It’s no secret I love Irish music. There are so many amazing songs I absolutely adore and could listen to on repeat for hours and hours. But today I wanna talk about just 15 of them and let me tell you – it was hard to pick just 15 but here we go.
The Fields of Athenry
The Fields of Athenry is a song written in 1979 by Pete St. John in the style of an Irish folk ballad and it captures the tragedy of the Great Famine and the spirit of the Irish. The lyrics tell a story of a young man from near Athenry in County Galway, who stole food for his starving family and has been sentenced to trasportation to the Australian penal colony at Botany Bay.
Michael they have taken you away,
For you stole Trevelyan’s corn
So the young might see the morn,
Now a prison ship lies waiting in the bay
The song has become a widely known, popular anthem for Irish sports supporters and on any major sporting occasion involving an Irish team, The Fields of Athenry can be heard echoing around stadiums and pubs.
Wild Mountain Thyme
Also known as Purple Heather and Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go, finding its roots in Scotland in the late 18th century, the modern day version of the song came into being in the 1960s by the McPeake family. It has enjoyed enormous popularity ever since.
Wild Mountain Thyme has become synonymous with Ireland, becoming one of the most famous Irish songs. This is most likely due to the 1960s Liam Clancy version but this song has been covered and recorded by many artists including my two favourites The High King and Derek Ryan.
Raglan Road is a well-known Irish song from a poem written by Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh named after Raglan Road in Ballsbridge, Dublin. His brief relationship with Hilda Moriarty was the inspiration.
The poem was put to music when Kavanagh met Luke Kelly of the well-known Irish band The Dubliners in the Bailey Bar in Dublin. Kelly, seen by many as Ireland’s greatest singer, set the poem to the music of another traditional Irish song The Dawning of the Day.
Again, this song has been sung by many performers including Billy Joel, Ed Sheeran or Sinéad O’Connor. My favourite version would be the one from Byrne and Kelly.
The Auld Triangle
The Auld Triangle is a song, usually attributed to Brendan Behan, which he made famous when he included it in his 1954 play The Quare Fellow. The song is used to introduce the play, a story about the occurrences in a prison. Behan himself had first-hand experience, having spent time in Mountjoy prison for his involvement with the IRA.
The triangle in the title refers to the large metal triangle which was beaten daily in Mountjoy Prison to wake the inmates.
To begin the morning
The screw was bawling
„Get up ya loser and clean up your cell!“
And that auld triangle went jingle-jangle
All along the banks of the Royal Canal
The Wild Rover
The Wild Rover is the most widely performed Irish song, although its exact origins are unknown. Some claim it to be over 400 years old. More recent versions date it to the mid-1800s. It is often considered to be a drinking song.
The song tells the story of a young man who has been away from his hometown for many years, spending money on whiskey and beer but then promising to return home only to repent his wild ways.
Most popular is the Dubliners version of the song released in 1964.
Black Velvet Band
It’s a traditional folk song describing how a young man is tricked by a woman and then sentenced to trasportation to Australia. He ends up down udner, as a prisoner, in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). The song’s writer remain a mystery. Despite this, the tune is one of the most popular folk songs – one of the most popular Irish songs outright.
Again, this song was covered and recorded by many artists. My favourite is The High King’s version – they’re doing the Dubliners version from 1967 where the lyrics refer to the neat little town they called Belfast. But many have adopted the location to suit their own audience (London, Tralee, a town in Bedfordshire, and in Dunmanway, Co. Cork).
The Town I Loved So Well
Written by Phil Coulter about life in Derry, Northern Ireland. This is one of the most emotive Irish songs. The first three verses are about the simple lifestyle Phil grew up with in Derry, while the final two deal with the Troubles, and lament how his placid hometown had become a major military outpost, plagued with violence. The final verse includes a message of hope for a bright, brand new day.
For their spirits been bruised, never broken
They will not forget but their hearts are set
On tomorrow and peace once again
There’s a more recent version featuring Nathan Carter which I really love but to be completely honest, in my opinion, nothing will match a version of The High Kings with Darren Holden singing this song – this version makes me emotional. I’m serious!
One of the most famous Irish songs ever. Danny Boy was made famous by singer Elsie Griffin during the First World War era. But surprisingly, the lyrics to the song were written by an English barrister and songwriter, Frederick Edward Weatherly in 1912. The tune was originally known as the Londonderry Air.
