Top Ten Irish Rock Bands

I asked my husband to compile a list of his Top Ten Irish Rock Bands to get our Irish music section started.  Here are the wonderful, talented Irish artists he admires and listens to all the time.  I suggest you click on the favorite song link to listen while you read.  Hope you enjoy these bands as much as we do.

A quick note: Some of these links are affiliate links, which means I will earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase using one of these links. The price you pay will not be affected.  Thanks so much for supporting my blog ….

10. The Horslips


To people outside Ireland, The Horslips may be the least well known of my top ten Irish rock bands.  Formed in Dublin in 1970, the band’s name is a word play on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  They mix guitar, uillean pipes, bodhran (pronounced bow-ron) into celtic reels and jigs.  With hit songs like Trouble With A Capital T and Dearg Doom, the Horslips quickly became a favorite amongst Irish people.  Their hypnotic jigs, reels and catchy, Celtic, rock instrumentals make their music a perfect fusion of Irish traditional folk and modern rock.


Horslips LiveHorslips – Photo Credit


Favorite Song:  Dearg Doom

Favorite Album:  Greatest Hits

9.  The Boomtown Rats


This punk rock band hail from Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin, but moved to London in 1976 to join that city’s vibrant punk rock scene.  Led by Bob Geldof, the band produced many memorable hits in the 80’s like Banana Republic, I Don’t Like Mondays, Like Clockwork, and Rat Trap.  Bob Geldof was the driving force behind the Band Aid Supergroup in 1984, and Live Aid concerts in 1985.  The Boomtown Rats were the first Irish band to make number 1 in the UK charts with the song Rat Trap, and again repeated the following year with I Don’t Like Mondays.


Boomtown Rats 1981 - Orange County ArchivesThe Boomtown Rats – Photo Courtesy Orange County Archives


Favorite Song:  I Don’t Like Mondays

Favorite Album:  Best Of The Boomtown Rats

8.  The Waterboys


Formed in the early ’80’s by Scottish musician Mike Scott, the Waterboys are amongst the most talented Irish musicians ever.  Through the years the band has had over 50 members, and has been based in Spiddal, Co. Galway, Dublin, New York, London and Edinburgh.  Scott himself, is the only permanent member of the band.  His song writing is heavily influenced by English/Scottish writers and poets such as C.S. Lewis, W.B. Yeats and Robbie Burns.


The Waterboys - Top 10 Irish Rock BandsMike Scott of The Waterboys – Photo Credit

Their unique sound of eclectic influences, mixed with an obvious celtic folk foundation, catapulted their music onto the European charts and into the hearts of Irish people.  It is a bit of a stretch to pigeon hole them by calling them strictly a rock band.  Despite their unconventional instruments such as tin whistel, flute, fiddle, accordion, harmonica, piano, mandolin, and bouzouki, there is a definite rock beat in most of their songs.  The band has had many directional changes over the years.  Every album they produce is different from the last.  Happily Mike Scott and The Waterboys are still going strong today.

Favorite Song:  Fisherman’s Blues

Favorite Album: The Best of The Waterboys ’81 – ’90

 7. Thin Lizzy


Founded in Dublin in 1969 by Phil Lynott and his school friend Brian Downey, Thin Lizzy was named after the nickname for the Ford Model T (The Tin Lizzy).  With Lynott as lead singer, they went on to record 13 hard rock albums.  It’s hard to listen to any classic rock radio station in the USA or Europe and not hear one or two Thin Lizzy songs.  With hits like The Boys are Back In Town, Waiting For An Alibi, Jailbreak, Whiskey In The Jar, Thin Lizzy were a big hit amongst Irish people.


Thin Lizzy - Phil Lynnott's grave in SuttonResting Place of Philip Lynott – Photo Credit

The band had many rocky times over the years, with drug addiction and in-fighting causing problems amongst band members.  Phil Lynott sadly died in 1986.

