This week two Irish revolutionaries were brought home to rest. One was born in New Jersey, Chuck Feeney, and the other was born in Kent, England, Shane MacGowan.
In many ways, both were polar opposites. Shane MacGowan lived in the limelight. An outspoken poet, writer, drinker, and musician. Chuck Feeney was a successful businessman, who gave everything and shunned publicity and praise.
Their funerals reflected their personalities. Following private service, Chuck’s ashes were interned in Glasnevin close to the graves of other revolutionary leaders. Shane’s requiem, a riotous celebration of a life. A procession and a céilidh in a church.
Both made a real difference in the lives of others in Ireland and further afield. They were of Ireland; but not from it. They were in the words of our proclamation, “our exiled Children”.
Chuck Feeney famously gave away his fortune to good causes. In the 1980s, war raged in the streets and fields in the North. The conflict had been ongoing for twenty years. It had developed a self-sustaining cycle of repression and resistance. A peaceful resolution was a distant dream. Into this stepped a group of influential Irish Americans.
nChuck invested in peacebuilding and deprived communities across the North. He worked to promote civil rights and political development. This was at a time of censorship. Official Ireland was castigating anyone for talking to Sinn Féin. Chuck pushed for inclusive peace talks. He would later support Sinn Féin opening offices in Washington.
A few years earlier a new wave of Irish emigrants had fled Ireland, poverty and unemployment. Many found themselves in squats in London. The conflict in Ireland had extended to the streets of Britain. The Irish faced prejudice and suspicion. Many kept their heads down. Shane MacGowan stood out.
Shane had lived the early part of his life in rural Tipperary before his family emigrated to London. He was an Irish child, schooled in England. With the swagger of youth and the energy of punk, he shouted, “I’m Irish, deal with it”. That scream was heard by a generation in Ireland and echoed in Irish Communities across the world. He articulated the emigrant experience and in the process redefined Irish music and identity.