Various suggestions exist as to the true meaning of Danny Boy. Some have interpreted the song to be a message from a parent to a son going off to a war or uprising (as suggested by the reference to pipes calling glen to glen) or leaving as part of the Irish diaspora.
Quite recently you could have heard Danny Boy in a Tullamore Dew commercial.
The song written by Jimmy McCarthy, made popular by one and only Christy Moore. They say, he’s Ireland’s answer to Bruce Springsteen. With a career spanning 50 years, he lives in the hearts and minds of all Irish people. Christy brings a tenderness to this song that helps us all feel the raw emotion. Ride On is ultimately about heartache and loss.
When you ride into the night without a trace behind
Run your claw along my gut one last time
I turn to face an empty space where once you used to lie
And look for a smile to light the night through a teardrop in my eye
The Galway Girl
And now I don’t mean the song by Ed Sheeran (though that one is great, too). I’m talking about a song written by Steve Earle and recorded with Irish musician Sharon Shannon. Just like the Ed Sheeran’s song, this one also talks about a beautiful girl from Galway.
Sharon Shannon later collaborated with Irish artist Mundy on a cover of Galway Girl. A studio version ot the track reached number one on the Irish Singles Chart and was the highest-selling single in Ireland in 2008. Mundy also recorded an Irish language version of the track, Cailín na Gaillimhe.
There is many version of this song and I admit I actually love all of them! This song just makes me smile everytime I hear it.
Whiskey in the Jar
This is an Irish traditional song set in the southern mountains of Ireland, often with specific mention of counties Cork and Kerry. The subject is the antics of an Irish highwayman, Patrick Fleming. Fleming robbed the English Captain Farrell in 1650, only to be betrayed by a woman. Whiskey in the Jar is one of the most widely performed traditional Irish songs that has possibly been in circulation for over 300 years in some form or other.
Whiskey in the Jar has been covered by many artist, including Christy Moore, Celtic Thunder, The High Kings and more.
The Rare Ould Times
The Rare Ould Times is a song composed by Pete St. John in the 1970s. It is sometimes called Dublin in the Rare Ould Times. The song’s hero is Sean Dempsey who comes from Pimlico, a working-class neighbourhood in the Dublin Liberties. He recalls his upbringing, laments the changes that have occurred in the city since his youth.
The years have made me bitter, the gargle dims me brain
‚Cause Dublin keeps on changing and nothing seems the same
The Pillar and the Met have gone, the Royal long since pulled down
As the great unyielding concrete makes a city of my town
7 Drunken Nights
Seven Drunken Nights is a humorous Irish folk song most famously performed by The Dubliners. Based on an 18th century Scottish folk song, this tells the story of a foolish drunk coming home each night only to be confronted by his wives lover. The affair is explained away with increasingly unlikely tales.
Will you kindly tell to me
Who owns that head upon the bed
Where my old head should be? Ay, you’re drunk, you’re drunk you silly old fool
Still you cannot see
That’s a baby boy that me mother sent to me
Another classic of Christy Moore. Lisdoonvarna was written for Eurovision in 1979 and was inspired by Christy’s visits to the famous Irish folk music festival in the 1980s in the West Clare town of the same name. Christy brings to life the goings on at an Irish town festival and tells the story as only he can.
Nowadays, the Lisdoonvarna music festival has ceased. In its place, a matchmaking festival now takes place each September.
I’ll Tell Me Ma
I’ll Tell Me Ma is a well-known children’s song and accompanies a children’s game. The chorus usually refers to Belfast city and is known colloquially as The Belle of Belfast City, although it is also adapted to other Irish cities, such as Dublin. English versions refers to the Golden City or London City.
The song has been covered on numerous albums, some of which have adapted the lyrics to their locales. My favourite version is the one from Sinéad O’Connor but I also love the one from Celtic Thunder. They recorded a short version of this song on their Voyage album, which included two other traditional Irish folk tunes Courtin‘ in the Kitchen and The Irish Rover – the medley was given the title of The Clancy Bros. Medley.
And that’s it for today, guys. These are in no means only Irish songs you should hear. Do your research! I guarantee you’ll find something you like. And maybe I’ll write another list of my favourite Irish songs again. Till then be safe and I’ll talk to you soon.
Don’t forget to let me know in the comments what is your favourite Irish song 🙂
Make Them Envy