Howaya! When I’m writing Irish road trip guides, I tend to have a playlist packed with the best Irish songs (in my opinion) banging away in the background.
I love Irish music. I always have. But I tend to listen to the same Irish ballads and trad songs over and over (and over…) again.
So, recently I updated my playlist (which you’ll find at the end of this guide) with the best traditional, classic, old, new and famous Irish songs.
I’ve broken up each section below to make it easier for you to have an aul browse. You’ll find everything from Irish rebel songs to more recent bangers.
Section 1: 15 of the best Irish songs ever made
What sounds good is pretty subjective, i.e. what I think sounds deadly might sound absolutely cat to someone else.
However, I’m going to kick this guide off with what I think are the best Irish songs ever made. You’ll find a mix of old stuff, new-school bangers and a decent whack of traditional Irish folks songs below.
1. The Lonesome Boatman
‘The Lonesome Boatman’. A mighty song to kick things off. This is one of the lesser-known Irish folk songs that’ll make the hair on the back of your neck stand to attention.
The song ‘The Lonesome Boatman’ debuted on a 1969 album from Finbar and Eddie Furey on an album of the same name. This song is beautiful, but it’s a little haunting also.
This, like many traditional Irish folk songs, features the tin whistle. And it’s played superbly throughout. Bash play above to see what I mean.
Ahhh, ‘Grace’ – this is one of the most famous Irish songs that you’ll come across. It was written in 1985 by Frank and Seán O’Meara, about a woman named Grace Evelyn Gifford Plunkett.
‘Grace’ was an Irish artist and an active Republican. In 1916, she married her fiancé Joseph Plunkett (one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising) in Kilmainham Gaol a couple of hours prior to his execution.
This is one of many sad Irish folk songs that’ll never get old, no matter how many times you hear it. The version above, by Roisin O, Aoife Scott and Danny O’Reilly is a belter.
‘Zombie’ is one of the most popular Irish songs on YouTube, racking up a staggering 981,961,781 views at the time of writing. That’s a whole lot of listens.
‘Zombie’ was written by an alternative Irish rock band named The Cranberries (one of the best Irish bands, in my opinion!) and revolves around the 1993 IRA bombing in Warrington in England and two young victims of the attack.
There’s not much I can say about this one except that it’s powerful and you’ll keep coming back to it time and time again. Enjoy!
4. Song for Ireland
This is one of a handful of traditional Irish songs that weren’t written by Irish people. ‘A Song for Ireland’ was written by Phil Colclough and his wife, June Colclough, both of whom came from England.
Song for Ireland was inspired by a trip the couple took to the magnificent Dingle Peninsula. It has been covered by everyone from Luke Kelly to Enya over the years. Well worth a listen.
5. The Blowers Daughter
The Blowers Daughter is one of the most beautiful Irish songs to be released in the past two decades. It was written by Damien Rice, an Irish musician from Dublin.
The Blowers Daughter was one of several incredible tunes on Rice’s debut album, ‘O’. There’s a shed-load of emotion in this one and the backing track is nice and catchy. Whack it on there now.
6. The Rocky Road to Dublin
‘The Rocky Road to Dublin’ is one of the more popular Irish songs among tourists visiting Ireland, as it tends to be played regularly at trad sessions that cater for tourists.
This is a 19th-century tune that was written by D. K. Gavan. ‘The Rocky Road to Dublin’ tells the tale of the adventures and troubles that the main character (a man travelling to Liverpool from his home in Ireland) encounters on his travels.
7. On Raglan Road
‘On Raglan Road’ is another famous Irish song that’s stood the test of time. It’s based on a poem written by the brilliant Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh and is named after Raglan Road in Ballsbridge, Dublin.
It’s said that the poet’s poem was turned into a traditional Irish song when he met Luke Kelly in a pub in Dublin. The poem was set to the music of a song called ‘The Dawning of the Day’ and it’s been a classic ever since.
8. This Is
You can’t bate Aslan’s ‘Made in Dublin’ album – it’s wedged with songs about Ireland and the band’s life in Dublin.
If you’re not familiar with Aslan, they’ve been around since the early 80s and they released six albums over the years. They’ve an endless number of great tunes, but this one tops the bunch.
This one reminds me of Oxegen, an Irish music festival that we used to go to every year from the age of 19.
I saw Mundy playing this in a little tent as rain battered against the ceiling and wind shook the walls. It’s hard not to love this one.
If you’re in search of great Irish songs to exercise to, look no further than ‘Postcards’. This one was written by The Blizzards, a band from Mullingar in Westmeath.
