There will be readers who have never heard of Irish folk band, The Pogues. And by extension, many of you may not have heard of their lead singer, Shane MacGowan. Sadly, MacGowan is dead. He was 65 years old and died an alcoholic. The story goes that Shane MacGowan had his first pint of Guinness at about five years old. He never stopped 'the drink'. His most famous tune was a Christmas song, but it's far from a carol. Fairytale of New York was banned from radio because of its controversial lyrics. MacGowan told us: It was Christmas Eve, babe In the drunk tank (gaol) An old man said to me, 'Won't see another one' And then he sang a song 'The Rare Old Mountain Dew' I turned my face away And dreamed about you. In recent years many of my Irish heroes have died and all of them have fallen victim to addiction. First there was George Best, the 1968 Footballer of the Year, a genius who, for a short period, lit up Northern Ireland and Manchester United with his dribbling skills, eye for goals, handsome Beatles-like looks and charm, and his propensity for short-term relationships with stunning females. He died aged 59 in 2005, a drunk who drowned the gift of a liver transplant. "I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered," Best comically offered. And then there was Dolores O'Riordan who found fame with Irish pop group, The Cranberries. They played the Silverdome back in the day and they were brilliant. O'Riordan's unique voice was special. She drowned in a bath drunk and full of prescription drugs. The coroner described O'Riordan's death as a "tragic accident". She was 46 years old. "Music can offer solace and strength during times of pain and loss," she told us. And then there was ethereal Irish songster, Sinead O'Connor whose worldwide hit, Nothing Compares 2 U , written by Prince, delivered global stardom and a level of fame that she found difficult to navigate - a common challenge of the famous Irish. O'Connor converted to Islam in 2018 after battling crippling marijuana addiction. For her it wasn't alcohol, which she considered herself allergic, instead it was weed, a known troublemaker linked to adverse mental health conditions. O'Connor died in a hotel room in 2023. Her death was not treated as suspicious. In 2022 her 17-year-old son, Shane, died by suicide following his own battles with mental health. Religion played a significant part in her life. Infamously she burned a picture of Pope John Paul II on live television in the US. Sinead O'Connor was 56 years old. "I seek no longer to be a 'famous' person, and instead I wish to live a 'normal' life," she remorsefully requested. They are heroes or mine, they all died far too young, they were all Irish (MacGowan was born in England), and they all lived with demons. Some believe the Irish are cursed (the Celtic Curse) and the adverse effects of addiction are felt more acutely because of a hereditary lack of iron in the blood. And when you drink, although it can give you increased iron in the short-term, the long-term effect of abusing alcohol is a decrease in iron levels - it's complex. I always thought it was environmental factors that drove the Irish to drink. Ireland can be cold and dark, and industrial, and it rains a lot. The people have long worked traditional jobs in traditional sectors, but that has changed and will continue to do so. Throw in generations of debilitating sectarian conflict underpinned by birthright and violence and fear and terror and torture and death, and you begin to understand. However, the facts point to a far more damaging habit. Irish adults (measured as 15 years and over) average 11 litres of pure alcohol per capita per adult each year; that's 40 bottles of vodka (700 ml), or 113 bottles of wine (750 ml), or 436 pints of beer (568 ml). By comparison, Australia is not that far behind at 9.4 litres per capita. But more alarmingly 50 per cent of drinkers in Ireland have a problem, bingeing and abusing. Approaching Christmas, four of my heroes have died. Their songs and YouTube clips will live on even though they are no longer with us. Do we accept genius or try to learn from it? They were Irish and, by all reports, they experienced shyness. The drink and the drugs gave them confidence. Perhaps that's the cautionary tale; if we can learn to be ourselves without reliance, then we may prosper. For Shane MacGowan, his time was up. I am sure it would be a surprise to many that he made it this far. He was not the first nor will he be the last to battle addiction. In death we recognise what he taught us: Now the song is nearly over We may never find out what it means Still there's a light I hold before me You're the measure of my dreams The measure of my dreams.