Favorite Song:  The Boys Are Back In Town

Favorite Album:  Dedication: The Very Best Of Thin Lizzy

6.  Rory Gallagher


Rory Gallagher is arguably one of the best guitarists the world has ever seen.  Some would call him the best, including Jimi Hendrix.  Shortly after the Woodstock concert, Hendrix was asked by an interviewer:

“So Jimi what’s it like to be the best guitarist in the world?”

Jimi responded “I don’t know, ask Rory Gallagher.”


Signpost dedicated to Rory GallagherStreet sign dedicated to Rory Gallagher in Temple Bar, Dublin – Photo Credit

Rory was born in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal, but lived most of his life in Cork.  Sadly, Rory died at 47 due to complications of a liver transplant in 1995.

Favorite Song:  Tattoo’d Lady

Favorite Album:  Original Album Classics

5.  Sinead O’Connor


Sinead (pronounced Shin-aid) burst onto the Irish, UK and American scene in the mid-80’s with her gold album The Lion and the Cobra.  She was also nominated for a Grammy in the “Best Female Rock Vocal Performance” category.

A native of Glenageary, Co. Dublin, Sinead had a troubled childhood.  Unfortunately she will be most remembered by many, not for her on stage talent and amazing vocals, but for tearing up a photo of Pope John Paul II while appearing on Saturday Night Live.  Frank Sinatra, once threatened to “kick her ass” for refusing to let the American National Anthem play before her show in New Jersey.  Stating she does not allow any national anthems play before her concerts, Sinead was never one to shy away from controversy.

 Sinead O'Connor and BandSinead O’Connor – Photo Credit

Regardless of her antics, her music speaks for itself.  Her song Nothing Compares 2 U (written by Prince) could bring a grown man to tears.

Favorite Song:  Mandinka

Favorite Album:  So Far: Best of Sinead O’Connor

4.  The Cranberries


This Limerick band exploded onto the pop/rock scene in the early 90’s with their first album Everybody Else Is doing It, So Why Can’t We?  Churning out hit after hit like Dreams, Linger, I Can’t Be With You, Ridiculous Thoughts and Zombie, The Cranberries were Ireland’s top band for many years.  Singer Dolores O’Riordan’s thrashy vocals mix with the Hogan brothers’ grungy guitars and Fergal Lawlor’s drums to strike the right chord.  They have sold millions of their singles and albums worldwide.  The Cranberries are currently finishing their 6th album, which is due to be released in 2012, entitled Roses.

 Dolores O'RiordanDolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries – Photo Credit

Favorite Song:  Linger

Favorite Album:  Stars: The Best of the Cranberries, 1992-2002

3.  Van Morrison


The Belfast born artist and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, George Ivan Morrison or “Van” has been a staple in Irish music since the late ’50’s.  His blend of soul, blues, jazz, Irish, folk, country and a subtle bit of gospel, combined with his unmistakably commanding voice, create his unique sound.

 Van Morrison in ConcertVan Morrison – Photo Credit

As a boy, Van was inspired by his father’s Motown record collection and often mentions his musical heroes Jackie Wilson, Jimmie Rodgers, and Muddy Waters in his songs.  As well as being a singer songwriter, Van is an all-round quintessential musician, mastering the saxophone, keyboards piano, guitar and harmonica.  Van was part of the ’60’s British invasion of the USA, and has been known around the world ever since.  Five decades and many albums later, Van is still entertaining people with hits like Brown Eyed Girl, Moondance, Tupelo Honey, Wild Night and Bright Side Of The Road.

Favorite Song:  Into The Mystic

Favorite Album:  Moondance by Van Morrison [Music CD]

2.  The Pogues

You couldn’t have a discussion about Irish music and not mention the talent of Shane McGowan and The Pogues.  This Irish punk rock band, formed in King’s Cross, London was originally called Pogue Mahone, and then shortened to The Pogues.  Their name comes from the Gaelic term “póg mo thóin” which means “kiss my a….”. 

 The Pogues Performing LiveShane McGowan of The Pogues – Photo Credit

Shane McGowan has had problems on and off the stage, leaving and returning to the band on more than one occasion.  The pure talent of Shane and the band is clearly evident in their many songs like, Body Of The American, A Pair Of Brown Eyes, Dirty Old Town, Irish Rover, and the 1987 Christmas number one hit, Fairytale of New York.  My choice for favorite song holds a special meaning to me as an Irish immigrant in the USA.

