Tucson's Irish roots: Pogue Shane MacGowan honored with concert Saturday

The presidio of Tucson was founded nearly 250 years ago by an Irishman, and the culture of the Emerald Isle has influenced our community over the decades — from the late-night shenanigans of city leaders surreptitiously (and illegally) painting a giant shamrock in the middle of a Downtown intersection for St. Patrick’s Day to an IRA missile-smuggling plot (and indelible graffiti of “Bobby Sands Lives”) to generations of musicians taking their cues from the raucous and plaintive music of Ireland.

Long after Don Hugo O’Conor in 1775, the work of another Irishman inspired the founding of many of those Tucson bands. Shane MacGowan of the Pogues died in November 2023, but his life and music still resonate with local artists, who will gather to celebrate the late folk-punk bandleader on Saturday.

The evening concert will be at the bar at El Rio Golf Course, and will feature longtime singer of the local Celtic-Tejano quintet the Mollys, Nancy McCallion, along with bandmate Catherine Zavala, the Wholigans! and lowercase limell.

The concert will also serve as a benefit for Casa Maria Soup Kitchen, with donations accepted.

“I’m sure there’s people out here who are Shane MacGowan fans, so I’m sure they’d like to hear some Pogues songs,” McCallion told the Sentinel.

“They changed my life,” she posted online soon after MacGowan’s death. “The Pogues influenced my musical direction more than any other band. If it weren’t for the Pogues, there would have been no Mollys.”

Shane MacGowan was the lead singer and songwriter of the Pogues, a legendary band that melded traditional Irish folk with the spite and energy of punk rock in the early 1980s.

The writer of the UK holiday classic “Fairytale of New York,” “A Rainy Night in Soho,” and “If I Should Fall From Grace With God,” MacGowan died of pneumonia on Nov. 30, 2023, at 65 after decades of dealing with the challenges of addiction.

His funeral, held in his family’s home village of Nenagh after a procession through the Irish capital of Dublin that saw throngs signing his songs, was attended by Irish President Michael D. Higgins, longtime friend Johnny Depp and musicians such as Bob Geldof and Nick Cave.

“I am a huge fan and the Pogues were very important to me,” McCallion told the Sentinel. “My dad’s an Irish immigrant and Shane had created a voice for Irish immigrants who were treated like terrorists in England. It was very rebellious and close to Irish immigrants.”

McCallion said that although Tucson doesn’t have large Irish neighborhoods the way New York does, MacGowan’s voice and words still provided a sense of community.

“My dad would listen to Irish music but I honestly didn’t think it was that hip,” McCallion said. “Until I heard the Pogues. It was like returning to our roots. It’s a voice for a group of people – immigrants that don’t necessarily want to leave their homes and loved ones and communities.”

McCallion said all ages are welcome at the concert. The bar will have food and drinks for sale.