17 Best Irish Rock Bands Of All Time

When rock was gaining momentum and highlighting a significant shift in culture at Woodstock in the 60s, Ireland was also springing up and joining the rock wave spilling eagerly across London simultaneously. As everything did, rock progressed, and each country and town gave their interpretation of what the genre meant to them, with Ireland becoming favored for what was later known as Celtic rock.

You might be surprised how many rock bands came out of Ireland. Here are 17 of the best Irish rock bands of all time:

1. The Cranberries 

The Cranberries - Linger (Official Music Video)

It might surprise you that The Cranberries started as an all-male band with lead singer Niall Quinn in 1989. Hailing from Limerick, Ireland, the members were pals and didn’t realize that they would later become one of the most famous rock bands in the world. A year later, they added Dolores O’Riordan and changed their name to The Cranberries. She took the bar further with her haunting melodious tones, seducing followers with an excellent old injection of Irish folk sounds and punk-rock undertones. 

The song Linger hit the scene in 1993, and with its soul-caressing melodies coupled with O’Riordan’s angelic voice, it became their most popular song ever. Zombie followed a year later with its heady beats and rhythmic, vibrant rock tempos.

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2. U2 

With Or Without You (Live From Milan)

U2 started in Dublin, Ireland, in 1976 and consisted of the lead singer Paul David Hewson (better known as Bono), David Evans (now known as The Edge), Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr. The eager but pretty talentless lads had nothing more than a passion for music and a love of showbands. You would never know their humble beginnings, as they became one of the most successful Irish bands ever known.

Since the 80s, U2 has won 22 Grammy awards, more than any other rock group. What started as a passion grew into true talent as they honed their skills and melted hearts with songs such as With Or Without You, released in 1987. Their uncanny ability to move with the times and change tempo beats and vocals made them one of the most dynamic bands of all time. Bono’s staccato tones were sometimes coined as operatic, and his voice’s ability to morph and melt into different tempos made them constantly current.

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3. The Corrs 

Forgiven, Not Forgotten

The Corrs were huge in the 90s with their blend of folk rock with some very obvious Celtic roots. Based out of County Louth, this family band first got together in 1990 and immediately focused on producing pop rock with a family-friendly nature. Their concept of rock music is certainly something you can listen to without any fear of the lyrics.

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4. The Boomtown Rats

The Boomtown Rats - I Don't Like Mondays (Live Aid 1985)

Fronted by Bob Geldof, this band pushed themselves to the front of the art-punk and rock genre in the 80s. Known primarily for their hit I Don’t Like Mondays, what I love about them is their ability to produce some incisive lyrics designed to make you delve deep into the angst that seeps out of their songs. There’s a rawness around it all, so if you want some polished rock, then this is not for you.

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5. Thin Lizzy 

The Boys Are Back In Town

I think it’s fair to say that Thin Lizzy reigned supreme for hard rock acts in the 70s. However, some people remain unaware that their roots were more in Irish music before diverging into something closer to heavy metal. After all, you would hardly say Whiskey In The Jar was a heavy metal song. Yet it was their ability to create a harmonious sound that was thunderous in the vibe and energy it created that helped them stand out from the crowd.

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6. The Frames 

The Frames are the perfect example of how some bands just don’t quite make it as big as they deserve. Based in Dublin, they have been rocking Ireland since 1990, and they continue to do so today. With a touch of folk rock to their songs, they were the support act for Bob Dylan back in 2007 when he toured Australia and New Zealand. That alone shows how good they are as a group.

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7. My Bloody Valentine 

my bloody valentine – only shallow (official video)

I admit that My Bloody Valentine is not for everyone, and I think that’s because their sound often comes across as complicated. Their tendency to change and shift sounds even in individual songs blows the mind, but I love that uncertainty as to what will come next. Seriously, the disorientation you can feel also adds a whole lot of excitement to their music, with it showcasing the very best of indie rock.

They will sit you down in a chair and force you to listen to their tracks, and you will love them for it at the end. They will just capture your imagination with so much ease.

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8. Westlife 

Westlife - Uptown Girl (Official Video)

You probably didn’t expect to see Westlife here, but their music genre falls into the area of jazz and pop rock. I admit it’s laid-back and is certainly never offensive, but their ability to create melodies and have you humming along (even in secret) is something you cannot dispute.

It might not be hard rock, but pop rock is still one of the most popular genres out there, and Westlife was one of the best in the world at it when they were active. So, they still deserve to appear on this list due to that single fact. Also, they sold more than 55 million records worldwide, so they must have been doing something correctly.

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9. The Dubliners 

Whiskey In The Jar - The Dubliners featuring Luke Kelly - Live at The Tavastia Club Helsinki 1975

A band like The Dubliners offers you the chance to head back in time to the real roots of what would become Irish rock. Okay, so it clearly has a lot of Irish folk music included, but that’s hardly a bad thing. I suggest checking out In The Rare Old Times to get a sense of the music they were capable of producing. It’s sure to get your foot tapping in next to no time.

