If your in search of the best Irish bands, you’ll find something to make your ears happy below!
Now, a disclaimer – the subject of the top Irish bands stirs up some heated debate online (we got a nice bitta stick when we published our guide to the best Irish songs…).
And, to be fair, considering Ireland gave birth to everyone from U2 to the Cranberries, it’s understandable.
In this guide, you’ll find what we think are the best bands from Ireland, with a mix of rock, pop, traditional tunes and more!
The best Irish bands of all time
There have been many popular Irish bands over the years. Some, like U2, made it worldwide while other Irish rock bands never managed to make it past the UK.
Below, you’ll discover everyone from Snow Patrol and the Dubliners to some of the more modern Irish bands. Enjoy!
1. The Dubliners
In our opinion, the Dubliners are one of the best Irish bands around. Founded in 1962, The Dubliners were a successful Irish folk band for over 50 years, although there was a steady change in the line-up over the decades.
Original lead singers Luke Kelly and Ronnie Drew ensured the band became a big hit with people from Dublin and beyond.
They became one of the most popular Irish bands thanks to their catchy, traditional ballads and their powerful instrumentals.
They officially disbanded in 2012 and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.
However, some of the band are still on the road, now playing as “The Dublin Legends”. You’ll find many songs from the Dubliners in our guide to the best Irish drinking songs.
2. The Pogues
Fronted by Shane MacGowan, The Pogues took their name from the Irish phrase póg mo thóin, meaning “kiss my arse”.
One of the top Irish groups prominent in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, their apex was the classic recording of ‘Fairytale of New York’.
Often featuring politically motivated lyrics, they played traditional Irish instruments with Shane MacGowan often seen on the banjo.
MacGowan left the Pogues in the early 90s due to problems with drink. They reformed and broke up many times over the years until one final reunion in 2001.
As one of the most famous Irish bands to ever form, U2 are synonymous with the expressive vocals of lead singer/guitarist Bono along with “The Edge”, Adam Clayton on bass guitar and Larry Mullen Jr. on drums.
The band formed while the musicians were still attending Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Dublin.
Four years later they had a contract with Island Records and celebrated the first of 19 number one hits in the Irish charts with War in 1983.
Their lyrics often reflected the political and social conscience of the band. To-date, they’ve sold over 175 million albums, making them the most successful modern Irish bands.
4. The Chieftains
If you like the haunting sounds of Irish Uilleann Pipes (like bagpipes) The Chieftains instrumental music is sure to appeal.
The Chieftains formed in Dublin in 1962 and helped popularise Irish music internationally, quickly becoming one of the best Irish bands on the trad scene.
In fact, in 1989 the Irish government awarded them the honory title “Ireland’s Musical Ambassadors”.
They rose to fame playing the soundtrack to the film Barry Lyndon and have since successfully collaborated with Van Morrision, Madonna, Sinead O’Connor and Luciano Pavarotti.
You may have seen the above collaboration with Sinead O’Connor feature in our guide to the best Irish rebel songs.
5. The Cranberries
Straight out of Limerick, The Cranberries are one of the more famous Irish rock bands. They describe their music as ‘alternative rock’ but with a nod to Irish folk-rock, post-punk and pop thrown in here-and-there.
Founded in 1989, their debut album Everybody Else is Doing it so Why Can’t We? put them on the road to international fame in the 1990s.
After a break, they returned in 2009 to record their Roses album with their final album In the End released 10 years later in April 2019.
They disbanded after lead singer Dolores O’Riordan was tragically passed away. She was the first Irish artist to reach one billion views on YouTube.
6. Snow Patrol
Few modern Irish groups have seen success like Snow Patrol. I’ve seen these live 5 or 6 times and they really are something else!
Snow Patrol are one of the best Irish bands to emerge from the 2000s. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re a Scottish/Northern Irish Indie rock band that have racked up millions of album sales across the globe.
Their 2003 album ‘Run’ reached 5 platinum records and from then on national fame was assured.
