Freeman Brothers was first established as a funeral director in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. The company now has a further three offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint – and continues to serve a variety of communities. Last week, musician Shane MacGowan’s funeral took place in Ireland, and the event was covered extensively by the international media. Becky shares her thoughts…
I’ve blogged on various celebrity funerals during my time at Freeman Brothers. I joined the company in 2017, and the world has changed enormously in several important ways – Shane MacGowan’s funeral last week was a demonstration of some of these.
I actually wasn’t at work on the day of his funeral, though it was an occasion which was very much present in my world not thanks to the extensive news coverage it received (which I’ll come back to shortly), but via the medium of TikTok. The popular social media app is a form of entertainment and news for me, and though I didn’t search for content around Shane or funerals, my feed was full of a variety of videos showing the unfolding events.
There was footage from inside the church service, and several clips of his coffin being carried out afterwards. I was also shown a clip of The Darkness’s recent concert in Dublin during which they performed a snippet of ‘Fairytale of New York’ – one of the songs Shane is best known for – in tribute to him.
Back at the office several days after the funeral, I’ve looked up some of the news coverage in order to take a proper look at how this much-loved figure was celebrated. What I hadn’t appreciated on the day of the funeral was that it began with a length procession through the city centre of Dublin, the place Shane most recently called home.
Following this, the cortege progressed to the town of Nenagh, which Shane was connected to via his mother. This part of the day is what has generated much of the social media coverage I saw. The church service was conducted by the local priest, and attended by a number of high-profile celebrities, some of whom contributed readings as part of the service.
The funeral was livestreamed via the BBC and other outlets, as well as there being live commentary via the website, and from that I was able to appreciate how long the occasion was. The church service began at 3.30pm and didn’t conclude until about 6.30pm.
When I’d seen the variety of clips from the service on the day it took place, I was immediately reminded of the words of Irish author, Kevin Toolis. Via his book, ‘My Father’s Wake’, he shared his personal experiences of his father’s death and funeral, explaining that Irish wakes are typically similar to those that are described in ancient literature, involving a significant amount of ‘keening’. I was unsurprised to witness the same behaviour at Shane MacGowan’s funeral – not only was he treasured, but the funeral was also the expected celebration of his life, including an appropriate amount of singing and music for someone who had been in that industry.
It’s clear to me from the footage shared online that there was a significant element of joy in the atmosphere surrounding Shane’s funeral. From the fans lining the streets – some of whom had travelled from other countries in order to be present – to the family and friends who attended the church service and filled the building with noise, there was a tone of appreciation for a man who is already missed.
One of the elements I hadn’t anticipated was a blend of contemporary with traditional. The latter elements for me included the lengthy church service, and the fact that a horse-drawn hearse was used, whereas the more modern aspect which was also visually prominent was the fact that a woven coffin had been chosen. This is a clear demonstration of personalisation, and very much shows an aspect of things being included because they were right to honour this person, rather than just being the done thing.
Something that I thought was a real highlight was the fact that a variety of gifts were presented to the coffin during the funeral service. We at Freeman Brothers are used to personal items being requested to be placed in a coffin, or accompany it in a hearse, but I hadn’t heard of offerings being made during a service in this way before. Not in the contemporary world, anyway! It seems to have been another moment which brought joy to the proceedings.
One of the final moments of the service were speeches from Shane’s sister and widow. Victoria, Shane’s widow, mentioned during her section that Shane famously hated funerals, and had been reticent to discuss death promising that he would live until he was at least 80. Sadly, he fell some distance short of that mark, famously having been born on 25th December. Recognition of another Irish celebrity who died this year was given by the priest earlier in the service – Shane’s funeral happened to take place on what would have been Sinead O’Connor’s birthday.
A private cremation followed the public ceremony, and I think that this is a good thing. Whilst people like Shane shared themselves with the world, they also have private lives, and I think that the opportunity for those nearest to him to have a more intimate service is only fair. It certainly seems to have been a day like no other, and one which will be remembered for years to come.