Favorite Song:  Thousands Are Sailing

Favorite Album: If I Should Fall From Grace With God (Expanded)


1.  U2


Formed in 1976 after Larry Mullen posted an ad on a school notice board looking for musicians, this Dublin band has taken the world by storm and really put Ireland on the musical map.  U2 have sold over 150 million records making them one of the best selling bands of all time.

Since I first saw U2 in concert in Croke Park, Dublin in 1984, I have been in awe of their genius.  As a teenager, that was the first major concert I had ever been to, and perhaps my favorite ever.  A frenzied crowd of about 80,000 packed the Gaelic football field and stands that warm summers day.  U2 were not mega rock stars at that time.  After they stole the show at the Live Aid concert in 1985, and followed up with their album The Joshua Tree in 1987, U2 were propelled into international superstardom.


U2U2 – Photo Credit

When they played the song Bad, I had chills down my spine from the combination of Adam Clayton’s bass, Larry Mullen Jr.’s drums, the Edge’s (David Evans’) lead guitar and Bono’s (Paul Hewson’s) raw emotional vocals.  From that moment on I was, and will forever be, a U2 fan.  Trying to choose a favorite album and song is almost as difficult as choosing a favorite child.  The Unforgettable Fire, Walk On, New Year’s Day and One are special to me, but the live  version of Bad is extra special and brings me right back to Croke Park, 1984.

Favorite Song:  Bad (live)

Favorite Album:  The Best Of 1980-1990


Wishing you hours of happy listening, to my favorite Irish Rock Bands


Let me know if you have a favorite Irish rock band that wasn’t on my top ten.

Green Baron

Irish American Dad


  1. Rory is number one in my book.

    • Green Baron says:

      I hear that a lot Milo. What a talent he was. Pity he never got the notoriety he deserved while he was alive.

  2. I had to pop over for a visit after you made it to my site. And lo and behold you have a list of some of my favorite bands, of course U2 is my fave and I have to agree with the call on Bad (live) one of the best. We (hubby and I) saw them this past summer in Baltimore as the Montreal concert was rescheduled during our summer holidays, thankfully they were playing close by. Each time I hear them play live I am moved.

  3. I’ve got to add Flogging Molly to this list too. They are amazing live!

  4. Hi love the site, one problem though? you have listed The Waterboys as an Irish act? they were founded in Scotland, Mike Scott the brains behind the band is from Edinburgh, Scotland, also u listed his influences by ”english” writers and included the name of ‘Robbie Burns’! Rabbie Burns is in fact Scottish

    • Green Baron says:

      Yes, you’re correct Robbie Burns is Scottish. Thanks for catching the typo. I was unsure whether to list the Waterboys on the top ten Irish rock bands because of 2 issues. Would everyone categorize them as Irish and rock? The reason I ended up doing so is that the majority of the 50 plus members of the Waterboys have been Irish and were and I think still are Irish based. Although they have a very eclectic sound that doesn’t fit into any other genre of music I settled for rock. I love the Waterboys and couldn’t leave them out of this top ten list.
      Glad you enjoy the site and thanks for the comment.

  5. is script irish band

  6. Thank you so much for a wonderfull post and a Happy St.Patties Day to you and your family 😉 Rock and Roll Canada

  7. Walt Needham says:

    A top 10 list of Irish rock bands without the Saw Doctors? Surely a big mistake!

  8. duncan edwards says:

    I miss Therapy and Ash on the list otherwise brilliant.

  9. hi, every one i,m still searching the web for a song around 1987, inside the song the artists repeat ,if you want make love made it clear or some like that and from that time i never heard it again please any one has an idea send me on my e mail and i appreciate

  10. hi, every one ,here are some hints for the song i,m searching this song may be in 85-86-87-88 , male voice ,like U2 style ,some irish instruments and i will post any other hints if i can remember thanks.

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