Still playing, the band has racked up six Brit Awards, a Grammy and seven Meteor Island awards – not bad for a group of lads who met and played their first gigs at Dundee University!
7. The Corrs
The next of our Irish groups, The Corrs, mixes pop rock with traditional Irish themes.
Siblings Andrea, Sharon, Caroline and Jim are from Dundalk and to date have sold 40 million albums and countless singles.
They were awarded MBEs in 2005 for their outstanding charitable works alongside Bono and The Prince’s Trust as well as independently.
You’ll widely see the Coors top American guides to the best Irish bands from the 90s, as their music is still extremely popular in that neck of the woods.
Westlife are one of the most notable Irish boy bands selling over 55 million albums globally.
The band formed in Sligo in 1998, disbanded in 2012 and reformed in 2018. Originally signed by Simon Cowell, the current foursome consists of Shane Filan, Mark Feehily, Kian Egan, and Nicky Byrne.
They hold numerous awards and continue to be the biggest arena act of all time, their concerts selling out in minutes.
You’ll find many of Westlife’s top hits in our guide to the best Irish loves songs of all time (includes a Spotify playlist).
9. Celtic Women
Another of the more modern Irish bands is the hugely successful Celtic Women. They’re an all-female group with a line up that has changed numerous times over the years.
The group have racked up Billboard’s ‘World Album Artist of the Year’ award 6 times and they’ve sold out countless tours of the US.
With 10 million albums sold and a whopping 3 million tickets sold worldwide, Celtic Women have enjoyed over 12 years of success globally.
10. Thin Lizzy
Considered one of the best Irish bands of all time, Thin Lizzy was a Dublin-based Irish rock band founded in 1969, so you’re showing your age if you saw them play live.
Unusually for the time, the band members were from both sides of the Irish border, and from both Catholic and Protestant backgrounds.
Some of their best known tunes include Dancing in the Moonlight (1977) and The Rocker (1973).
Vocalist Phil Lynott was the frontman and he sadly passed away at 36 in 1986. Despite trying out several new line-ups, the band never recovered.
You may not be familiar with Clannad, but the chances are you’ll have heard of Enya!
Formed in 1970 as a family group (three siblings and their twin uncles) they won the Letterkenny Folk Festival in 1973 with their song Liza.
They were joined for a time between 1980 and 1982 by sister/niece Enya Brennan on keyboard/vocals before she founded her own successful career.
They have enjoyed international recognition (more than in their native Ireland) and have picked up countless awards including a Grammy, BAFTA and Billboard Music Award.
12. The Horslips
Last but by no means least in our guide to the best Irish bands is The Horslips – a Celtic Irish rock band in 1970 and disbanded 10 years later.
They were never hugely successful when compared to the famous Irish bands above, but their music was considered influential in the Celtic rock genre.
Notably designing their own artwork (the group met when working together at a Dublin advertising agency), they established their own record label.
At their final gig, they played the Rolling Stones hit “The Last Time” in the Ulster Hall and disbanded to pursue other careers.
What top Irish bands have we missed?
I’ve no doubt that we’ve unintentionally left out some brilliant Irish music bands from the guide above.
If you have any Irish groups that you’d like to recommend, let me know in the comments below and I’ll check it out!
FAQs about famous Irish groups
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘What famous Irish bands from the 90s never made it out of Ireland?’ to ‘What old Irish music bands are worth a listen?’.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
Who are the most famous Irish bands?
U2, The Cranberries, The Dubliners, The Coors and Westlife are arguably some of the best-known Irish groups from the last 50 years.
Who are the most successful Irish bands?
U2 are the most successful of the many bands from Ireland having sold a staggering 175 million+ albums.
Keith O’Hara has lived in Ireland for 34 years and has spent most of the last 10 years creating what is now The Irish Road Trip guide. Over the years, the website has published thousands of meticulously researched Ireland travel guides, welcoming 30 million+ visitors along the way. In 2022, the Irish Road Trip team published the world’s largest collection of Irish Road Trip itineraries. Keith lives in Dublin with his dog Toby and finds writing in the 3rd person minus craic altogether.