television and radio, the Pogues’ Birmingham Six was also banned from broadcast for suggesting Irish people were disadvantaged by the British court system – an allegation which would be proven entirely correct three years later, when the torture of the Birmingham Six at the hands of British authorities was revealed and their wrongful convictions overturned.

If many of the eulogies delivered in recent days appear to have a rehearsed quality, it is because the ghoulish anticipation of MacGowan’s death was long-standing – so much so, it sometimes crowded out an appreciation of his life and work.

Nonetheless, he refused to inhabit the narrative that media typically demand from those who battle with addiction – a transgression for which he was often punished.

Yet, his struggles were no less real for that.

The National:

As the years went by, some unjustly came to regard MacGowan as a joke. Elements of the press certainly worked hard to turn him into one, and there were times he helped them do it. Almost invariably however, it was his fellow artists – the many who adored him, worked with him, and tried to help him with varying levels of success – who saw the man was more extraordinary than the spectacle.

This admiration flowed from both predecessors or followers, whether Irish folk stalwarts The Dubliners – whose 1987 version of The Irish Rover with the Pogues set the standard – or Boston punk ensemble the Dropkick Murphys - MacGowan guested as a revered elder on their 2001 album Sing Loud, Sing Proud.

“I truly believe that a hundred years from now, most of us will be forgotten,” said Bruce Springsteen in 2020.

“But I do believe that Shane’s music is going to be remembered and sung.”

The late Sinéad O'Connor, who was no less devoted to MacGowan for all the tumultuousness of their decades-long friendship, once commented simply: “His music has transcended everything.”

It will continue to do so.

“Did the old songs taunt or cheer you?” MacGowan asked us. “And did they still make you cry?”

On the night MacGowan left us with nothing but his voice, I found my answer.