This article is going to jump around a lot. Ireland is a country with a deep history and a rich culture, and from that, we get a wealth of amazing music that has spanned centuries. We’ll hit everything from traditional folk songs to modern hits and songs from the best Irish bands we can find. The artist listed on these isn’t always going to be who wrote it, especially for folk songs, but it’ll be the artist performing it in our example.
So with that in mind, this article is all about 35 of the best Irish songs of all time.
1. The Fields of Athenry – Paddy Reilly
The Fields of Athenry describes the Great Famine in Ireland and has become something of an unofficial anthem for the people living there. As it’s basically a second national anthem, it’s hard to place it anywhere except the top spot for me. It remains one of the
most popular and famous songs ever composed in Ireland, emblematic of the nation’s unbreakable spirit and drive to fight through adversity.
2. The Lonesome Boatman – Finbar and Eddie Furey
The Lonesome Boatman debuted on a 1969 album of the same name by Finbar and Eddie Furey. It’s one of the best traditional Irish folk songs that hasn’t turned into a hit or well-known song worldwide, and there may not be a more hauntingly emotional one. It even features the tin whistle, a common staple of Irish folk songs.
3. Sunday Bloody Sunday – U2
U2 is one of the biggest bands ever to take the stage, and they’re from right over in Ireland. One of their biggest hits, Sunday Bloody Sunday, details the 1972 Bloody Sunday incident in Derry that saw unarmed protesters shot by British troops. Despite the band members claiming it’s no protest song, it’s still one of U2’s most overtly political tunes.
Sunday Bloody Sunday helped U2 become a global phenomenon, and it would eventually become one of the band’s signature songs, all while discussing events in their own country.
4. Grace – Róisin O, Aoife Scott, and Danny O’Reilly
Grace is probably one of the most famous Irish songs you’ll find out there. Frank and Sean O’Meara originally wrote it in 1985 about a woman named Grace (of course). Grace herself was an artist and Republican who married Joseph Plunkett (one of the leaders behind the 1916 Easter Rising) a few hours before his execution.
Our example sees Róisin O, Aoife Scott, and Danny O’Reilly sing this sad, classic Irish tune.
5. Whiskey In The Jar – The Dubliners
You can make a substantial argument that Whiskey In The Jar is the best Irish song of all time. The Dubliners are going to be featured on this list a lot, and this is one of their most beloved songs. It’s also considered one of the most popular Irish folk songs ever, an old war song covered by numerous artists from the Dubliners to Thin Lizzy and everyone else in between.
6. Zombie – The Cranberries
Zombie has been covered a lot, with most bands changing nothing about the song except the dates used in the lyrics. It’s an alt-rock song inspired by the Troubles in Northern Ireland and the 1993 IRA bombing in Warrington, England. Zombie is widely regarded as one of alternative rock’s masterpieces, topping rock charts in numerous countries when it was released, and it remains a powerful song to this day.
7. The Green Fields of France – Dropkick Murphys
The Green Fields of France is another one of the most popular Irish folk songs in history. Originally written as an anti-war song by Eric Bogle (a Scotsman) about World War I, it was inspired by and fully against the anti-Irish sentiment that was spreading in Great Britain during the 1970s. It saw a resurgence in popularity after Finbar Furey and Christy Dignam played it on the Late Late Show.
8. Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison
Brown Eyed Girl may be one of the biggest critical successes on this list, and it’s probably one of the best-known songs. Van Morrison was a pretty popular singer from Ireland that found international success on the back of this song. In 1967, Brown Eyed Girl peaked at number 10 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and in 2006 it was in the top 20 of the Hot Ringtones chart. It would end up being Morrison’s signature song and an all-time classic.
9. The Night Visiting Song – The Dubliners
The Night Visiting Song was one of the Dubliners’ last performances before Luke Kelly officially left. It was incredibly popular when they sang it, with later groups covering the traditionally Irish song in their own careers.