It’s an Irish rock song that was written at a time when members of the band had lost people close to them. It’s said that ‘Postcards’ is about a kid sending postcards from heaven, because he didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to his family.
11. Open Your Eyes
If you’re on the lookout for alternative Irish rock songs to add to your playlist, you’ll find a heap of great ones from Snow Patrol.
One of their best is a song called ‘Open Your Eyes’, from the bands 2006 album titled ‘Eyes Open’. This became one of the most popular Irish songs in America for a while, after it was featured on the shows ER, The 4400 and Grey’s Anatomy.
12. 9 Crimes
Good God I love this one. If you’ve yet to hear ‘9 Crimes’ from Damien Rice then you’re in for an absolute treat. This is one of the greatest (recent) Irish songs from an Irish artist, in my opinion.
It’s slow, the piano dominates and the intro and chorus from Lisa Hannigan will slap your soul. This is another heavyweight from Rice’s album ‘O’ that we mentioned earlier.
13. Sunday Bloody Sunday
‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ was the opening track from U2’s 1983 album titled ‘War’ and it’s one of the most political Irish songs that the band has released to date.
The song describes the horror experienced by a person that observed the Troubles in Northern Ireland, with the main focus being a horrific event that took place in 1972 on a day that we now know as ‘Bloody Sunday’.
On the 30th of January in 1972 in the Bogside area of County Derry, cowardly British soldiers shot 28 unarmed civilians during a protest march.
The final song in this first section is the second one from the Cranberries to appear on this list. ‘Linger’ is an absolute peach of an Irish tune and it became the band’s first big hit.
If you’re anything like me, this one will be floating about in your head for days. It’s one of the more upbeat Irish songs from the band (‘Dreams’ is another) that’s well worth 40 listens.
15. Fisherman’s Blues
I played this damn song three hours ago and it’s been bouncing around inside my head ever since. This is up there as one of the greatest Irish songs ever written.
The Waterboys released an album called Fisherman’s Blues in 1988, featuring a song of the same name. Honestly, this is just a beaut of a song. It appeared in Hollywood blockbuster ‘Good Will Hunting’ and one of the best Irish films out there, ‘Waking Ned’.
Section 2: Mighty Irish Ballads and Irish Folk Songs
If you’re not familiar with Irish ballads and Irish folk songs, they’re hymns and old songs that have been passed down through generations.
You’ll find that many focus on the topics of war, politics, love and friendship. You tend to hear many of the songs below bashed out at traditional Irish music sessions.
16. The Fields of Athenry
‘The Fields of Athenry’ is one of the most famous Irish songs there is. It’s a folk ballad that’s set in Ireland during the Great Famine of the 1840s.
The song tells the fictional tale of a man living around Athenry in Galway, who had to steal food to help feed his starving family. However, he was caught in the process and sentenced to transportation to Australia.
17. Down by the Glenside
‘Down by the Glenside’ is an Irish rebel song that was written by an Irish Republican and composer named Peadar Kearney (there’s a brilliant Irish music pub in Dublin named after him!)
Kearney was a member of the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood), a group that were also known as ‘the Fenians’. Kearney wrote this song about the 1916 Rising as a call to arms, of sorts.
18. The Green Fields of France
The chances are that you may have seen ‘The Green Fields of France’ go viral a couple of years back after it was performed beautifully by Finbar Furey and Christy Dignam on the Late Late Show.
This song was written by a chap called Eric Bogle, who was a Scottish folk singer. Bogie said that he wrote ‘The Green Fields of France’ as a response to the widespread anti-Irish sentiment in Great Britain during the 1970s.
19. The Black Velvet Band
‘The Black Velvet Band’ is one of the most popular traditional Irish songs that I’ve never been able to take to.
The song tells the tale of a young man that was tricked and then unfairly sentenced to transportation to Australia (this was a common sentence during the 19th century).
It’s said that this song dates back to the late 1700s. The most popular version is the one sung by the Dubliners in the video above.
‘Carrickfergus’ is one of those Irish ballads that tends to confuse people a fair bit. It’s called ‘Carrickfergus’ after a town in Antrim, but the majority of the story is set in Kilkenny.
Regardless of the meaning behind it, this is one of the most popular Irish songs ever written. A clatter of musicians have played this over the years.
It was played at the funeral of John F. Kennedy, Jr and if you ever watched the series ‘Boardwalk Empire’, you’ll recognise it from the final episode.
21. Molly Malone
‘Molly Malone’ is one of the most famous Irish songs there is and it tells the story of a fishmonger who sold fish on the streets of Dublin.
