Music is part of Ireland’s cultural heritage and the country has produced many talented rock bands over the years.
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.
Hope you enjoy these bands as much as we do. This selection focuses on Irish rock bands, not Irish folk bands. Our choice of bands spans the decades from the 70s, 80s, 90s and into the new millennium.
Table of Contents
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.
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. With Bob Geldof as lead vocalist, 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.
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.
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 whistle, 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 – ’91
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. I
t’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.
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.”
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. Sinéad 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.
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 debut 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.
Favorite Song: Linger
Favorite Album: Stars: The Best of the Cranberries, 1992-2002
3. Van Morrison
The Belfast born artist, celebrity, 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.
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 MacGowan and The Pogues. This Celtic punk or Irish 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….”.
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.
Their unique brand of Celtic rock has been part of the Irish music scene for decades. 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)
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.
These Dublin boys truly have achieved worldwide fame.
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.
When they played the song Bad, I had chills down my spine from the combination of Adam Clayton’s bass guitar, 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
My top ten bands are listed above, but there are a few others that defintiely deserve an honorable mention.
The Dropkick Murphys
This Irish American band was formed in 1996 in Quincy, Massachusetts. The Dropkick Murphys are a Celtic punk rock band that has recorded eight studio albums and three live albums.
One of their most popular songs is ‘I’m Shipping Up to Boston’, which was featured in the movie ‘The Departed’.
Other popular songs like ‘Mob Mentality’, ‘Fields of Athenry’, and ‘Walk Away’.
Formed by lead vocalist Dave King, Flogging Molly is anther Celtic punk band that is extremely popular in the United States.
Eager to compose and perform Irish music, Dave King left Epic Records to pursue his dream. He formed the band in 1993 with a bass player Jeff Peters, fiddle player Bridget Regan, and guitarist Ted Hutt.
The line up of the band has changed over the years but King and Regan remain. Amongst their most popular songs are, Seven Deadly Sins’, ‘Drunken Lullabies’, ‘Rebels of the Sacred Heart’, and ‘Salty Dog.’
An Irish band made up of siblings, The Corrs focus on combining traditional Irish musical themes with rock and pop music.
This family of musicians hails from County Louth, and first formed in 1990. Having sold over forty million copies of their seven albums worldwide, they are definitely worthy of an honorable mention here.
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.
Irish American Dad
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