10. Galway Girl – Ed Sheeran
There are two great songs called Galway Girl. One was written by Steve Earl and released in 2000, finding quite a lot of chart success in Ireland. The second was written by Ed Sheeran for his 2017 album. This one was almost never released as a single, but Sheeran believed in the traditional Irish folk style he put together and watched it enter the charts in 31 different countries.
11. Fairytale of New York – The Pogues
Fairytale of New York has become synonymous with Christmas in Ireland over the years, much like Mariah Carey’s version of All I Want For Christmas Is You has in the US. A duet that is written in the style of an Irish folk ballad, the London-based Pogues first released it as a single in 1987. In the UK, it’s the most-played Christmas song of the 21st century.
12. Fisherman’s Blues – The Waterboys
The Waterboys released Fisherman’s Blues in 1988 on an album of the same name, and it became one of the greatest Irish songs of all time. You can see what it featured in the film Good Will Hunting, but it’s honestly just a beautiful song that will get stuck in your head for hours.
13. With Or Without You – U2
U2 is one of the best-selling bands of all time, and With or Without You is one of their most popular songs. It was the first song to top the US Billboard Hot 100 and Canadian charts, becoming U2’s most-covered song of all time and one of their best-performing singles ever released. The only reason it’s down this far is because it isn’t about Ireland, unlike their previous entry.
14. Nothing Compares 2 U – Sinéad O’Connor
Sinéad O’Connor is on our list of the best Irish artists of all time for a reason. An amazing vocalist in her own right, Nothing Compares 2 U was originally composed by the immortal Prince for his side project, The Family. O’Connor would record her own version for her second studio album, and the heartbroken tale of a romantic breakup gave O’Connor her first breakout hit.
15. Down By The Glenside (Peadar Kearney) – Paddy Reilly
Down By The Glenside remains a cheeky Irish rebellion song that first took form in the early 1900s. It was used as a rallying cry for the Irish Republican Brotherhood and served as a call to arms. Overall, it discusses the 1916 Easter Rising, but it still sees people sing it today.
16. The Blower’s Daughter – Damien Rice
Damien Rice is relatively new to the music scene, especially on a list like this that includes traditional folk songs from hundreds of years ago. The Blower’s Daughter is quite possibly one of the prettiest songs released since the turn of the century, with plenty of emotion backed up by catchy hooks.
17. The Rocky Road To Dublin (D. K. Gavan) – The High kings
Speaking of super old songs, D.K. Gavan penned The Rocky Road To Dublin in the late 1800s. The folk song was about the trip between the narrator’s home in Tuam, Ireland, to Liverpool, England, detailing all the adventures and obstacles that popped up along the way.
18. Come Out Ye Black & Tans – The Wolfe Tones
Black and Tans were the nickname of the British constables who gained a reputation for brutality during the Irish War of Independence. They were some of the worst possible choices for the police force, being involved in all manner of criminal acts of violence themselves. The song Come Out Ye Black and Tans is a reminder of those actions and a history of Irish nationalism serving as a symbol of pride for Ireland’s people.
19. Raglan Road – Luke Kelly
On Raglan Road started as a poem by renowned Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh that details walking on a quiet city street, his love for a much younger woman, and his conflicting feelings about that relationship. It’s an all-time classic Irish song and poem, done justice by the voice of Luke Kelly.
20. The Boys Are Back In Town – Thin Lizzy
The Boys Are Back In Town has always had a hotly-debated inspiration, but what isn’t up for debate is how great the song is. A hard rock classic from Thin Lizzy, it’s been included on Rolling Stone’s 2021 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The song has a feel-good, nostalgic vibe to it as well, which has helped it find a place in other media. You may have heard it as part of the soundtrack for the Shrek movies.
21. Teenage Kicks – The Undertones
The Undertones were an Irish punk rock band that released this amazing song back in 1978. Upbeat, funky, and nostalgic, Teenage Kicks is sure to transport you back to your younger, angst-filled youth and is the perfect snapshot of the UK punk movement as a whole when it was released.
22. The Foggy Dew – The Chieftains
World War I saw many young Irish men fighting for the British Empire, something many in the homeland lamented. The Foggy Dew can be heard in several different versions, all ballads or laments, with some describing the 1916 Easter Rising. It was meant to encourage men to fight for Irish interests rather than the interests of Britain. The earliest version of the song appeared in 1840, and while a different tune, it is still an amazing traditional Irish song.