It’s said that she sold fish on the streets by day and then operated as a part-time prostitute by night. If you’ve ever been to Dublin, the chances are you’ll have visited the Molly Malone statue.
22. The Rare Old Times
There’s an awful lot of Irish ballads in this guide that have been covered by the Dubliners at one point or another. This next one, ‘The Rare Ould Times’ was composed by Pete St. John for the Dublin City Ramblers in the 1970s.
The song revolves around how Dublin had changed, with the lyrics covering the destruction of Nelson’s Pillar and the creation of new flats and office buildings along the quays.
23. Whiskey in the Jar
The iconic ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ is another of the more famous Irish songs that tends to make the setlist of many music sessions.
Set in the Cork and Kerry mountains, this song tells the story of a highwayman who has been betrayed by his lover. Everyone from Metallica to The Pogues have covered this one.
24. The Auld Triangle
‘The Auld Triangle’ was first performed in 1954 in a play by Brendan Behan called ‘The Quare Fellow’. It was made famous by the Dubliners towards the end of the 1960s.
Behan’s play was a story about life in Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison. The triangle in the song’s title refers to the metal triangle in the prison that was used to wake the inmates each morning.
25. Finnegan’s Wake – The Clancy Brothers
There are few traditional Irish songs as loved as the Irish-American ballad ‘Finnegan’s Wake’. This song was published first in New York way back in 1864.
This Irish ballad tells the story of a man that’s fond of the liquor named Tim Finnegan. In the song, Finnegan falls off of a ladder and breaks his skull.
Believing that he is dead, friends and relatives hold a wake for him. The wake gets rowdy and whiskey is spilled on his body, causing Finnegan to wake up and join the party.
26. Arthur McBride
‘Arthur McBride’ is a well-known Irish folk song about the war that dates back to the 1840s. Specifically, the song is a protest to the ‘war recruiting’ that was taking place at the time.
The song echoes that not all young Irish men were willing to go to war for the British crown. Hit play above to hear Paul Brady’s acoustic version.
27. Come Out, Ye Black and Tans
If you’re not familiar with the Black and Tans, they were British constables recruited into the RIC (Royal Irish Constabulary) during the Irish War of Independence.
The Black and Tans quickly earned a reputation for brutality. Many of them regularly attacked civilians and took part in arson, unlawful evictions and looting.
The Irish rebel song ‘Come Out, Ye Black and Tans’ speaks about the history of Irish nationalism and the less than admirable activities of the British Army.
28. The Foggy Dew
‘The Foggy Dew’ is one of my favourite Irish ballads, particularly the version above from Sinead O’Connor and The Chieftains. Give it a listen – it’ll give you tingles!
If you’re listening to this song and thinking that it sounds oddly familiar, the chances are you’ll have heard Conor McGreggor walking out to it before a UFC fight.
29. The Town I Loved So Well
“The Town I Loved So Well’ was written by Phil Coulter and the song revolves around his childhood spent in County Derry.
The first few verses are about his early life, while the last delves into the Troubles and how his once quiet hometown became a place plagued with violence.
30. Ride On
‘Ride On’ was originally written by an Irish musician named Jimmy MacCarthy. Its popularity increased tenfold when it was covered by Irish folk singer Christy Moore
The song was the title track of Moore’s album of the same name, released in 1984. Tap play on the video above for a bit of acoustic magic.
31. The Rattlin’ Bog
This is another of the many classic Irish songs in this guide that tends to lodge itself in my head for a ridiculous amount of time.
The Rattlin’ Bog is an Irish folk song that has been covered by many different artists in many different languages. The song was written about a bog near or on the grounds of Collon Monastery in County Louth.
32. Seven Drunken Nights
If you’re looking for Irish drinking songs, there’s none more fitting than ‘Seven Drunken Nights’. This is a humerous folk song that’s said to be a variation of a Scottish song.
‘Seven Drunken Nights’ tells the story of a gullable drunk that returns from the pub each night to find evidence of his wife’s affair.
33. The Boys Are Back In Town
‘The Boys Are Back in Town’ is one of the most popular Irish songs from Thin Lizzy. It was first released in 1976 on their ‘Jailbreak’ album.
The song was remixed and re-released in 1991 and contines to get solid airplay on national radio. If you’re in search of upbeat music, this one will make you happy.
Section 3: Popular Irish songs that’ll make you feeeeeel good
The third section of our guide tackles some of the more popular Irish songs that have been released over the last couple of decades.
You’ll find everything from ‘Runaway’ by The Corrs to other upbeat Irish part songs below.
‘Dreams’ – what an absolute peach of a tune. This is another belter from the Cranberries that still gets played heavily on the radio to this day.