Also, they provide you with the opportunity to discover how rock music has so many facets, thanks to the inspiration that lies behind the songs. In this instance, they stick close to their roots making you feel you are in an Irish pub drinking Guinness while listening to them.

10. Horslips 

Horslips - Dearg Doom (BBC Old Grey Whistle Test, 1974)

If you want to listen to authentic Irish rock music, then the Horslips is one band you need to have on your playlist. Known as the founding fathers of Celtic rock, they easily combine different musical styles into something packed full of energy. They actually take Irish jigs as inspiration, and they produce music you just won’t hear anywhere else. So, if you are open to experiencing something new with your music, then this is a fantastic place to start. It’s lively, funky, and more fun than you can shake an Irishman at.

11. Snow patrol 

Snow Patrol - Chasing Cars (Official Video)

Snow Patrol has both Irish and Scottish heritage and has been rocking crowds ever since being formed in 1994. You have probably heard their song Chasing Cars, which was featured on Grey’s Anatomy. However, it’s their ability to rock out stadiums with their highly infectious tunes such as Run and You’re All I Have that has cemented their place as a band to be reckoned with.  

Basically, you will find yourself humming along more times than you care to imagine, such is their skill when it comes to producing cool music that is ear-friendly in nature.

12. Flogging Molly

Flogging Molly - Drunken Lullabies - Live at KROQ

This Irish American punk rock band was formed in Los Angeles in 1997, but they have never forgotten their roots. With Celtic inspiration, they also love to throw in some politics into their lyrics. I suggest checking out songs such as Drunken Lullabies or A Song of Liberty to get a sense of the raw energy in their music.

But don’t fall into the trap of thinking this is your traditional punk rock. It’s a bit softer than that even though they do produce songs with a certain rough edge to them. Ultimately, their music is more of a fusion, and it has led to some inspirational albums unlike anything else out there. 

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13. Stiff Little Fingers 

So Stiff Little Fingers are from Belfast, and their own take on punk rock has dominated their set list since their formation in the 70s. Of course, they had to play during all of the unrest in Northern Ireland, and that anger and opinion on the troubles came through loud and clear in their music. If you want to get a sense of the mood of the nation during those times, then this is the band you need to listen to.

I just love how they take their anger and bring it all together on an album. The feeling they put into their music perfectly replicates the feeling so many people had in life in the 70s. If you are looking for an original punk rock sound, then they won’t disappoint.

14. The Chieftains 

The Long Black Veil

Focusing on their own style of Celtic rock, this band has been around since the early 60s and still performs to this day. They have had so many collaborations with people such as Sting, Mick Jagger, and Sinead O’Connor, to name a few. This band knows how to pull you along with the energy that appears in their songs, and while they are hardly a hardcore rock band, their Celtic fusion adds a cool twist to things. However, they are distinctly Irish in nature, and that’s something that comes across loud and clear in their music.

15. The Undertones 

The Undertones - Teenage Kicks (Official Video)

Known for their punk rock roots, The Undertones were formed back in 1974 and are perhaps most famous for their hit Teenage Kicks in the 70s. Still performing today, they may have lost some of their edge from their new wave days, but you can still expect guitar-laden songs even with their more modern stuff. 

Even from their debut album, they sought perfection, and I think it’s something they did achieve. It came as a shock when they broke up for a few years in the 80s as they were seeing some real success around the world. They had even managed to make the transition from punk to post-punk and finally into new wave without losing too much of their fanbase. However, if you want to experience them at their finest, then checking out some of their early stuff is key.

16. Them 

Them - Gloria (Audio) ft. Van Morrison

Them was an Irish rock band formed back in 1964, but you may only know the name of their original lead singer, Van Morrison. Their biggest hit was Gloria, and they combined original rock music with some rhythm and blues, which actually was a pretty cool combination. 

The influence they had during the 60s was astounding, and their success saw them cross the pond and take on the US market. But Morrison left them in 1966 to forge ahead with his own solo career, and it seems that it was the best decision for him to take when you consider what happened to him after that.

However, if you want to grab a slice of what 60s rock music was like in Ireland, then listen to Them and see how raw their music was compared to slicker bands such as The Beatles.

17. Clannad 

Clannad - Theme from Harry's Game (Official HD Video)

Clannad is a family group from County Donegal, and you may have heard of one member from her successful solo career, and that’s Enya. Formed back in 1970, they cover an array of genres, and one of them is rock. A lot of their music focused on the violence and trouble in Ireland, but it’s their fusion of folk and Celtic music with a rock edge that made them stand out and allowed them to build such a strong career. 

Of course, Enya then took herself on a completely different journey after leaving Clannad, but I find it interesting to go back in time and see where she came from with her musical career. It’s strange to imagine the likes of her with more of a rock style, and her stuff from those early days with her other family members certainly managed to cover that, and more.

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