23. Open Your Eyes – Snow Patrol
Open Your Eyes is a popular song that has cropped up fairly recently. Snow Patrol was the alt-rock band that released it in 2007, seeing it become the music behind the BBC One Program Football Focus and make waves when it was used on the TV show ER.
24. 9 Crimes – Damien Rice
Damien Rice makes another appearance on the list with another one of the most recent great Irish songs. 9 Crimes continues the brilliance of our earlier entry with a heavy and emotional piano ballad that will raise the hairs on your arms.
25. Molly Malone – The Dubliners
In Dublin, there’s actually a statue of the titular Molly Malone that you’ve probably gone by if you’ve ever visited the city. The song Molly Malone is one of the most famous Irish songs out there, detailing the life of a woman who peddles fish by day and works as a part-time prostitute by night.
26. The Rattlin’ Bog – Irish Descendants
The Rattlin’ Bog is one of the best Irish folk songs of all time, partly because of its upbeat and catchy lyrics but also because of how easy it is to get stuck in your head. The term “rattlin’” in the song is used in place of “splendid.” For the most part, its origin is unknown, with over 180 versions collected from oral traditions. It’s also great for parties, as it’s one of those songs that’s meant for everyone to join in, and it speeds up with each successive verse.
27. Dreams – The Cranberries
The Cranberries had to start somewhere, and they did so brilliantly with Dreams. It was the band’s debut single in 1992, breaking into the charts internationally, and is one of the best love songs on this list.
28. The Black Velvet Band – Luke Kelly
The Black Velvet Band is another traditional folk song that found its way around the world, not just in Ireland. It has a special meaning for those there, though, with the Dubliners releasing a very popular version back in 1967. The song essentially describes a young man being tricked and then punished by being shipped off to Australia.
29. Finnegan’s Wake – The Clancy Brothers
To me, a Finnegan’s Wake is a very intoxicating beverage, coming in several different flavors, at an Irish pub in my own hometown. This song, though, is one of the most beloved traditional Irish ballads out there. Finnegan’s Wake was originally published in 1864 in New York, and it sees a man named Finnegan get drunk and fall from a ladder. In his wake, whiskey spills on him, which wakes him up, and a big party ensues.
30. Seven Drunken Nights – The Dubliners
If you look into popular Irish songs, you’re bound to find quite a few good drinking tunes. Seven Drunken Nights is one of those, detailing the story of a man who spends each evening at a pub before returning home and finding more and more evidence of his wife’s infidelity. It’s a hilariously good time, originating as a variation of a Scottish song that dates back to the 1760s.
31. Runaway – The Corrs
The Corrs are an Irish family band, and Runaway was their debut single from their first album in 1995. Outside of Ireland, the song did fairly well on the charts, reaching near the middle levels, but in Ireland, it was a massive hit that sat within the top 10.
32. N17 – The Saw Doctors
Irish music isn’t all ballads and laments, as evidenced by much of the article so far. There are also great party songs. N17 by The Saw Doctors is one of those, a foot-stomper that will have everyone singing at the top of their lungs.
33. Let The People Sing – The Wolfe Tones
Ireland has a long history of people oppressing their culture and trying to subjugate them. Let The People Sing is another song from the rebel folk band The Wolfe Tones that simply begs to allow the Irish people to sing their traditional songs and keep their culture alive.
34. Back Home In Derry – Christy moore
Another song describing the punishment of being shipped off to Australia, Back Home In Derry, is an account of one such unfortunate soul that describes the conditions of the ship, the voyage, and the way he wonders how things are going back home.
35. Carrickfergus – Jim McCann
With a name that’ll sound weird to anyone outside of Ireland, Carrickfergus is a song you’ve probably heard at least once or twice in your life. It was played at John F. Kennedy Jr.’s funeral and featured in the series Boardwalk Empire. It’s an old Irish ballad that remains popular despite its age.
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.