The 30 best Irish songs of all time

From U2's stadium shaking anthems to the heart-stopping brilliance of Luke Kelly, our 30 favourite songs by Irish artists

Ireland’s musical history is as storied as they come. The 19th century traditions that emigrated with the sons and daughters of Éire influenced folk and country music all over the world, right up to The Clancy Brothers inspiring none other than Dylan himself in 60s Greenwich Village.

Through the 70s and 80s, Irish bands achieved world domination, none more so than U2, who sprang out of the early 80s post punk scene to become one of the biggest rock bands in history. From there, Ireland has continued to make major contributions through the alt-rock and pop booms of the 90s, the singer-songwriter dominated 00s, right up to current indie darlings Fontaines D.C.

With that history in mind, we set out to collate our pick of the best Irish songs of all time. To stop us filling it with Ash’s 1977 and 20 U2 songs, we’ve limited it to one song per artist. But even that didn’t make things any easier. Scroll to the end for all 30 songs in one handy playlist.

30. The CorrsBreathless
Gleaming pop with Andrea’s heavenly voice and more hooks than a pirate convention.

29. ClannadTheme From Harry’s Game
Haunting elegance from Irish folk royalty.

28. CMATI Don’t Really Care For You
CMAT has taken Ireland’s weird country music fixation and weaponised it.

CMAT - I Don't Really Care For You (Official Video)

27. VillagersNothing Arrived
Rolling indie folk brilliance from one of Ireland’s most underrated talents.

26. Damien Rice – The Professor
The whole of Whelan’s howled in anguish when Damien Rice announced he was leaving this off his debut album.

25. Róisín MurphyLet Me Know
The queen of slinky, psychedelic disco with an absolute banger.

24. The DevlinsSomeone To Talk To
Colin and Peter Devlin at their most tastefully anthemic. If John Waite had released this in 1988, it would have been massive.

THE DEVLINS. Someone to talk to.

23. Therapy?Screamager
Andy Cairns and co. put voice to the angst of an entire disaffected generation with this pummelling ode to love and self-hatred.

22. The FramesRevelate
This one brought the house down at every Irish indie disco.

21. My Bloody Valentine – Sometimes
Underneath that oppressive fuzz is Kevin Shields’ prettiest song.

20. Fontaines D.C.Boys In The Better Land
“He spits out, ‘Brits out’, only smokes Carroll’s.” In eight words, Grian Chatten writes a novel’s worth of character.

Fontaines D.C. - Boys In The Better Land (Darklands Version)

19. The Wolfe TonesGrace
The Wolfe Tones at their softest with a heartbreaking tale of Joseph Mary Plunkett’s marriage to the titular Grace on the morning of his execution.

18. Rollerskate Skinny – Speed To My Side
Washes of shoegaze fuzz with a Smashing Pumpkins-esque sense of majesty and scale.

17. The Stars Of Heaven – Lights Of Tetouan
A gorgeous, jangly single that should have made them superstars.

16. LankumThe Young People
The leading lights of Ireland’s neo-trad scene take the form to some dark and brutal places, but this stunner from The Livelong Day shows they’re equally brilliant at quiet reflection.

Lankum - The Young People (Official Video)

15. Revelino – Happiness Is Mine
John Peel loved this band and it’s easy to see why. The opener from their stunning debut is a masterclass in dynamics.

14. Paul BradyArthur McBride
Though the song’s been around for over two centuries, Brady’s is the definitive version. A virtuosic performance that feels like it’s sucked the air out of the room.

13. The Frank & WaltersAfter All
Voted Cork’s favourite song and it’s not hard to see why. From the first notes it already sounds like the theme song to the best 90s sitcom never made.

12. The Thrills – Santa Cruz (You’re Not That Far)
In which five lads from Dublin move to California, fall in love with The Byrds and The Beach Boys and write a guitar pop masterpiece.

The Thrills - Santa Cruz (You're Not That Far)

11. Van MorrisonInto The Mystic
Van at his most soulful and hopeful. Just gorgeous.

10. Ash A Life Less Ordinary
Ash are so overburdened with hits that choosing just one is almost impossible. This edges out ‘Burn Baby Burn’ for that majestic shift from bridge to chorus.

9. The WaterboysThe Whole Of The Moon
Growing up in the 80s, hearing this on the radio was a soaring, emotional, nigh-religious experience. No other pop hit of the era can match its sublime arrangement.

8. Thin LizzyDancing In The Moonlight
Forget your returning boys and jars of whiskey, nothing on earth struts like this highlight off ‘Bad Reputation’, even with chocolate stains on its pants.

Thin Lizzy - Dancing In The Moonlight (Live And Dangerous)

7. The UndertonesTeenage Kicks
Razorblade guitars, hand claps and Feargal Sharkey’s tremolous voice. Punk doesn’t get much better than this.

6. U2 – New Year’s Day
It seems incredible that U2 are so polarising, given that they’ve released at least three albums and ten songs that rank among Ireland’s best. ‘New Year’s Day’ is a steamroller that goes airborne with a storming chorus.

5. Whipping Boy – When We Were Young
You’ll rarely read anything about Whipping Boy that doesn’t wonder what could have been. Their 1994 album Heartworm is an absolute masterpiece and its crowning glory is this immense single, a song that deserves a higher place in the 90s alt rock firmament.

Whipping Boy - When We Were Young (Official Video)

4. Sinead O’Connor – Nothing Compares 2 U
Even though this song was written in Minneapolis, thousands of miles away from Ireland, it belongs to Sinead as if she’d written every single word. Never before has a song, a singer and a video ever seemed so enveloped in each other, impossible to separate. Maybe the single best vocal performance of all time.

Sinéad O'Connor - Nothing Compares 2 U (Official Music Video) [HD]

3. The Pogues & Kirsty McColl – Fairytale Of New York
It’s hard to believe we’ve lost both Kirsty and Shane now, two voices that were put on this earth to be joined together. A remarkable song that pits hard truths against wide-eyed romance. Somehow, the latter wins.

The Pogues - Fairytale Of New York (Official Video)

2. The Cranberries – Linger
You could choose so many Cranberries songs for this list, from the earth-quaking ‘Zombie’ to the shimmering ‘Dreams’, but ‘Linger’ is Dolores O’Riordan’s finest moment. Listen to how her voice grows in defiance and volume as the song goes on and her angst turns to anger. One of the best love songs of all time.

The Cranberries - Linger (Official Music Video)

1. Luke KellyRaglan Road
A bona fide heartbreaker that hits even harder when you’re five drinks in and starting to re-evaluate all your mistakes. Based on Patrick Kavanagh’s soul-shattering poem of unrequited love, it’s one of the greatest songs ever written. Kelly sings it like it’s tearing him apart.

Raglan Road - Luke Kelly