This was actually the band’s debut single and was first released in 1992. It was re-released many times over the years, with an acoustic version launched in 2017.
Hermitage Green have released a clatter of top Irish songs over the last 10 years, the best of which, in my opinion, is ‘Quicksand’.
These lads are an Irish acoustic folk/rock band that hail from Limerick. I’ve seen them a handful of times over the years and they’re nothing short of sensational live.
Yes, yes, yes – of course we’re going to include The Corrs (there’s a bad pun in there somewhere). The chances are you’ll have come across ‘Runaway’ at one point or another.
It was released back in 1995 and hasn’t really dated at all, to be fair. This is an upbeat Irish song that’ll have you bopping your head.
If you’re looking for lively Irish music, whack ‘Jigsaw’ from Monaghan musician Ryan Sheridan onto your road trip playlist.
This is a fast song that you’ll find hard not to tap your feet to. ‘Jigsaw’ was Sheridan’s first single and it was released in 2010.
38. Beautiful Day
I’ll be honest – I’m not a huge U2 fan. However, you can’t deny the fact that they’ve produced some of the most popular Irish songs ever made.
If you’re not familiar with U2, they’re an Irish rock band from Dublin, that was formed back in 1976. Some of their other hits include ‘Where the Streets Have no Names’ and ‘One’.
39. N17 – The Saw Doctors
If you’re looking for Irish party songs that’ll get people singing along, get ‘N17’ from the Saw Doctors playing sharpish.
‘N17’ is a song about an Irish emigrant that longs to be back in Ireland, driving along the N17 road that connects counties Galway, Mayo and Sligo.
40. Crazy World
Next up is ‘Crazy World’, another banger from Dublin’s Aslan. This was first released in 1993 and was released on the album ‘Goodbye Charlie Moonhead’.
This song holds a heap of nostalgia for me. In fact, I’m pretty sure that this was on one of the first albums that I ever bought. Hit play above and let the head bop!
41. Just Like That
‘Just Like That’ is an Irish rock song from a Dublin band called ‘The Coronas’. This is my favourite song from these lads, but they’ve plenty more that are well worth listening to.
Give ‘San Diego Song’, ‘Closer to you’ and ‘Find the Water’ a listen the next time you have a minute. If you get a chance to see The Coronas live, do – I’ve seen them several times over the years and they’re brilliant!
42. Galway Girl
If you’re an Ed Sheeran fan, you’ll have probably heard of a song that he released called ‘Galway Girl’. However, back in 2000, the original ‘Galway Girl’ took the charts by storm.
‘Galway Girl’ was written by Steve Earle and was recorded with the brilliant Sharon Shannon. There’s not much more to say about this one – bang the play button and enjoy.
43. Brown Eyed Girl (one of the more popular Irish love songs)
‘Brown Eyed Girl’ is a song by Van Morrison, a musician from Belfast. The song was written and recorded in March 1967 and is widely regarded as the artists signature song (even though he has stated that he has 300 other songs that he thinks are better than it).
The lyrics tell the story of a former love and were considered by many radio stations at the time as ‘too-explicit’. A censored version of ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ had to be released, removing the lyrics ‘making love in the green grass’.
44. Teenage Kicks
I’m going to round off this guide with one of the better known Irish punk rock songs called ‘Teenage Kicks’ by The Undertones, a band from County Derry.
This was the band’s debut single and was written during the summer of 1977. The song was a hit and it landed the band a place on the now iconic ‘Top of the Pops’ show.
YouTube and Spotify playlists packed with great Irish songs
OK, so you’ve had a flick through the songs above – now it’s time for some playlists that you can save and use for the gym, parties or just general listening.
I’ve included both YouTube and Spotify playlists below, in case you prefer using one over the other.
The popular traditional Irish songs playlist
Our first playlist is wedged with the best traditional Irish folks songs. Expect everything from ‘The Foggy Dew’ to ‘Get Out Ye Black And Tans’ in this one.
Some of the best Irish music from the last 30 years
This playlist is full of the best Irish music from the past two decades. Expect everything from old Irish songs to recent releases in this one:
Irish party songs (perfect for St. Patrick’s Day)
The third playlist contains loads of lively Irish music that’s perfect if you’re having a session at home. Expect less traditional and more recent releases in this one:
What classic Irish songs have we missed?
There’s a heap of top Irish songs out there and I’m sure that I’ve (unintentionally) left several of them out in this guide.
So, if you’ve any traditional Irish folks songs that you find yourself playing over and over, or if you’ve some newer Irish party songs that you think we should include, pop your recommendations below!