Hozier has an incredible voice, frankly one of the best I’ve ever heard. He found immediate breakthrough success in 2013 when he released his debut single, Take Me To Church. The song was certified multi-platinum in several countries, hit the number two spot on the Billboard Hot 100, and has been used across other forms of media like television commercials and radio ads.
His debut album, featuring said song, would go on to become six-times-platinum certified in Ireland and a few other countries. His second album Wasteland Baby! debuted at the top of the Irish Albums chart and the Billboard 200 back in 2019. Outside of his own music, he has worked on movie soundtracks like Legend Of Tarzan and is politically outspoken within Ireland.
2. Van Morrison
Sir George Ivan Morrison is an Irish singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist who’s had a 70-year career in music. In the 1950s, he worked as an instrumentalist for several Irish showbands before becoming the frontman for Them in the 1960s. He would go on to have a stellar solo career, releasing a song we know and love in Brown Eyed Girl.
The best way to describe his music is a style of soul and rhythm and blues mixed together. In addition to those styles, he has dedicated a significant portion of his catalog to a style referred to as Celtic Sour, a blend of Celtic tradition and jazz.
With more than 40 albums breaking into the UK Top 40, and 18 in the US Top 40, Morrison has continued releasing music into his advanced age. His awards include two Grammy Awards, A Brit Award, a knighthood for services to the music industry in Ireland, and inductions into the Rock and Roll and Songwriters Halls of Fame.
Recommended: The top Irish songs of all time
3. Sinéad O’Connor
Sinéad O’Connor saw an incredible rise in popularity as she burst onto the music scene in 1987. Her debut album The Lion And The Cobra charted internationally, and her second album, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, sold over seven million copies worldwide. The Billboard Music Awards named that album’s lead track Nothing Compares 2 U the number-one world single in 1990.
In total, O’Connor has released 10 studio albums, collaborated on work with other artists, and worked on songs for several films. Despite some controversies stemming from her vocal and fiery disapproval of the Catholic Church, she has found quite a lot of success in her music. She’s known as a person who speaks out on issues like child abuse, anti-racism, women’s rights, and human rights.
4. Imelda May
While she’s primarily known as a singer, Imelda May is also a wonderful player of the bodhran, guitar, bass, and tambourine. Her rockabilly style of music has drawn comparisons to female jazz musicians like Billie Holiday. In 2009, she won Female Artist of the Year at the Meteor Awards. In addition to her own works, she has an extensive record of performing with other artists like Mike Crossey, Peter Asher, and Jeff Beck. In 2022, she made her acting debut in the film Fisherman’s Friends: One And All.
5. Phil Lynott
As a founding member of Thin Lizzy, Phil Lynott found a lot of commercial success as a singer, songwriter, and bassist. He played a very distinctive bass style that was entirely plectrum-based and was known for combining working-class tales with Celtic cultural references. The band was responsible for hits like The Boys Are Back In Town and Whiskey In The Jar.
After Thin Lizzy, Lynott would have a brief solo career before fronting the band Grand Slam. In 2005, the city of Dublin erected a statue in his memory, and today, he remains a popular figure in the rock music scene of Ireland.
6. Danny O’Donoghue
Best known for his role as the frontman for the Irish rock band The Script, Danny O’Donoghue has to be one of the best singers to come out of Ireland. Born in Dublin to a musical family, he originally didn’t want a career in music but ended up dropping out of school to pursue it anyway. He co-wrote all of The Script’s songs on their debut album, which became a major success, peaking at number one on the Irish Album chart.
The band has continued to tour and has released six more albums, all finding success. O’Donoghue’s singing talent is on full display in the first two seasons of The Voice UK, where he took on the role of coach for the talent show.
It doesn’t matter where you saw him first, whether it was as a member of U2 or on South Park, just about everyone knows who Bono is. As the frontman and lead vocalist for U2, he has an incredibly grandiose and expressive style. The band has received 22 Grammy Awards and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He’s also the main songwriter for the group, tackling topics that include social and political themes.
That makes a lot of sense because outside of U2, he is widely known as an activist and philanthropist. Bono supports numerous social causes and is very active in campaigning for Africa, co-founding DATA, EDUN, and the ONE Campaign. His activist work has seen him given an honorary knighthood and made a Commandeur of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
Enya Patricia Brennan is one of the main voices behind modern Celtic music and the best-selling Irish solo artist in history—falling only behind U2 for best-selling overall in Ireland. She started out as a member of her family’s folk band in 1980 as a vocalist and keyboardist before leaving to pursue a solo career in 1982. She’s well-known for multi-tracked vocals taking on Celtic, classical, church, Irish folk, and church music.
Enya’s career has seen her sell over 80 million records worldwide and has even been nominated for a Golden Globe for May It Be from The Lord Of The Rings: Fellowship Of The Ring. While many celebrities have public lives, she keeps very much to herself, stating that her music sells not her or anything that she stands for.
9. Christy Moore
Christy Moore has found success in almost all of his musical ventures, whether that be as a solo act or as a founding member of Planxty or Moving Hearts. His first album was recorded in 1969, though he didn’t find major commercial success until forming Planxty and releasing music in 1973.
Moore has an outspoken personality, and it shows in his political commentary, supporting a number of different movements. In 2007, he was named Ireland’s greatest living musician in RTE’s People of the Year Awards.
