To mark St Patrick’s Day, we’re celebrating the best of Ireland’s musical history.
Happy St Patrick’s Day! For this feast day of Ireland’s most famous snake banisher, we’re shunning the giant leprechaun hats and instead treating our ears to a feast of some great Irish music.
Ireland is a country that both embraces and challenges its clichés – for every Enya or Clannad, there’s a My Bloody Valentine or Girl Band – and what makes the place so special is how it doesn’t disappoint on either side of that coin.
That’s why our favourite Irish bands of all time run the gamut from rock legends to punk poets to pop titans, reflecting all that is wonderful about Irish music in all its forms.
Phil Lynott’s hard rocking outfit were so beloved in their homeland that there’s a statue of the great man outside Dublin’s hardest rocking bar (Bruxelles on Harry Street). Fuelled by a potent brew of duelling guitar solos, virtuosic bass lines and Phil’s wonderfully evocative lyrics, Thin Lizzy were both wholly of their place and time while also seemingly beamed in from some wonderful alternate dimension. Possibly the greatest Irish band of all time.
Essential tracks: Dancing In The Moonlight, The Boys Are Back In Town, Sarah, Cowboy Song
The Dublin quartet have reached the point where their own legend can sometimes overwhelm the brilliance that got them there. Returning to albums like Joshua Tree, Boy and Achtung Baby brings their staggering talent back into focus, the scale of even their earliest songs suggesting that greatness was only a matter of time. Bono’s son Elijah has joined the family business, his band Inhaler proving that he’s picked up a fair amount of his dad’s talent.
Essential tracks: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, Sunday Bloody Sunday, All I Want Is You, One
In recent years, the Irish capital has seen a post punk explosion, but no band is more successful at blending their debt to Joy Division with Irish lyricism than Fontaines D.C. Their debut Dogrel burrows slowly before taking up root in your brain on a permanent basis, Grian Chatten’s storytelling as specific to Dublin as Jarvis Cocker’s was to Sheffield. Their music hits you about the head with barked vocals and sharp-edged guitars, before slumping at the bar and slurring out a tearful folk-tinged lament.
Essential tracks: Dublin City Sky, Hurricane Laughter, Roy’s Tune, Boys In The Better Land
Shane McGowan’s rabble evoked all the punk spirit you’d expect from a band that was born in the toilets at a Ramones gig. Best known for their pickled, lovelorn ballad Fairytale Of New York, the band’s raucous traditional fare was designed for drinking and dancing, maybe with a fight thrown in for good measure.
Essential tracks: Fairytale Of New York, Fiesta, Body Of An American, A Rainy Night In Soho
It’s hard to think of a band that captures youthful exuberance as succinctly as Ash, from Tim Wheeler’s on-the-cusp-of-puberty vocals to the short, sharp bursts of sheer joy that remain the band’s stock in trade. Power pop doesn’t come any poppier or more powerful than their 1995 superhit Girl From Mars.
Essential tracks: Girl From Mars, Kung Fu, Goldfinger, Shining Light
The band’s star had waned by the time of Dolores O’Riordain’s tragic death, but at their peak, The Cranberries were one of the biggest bands on the planet, beautifully capturing the lovesick ennui of an entire generation with songs like Dreams and Linger. Their impact lessened as they moved beyond the bedrooms of the brokenhearted, but for one superb album, they were utterly perfect.
Essential tracks: Linger, Dreams, Salvation, Sunday
Another Irish band that seemed to come about at exactly the right time. The Thrills were five handsome lads from Dublin who went to San Diego for the summer, wrote a blissfully sun-dappled album inspired by The Beach Boys and The Byrds and struck gold. Unfairly remembered as a flash in the pan, the band followed up that 2003 breakthrough So Much For The City with one decent album, one excellent one and then went on indefinite hiatus.
Essential tracks: Big Sur, Santa Cruz (You’re Not That Far), Your Love Is Like Las Vegas, The Midnight Choir
Westlife achieved the unthinkable in both outlasting and outselling their fore-bearers Boyzone to become the biggest Irish pop act of all time. Steered by the steady hand of boyband Svengali Louis Walsh, they became the first band to have seven consecutive UK number one singles, with a track record that puts them in the same sphere as The Beatles and Take That.
Essential tracks: Flying Without Wings, Uptown Girl, Fool Again, I Have A Dream
The Frank & Walters
The Cork quartet came up in the same scene that also birthed Power Of Dreams and The Sultans Of Ping FC, but the Franks had that extra special something: a melodic knack and a charm that suggested The Smiths discovering their inner joy at the bottom of a pint of Murphy’s. Their 1998 album Grand Parade is a stunner, overflowing with the band’s best songs and biggest, brightest choruses.
Essential tracks: Colours, Indian Ocean, After All, Plenty Time
My Bloody Valentine
No other band on this list can boast an album that caused as many musical epiphanies as Kevin Shields’ shoegaze pioneers. Their 1991 record Loveless proved so genre defining that the band crumbled under its weight, not releasing another record for 22 years. That gap only amplified My Bloody Valentine’s importance and it’s to their eternal credit that they managed to return without tarnishing their legacy in the slightest.
Essential tracks: Only Shallow, To Here Knows When, Soon, Is This And Yes
Discover more from the world of music on our Concerts & Tours Guide.