Shane MacGowan’s Madonna | Cassandra Voices

Shane MacGowan’s Madonna


So, it’s Thursday night in Dublin, I’ve found some Poitin, and am thinking of Shane MacGowan. How very sad it is that he’s gone. ‘A Rainy Night in Soho’ playing on the radio.

I had a funny connection with Shane.

His wife Victoria gave me a photo of her and Shane for an auction, to raise money for a battle against a semi-state body spraying pesticides.

I had to get it signed. ‘Come on over!’ Victoria said. Next thing I’m in their  house, Victoria has scarpered, and I’m alone with Shane.

I’ve had the photo of them blown up and printed on canvas. Shane loves it,  grabs it, asks me what it’s for, takes a green marker and scrawls, ‘Fuck Those F—  Hypocrites! Love Shaney XXX’.


Business completed, joints are rolled. Blue gin poured.

My head is melting.

My heart is too.

Shane talks poetry. Seamus Heaney. James Clarence Mangan. The Famine. The Rising. Have I ever been ‘strung out’?. Where do I live? With whom? I explain I’m with my children and their partners. ‘A commune!’.

Would I like some music? Absolutely I would. Shane leans over the arm of the sofa where he’s sitting to rummage through a box of CD’s.

‘I used to play with this band’ he says, shyly, ‘the Pogues’.

I want to jump up and hug him. I want to say everyone in the whole world knows the Pogues and your incredible music Shane!

‘That would be lovely’ I say. ‘I’d love to hear you and the Pogues’.

Shane slides in ‘Rum, Sodomy and the Lash’.

Victoria re-appears.

Shane looks around. ‘Hey Vic, give ‘er that’, he says, pointing to a floor tile on which he’s drawn the Virgin Mary.

In brightest greens and blues, Mary is standing, holding one arm up. ‘What’s she doing?’  ‘Calming her people’ says Shane. ‘And the little guy with a Kalsnikov?’. ‘He’s minding her’.

I’m unsure if I should take it. Victoria, who’s probably seen hundreds of items given away, is graciousness itself: ‘He’s delighted to give you something’.

I finally leave, my head ringing, thinking when I’d asked Paul McCartney if he’d sign a rare Beatles EP, a frosty PR company replied: ‘Sir Paul does not sign memorabilia’

Thinking how CRAZY it is that notorious hellraiser Shane MacGowan has just given me a picture of the Virgin Mary. On a floor tile.

And also, this thought: it’s the middle of the recession. I can’t keep asking artist friends for help. I’ll collect Virgin Mary’s instead. And sell them.

The Irish Museum of Modern Art IMMA made a beautiful print of Shane’s original, ‘Gra agus Beannacht’ added in Shane’s hand.

I was on my way.

I had to visit Shane and Victoria again to get the prints signed. Exhausted after a UK trip, Shane lined up something for himself and said: ‘Okay give me those fukken things’ then, gent that he is, signed them all.

He and Victoria were guests of honour at our first exhibition of Virgins in the local Arts Centre. He the first to buy. A beautiful print of his beloved Sinead O’Connor as Mary by Aga Szot (who previously featured as an artist on Cassandra Voices). Nobody else moved. ‘Fukken tight fist fukken cunts’ Shane growled.

Sinead O’Connor as Mary by Aga Szot.

O Lord.

Truth be told, a Catholic boarding school girl, I’d never much liked Mary. She seemed cold. Distant. Pastel. Shane turned me on to a different one. A powerful female icon. A warrior woman, ‘Calming her people’.

With everything he cut to the chase.

‘I just wanted to shove music that had roots, and is just generally stronger and has more real anger and emotion, down the throats of a completely pap-orientated pop audience.’

He sure succeeded. He sure was loved for it.

He was beautiful. Impossible. Sensationally gifted. Honest. Punk. Sensationally sensitive. Spiritual. Political. Wild.

‘Gra agus Beannacht’ in the fullest measure.

He will be sorely missed in this ‘pap-orientated’ world.


About Author

Rosita Sweetman is a member of the well-known Sweetman family, a brewing, legal and political Irish dynasty dating back to Norman times. She is a founding member of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement, (the IWLM) which flamed brilliantly into life in a horribly restrictive and repressive 1970’s Ireland; restrictions that impacted mostly on women. When the architecture of Patriarchy gave all the advantages to men – no matter how useless they were. The IWLM existence was short lived, but it’s impact continues to this day. It gave birth to the first organisations in the country that helped ‘battered wives’, women in crisis pregnancies, women in need of support at work. Most of all it opened women’s eyes to a different way of life, a life not dictated to them by the Church. Rosita has worked in writing and journalism since her teens. First at the BBC in London, then RTE, the (ex) Irish Press, the Sunday Independent, the Irish Times. She has published three books. ‘On Our Knees’, 1972, a look at contemporary Ireland via a smorgasbord of interviews with interesting people. ‘Fathers Come First’, 1974, a coming of age novel, re-issued as a modern classic by the Lilliput Press in 2015. And ‘On Our Backs’, 1979, a startling look at ‘sexual attitudes in a changing Ireland’. All sold out their print run of 60,000. Rosita believes passionately in equality, and that Feminism really can save the world from the planet wide disaster we are currently plunged into. She is mother to wonderful jeweller Chupi, and to wonderful filmmaker Luke, and very, very recently, grandmother to Chupi and Brian’s beautiful little daughter Aya.

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