10. Rory Gallagher
While a relative lack of fame would come to frame Rory Gallagher, he’s undoubtedly one of the greatest guitarists to ever live. A regular virtuoso on the instrument, his music would inspire the likes of Eric Clapton and Brian May. While he’s sold over 30 million records worldwide as both a solo artist and part of the band Taste, most of that success was found between 1960 and 1980. Today, you’ll find a statue of him on Bedford Street near Ulster Hall in Belfast.
11. Niall Horan
One of the youngest entries to the list, Niall Horan was only born back in 1993. If you don’t know who he is, just know, he was a member of the boy band One Direction, which actually became one of the best-selling boy bands of all time. Unfortunately, they went on hiatus in 2016.
Horan began a solo career after One Direction, with his debut album reaching number one in Ireland and the US and top three in Australia and the UK. His second album likewise debuted at number one in the UK, Ireland, and Mexico, while coming in at number four in the US.
12. Maureen O’Hara
Maureen O’Hara was an amazing singer, but she’s better known as an actress and one close to my heart. Growing up watching John Wayne films with my father and grandfathers, I saw her in several movies, such as McClintock! on my television at least once every week or two.
Her acting career made her one of the most sought-after actresses from 1940 until 1960, earning her the nickname the Queen of Technicolor. O’Hara was likely Ireland’s first Hollywood Superstar, one of the most versatile actresses we’ve ever seen, and had an amazing singing voice that she put to use in her films.
13. Dolores O’Riordan
Best known for her role as the lead vocalist of The Cranberries, Dolores O’Riordan would become one of the most recognizable voices in rock music during the 1990s. Her time with the band would see seven studio albums with four number-ones before starting a solo career and releasing two albums before rejoining the band.
Her final vocal recordings can be heard on The Cranberries’ 2019 album, In The End. If you exclude her solo sales, O’Riordan sold over 50 million records worldwide, earned 14 platinum certifications, and was named The Top Female Artist of All Time on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart.
Recommended: Our list of the best Cranberries songs
14. Luke Kelly
Partly responsible for the folk music revival in England, Luke Kelly is best known as a founding member of The Dubliners. He’s widely regarded as one of Ireland’s greatest folk singers and helped preserve traditional music around the British Isles. He’s another one of Ireland’s avid political campaigners, active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and helping leaders of the Irish Workers Party.
It may be cheating to include a group here, but it’s also a two-for-one so ignore it. Westlife is an Irish pop group that found international recognition with their debut self-titled album and followed it up with the most number-one debuts on the UK Singles Chart by any group.
All four of the group’s members—plus a fifth who left the band in 2005—sing and do it very well. Shane Filan, Kian Egan, Nicky Byrne, and Mark Feehily came together to produce 34 Top 50 singles and 11 number-one albums, and sell over 55 million records. They were also the first to achieve seven straight number-one singles on the UK charts.
16. James Vincent McMorrow
James Vincent McMorrow is an Irish singer and songwriter whose debut album, Early In The Morning, brought him instant acclaim. In 2012, he was honored with the European Border Breakers Award in recognition of how well his album did outside of Ireland.
The 2010 release also found critical acclaim, but his songwriting career would see him hit the top of the UK Indie charts with his credit on Steve Winwood’s Higher Love. It would also see him credited as a songwriter for Shells Of Silver, with his vocals featured on the version of the song used on an episode of Gossip Girl.
17. Bob Geldof
The UK has gone through a punk movement or two, and Bob Geldorf rose to fame during one in the 1970s as the lead singer of the Irish rock band The Boomtown Rats. Both Rat Trap and I Don’t Like Mondays by the band reached number one on the UK charts. In addition to being a singer and songwriter, he is a political activist who helped found the Band Aid charity supergroup. Like Bono, he focuses a lot on Africa and is especially noted for his work on anti-poverty and famine relief efforts.
In 1986, he was granted an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II for that charity work and also received the Man of Peace title. A final interesting tidbit, Geldorf was featured on the list of the 100 Greatest Britons in a poll conducted by the general public, even though he’s definitely not British.
18. Una Healy
Una Healy would find major success as a member of the girl group The Saturdays, recording and releasing several hit songs. What About Us was their first UK chart-topper, but she would again focus on a solo career after a hiatus in 2014.
Her vocal skill is unquestioned, even having appeared as a judge on The Voice of Ireland with her singer winning the competition in her first year. Her solo album, The Waiting Game, was released in 2017 and is more influenced by country music than the pop and dance stuff she played with The Saturdays.
19. Gilbert O’Sullivan
Gilbert O’Sullivan struck gold in the 1970s with hits like Alone Again (Naturally) and Get Down. He loved to use wordplay in his lyrics and was well-known for his percussive style on the piano. His career would see him chart 16 Top 40 records and six number-one songs.
The first single of O’Sullivan’s to break into the Top 10 was Nothing Rhymed, which also hit number one in the Netherlands and gained him his first gold disc. His 19 albums also earned him three Ivor Novello Awards, including a Songwriter of the Year in 1973.
20. Dermot Kennedy
Dermot Kennedy blew up in popularity on the back of his 2019 single Outnumbered, then did it again in 2020 with the single, Giants. One of the newcomers to the music scene on this list, he released his debut studio album in 2019, Without Fear.
In 2020, he won international male solo entertainer of the year at the BRIT awards, and in 2022, he won the RTE Choice Music Prize Irish Song of the Year for 2021 and the song Better Days.
21. Shane MacGowan
To call Shane MacGowan versatile is an understatement. A member of The Pogues, the Nipple Erectors, and Shane MacGowan And The Popes, he still found time to work on a solo career. He has also done several collaborations with high-profile names like Sinéad O’Connor and Kirsty MacColl.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.