There are heaps of Irish rebel songs out there. Some are well known (like ‘Come Out, Ye Black and Tans) while many others fly a little under the radar.
It was when we published a guide to 45 of the best Irish songs ever written that I came across a handful of Irish rebel songs that I’d never heard of.
In the guide below, we’re going to explore the best Irish rebel music, with a clatter of songs that are as playable today as they were many years ago.
What’s Irish rebel music all about? Irish rebel songs are folk songs where the lyrics describe factual events of the various rebellions against British rule in Ireland.
20 of the best Irish rebel songs
- Go On Home British Soldiers
- The Boys of the Old Brigade
- Down by the Glenside
- Arthur McBride
- Come Out, Ye Black and Tans
- The Boys of Kilmichael
- The Foggy Dew
- The Men Behind the Wire
- Óró Sé Do Bheatha Bhaile
- Seán South of Garryowen
- A Nation Once Again
- Back Home in Derry
- Belfast Brigade
- Kelly the Boy From Killane
- The Rising of the Moon
- The Valley of Knockanure
- The Croppy Boy
- God Save Ireland
- Four Green Fields
1. Go On Home British Soldiers
‘Go on Home British Soldiers’ is arguably one of the best known Irish rebellion songs. It was written by a chap named Tommy Skelly and was recorded by the Wolf Tones along with several others.
There’s no real mystery behind the meaning of this one. The song opens with the verse ‘Go on home British Soldiers Go on home Have you got no f*****g homes of your own For 800 years we’ve fought you without fear And we will fight you for 800 more.’
This is one of the more iconic Irish rebel songs and you tend to hear it sang at some traditional Irish sessions. If you ever attend a Wolf Tones gig, expect to hear this one banged out loud.
2. Grace (one of the most iconic Irish war songs)
Grace is one of the most beautiful Irish songs ever written. It was written in 1985 about a woman by the name of Grace Evelyn Gifford Plunkett.
‘Grace’ was a talented Irish artist and an active Irish Republican. Her tale is a tragic one. In 1916, she married her fiancé Joseph Plunkett (a leader of the 1916 Rising) in Kilmainham Gaol.
A couple of hours later he was executed. This is one of the most iconic pieces of Irish rebel music ever made, and the rendition above will knock you sideways.
3. The Boys of the Old Brigade
‘The Boys of the Old Brigade’ was written by Paddy McGuigan and its lyrics focus on the Irish Republican Army and the Irish War of Independence.
The song tells the story of a veteran of the Easter Rising as he tells a young man about the men and women that he fought alongside during the fight against the British.
Irish rebellion songs like ‘The Boys of the Old Brigade’ were common in the years that followed the Rising. They offer an insight into life before, during and after 1916.
4. Down by the Glenside
‘Down by the Glenside’ was one of a number of Irish rebellion songs written by Irish Republican and composer Peadar Kearney.
Kearney was an active member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and this song attempts to recall memories of Ireland’s freedom-fighters from generations past.
5. Arthur McBride
‘Arthur McBride’ is another of the many Irish revolution songs that speaks about the war. The song is a protest to the recruiting of Irish soldiers to fight for the British.
At the time, many young Irish men were drafted to go to war to fight for the British. This song explains that not all of those being recruited wanted to fight for the crown.
6. Come Out, Ye Black and Tans (one of the more famous Irish rebel songs)
‘Come Out, Ye Black and Tans’ tops many ‘Best Irish rebel songs of all time’ lists. The lyrics speak about the less than admirable activities of the British Army in Ireland.
If you’ve never heard of the Black and Tans, they were British constables that were recruited into the Royal Irish Constabulary during Ireland’s War of Independence.
They quickly earned a reputation for police brutality. The Black and Tans were known to regularly attack civilians.
This song is by The Wolfe Tones – these lads are arguably the most prolific of Ireland’s Irish rebel bands – and it tends to be one of the most popular Irish drinking songs out there.
7. The Boys of Kilmichael
If you’re in search of songs about the IRA, look no further than ‘The Boys of Kilmichael’. The lyrics of this song recall an ambush that took place one week after Bloody Sunday.
The incident occurred near the village of Kilmichael in Cork in 1920. The lyrics depict what happened when 36 IRA volunteers took on British Auxiliaries shortly after they left the village of Macroom.
8. The Foggy Dew
Irish rebel music doesn’t come much finer than ‘The Foggy Dew’. The version above from Sinead O’Connor and The Chieftains (one of the best Irish bands, in my opinion!) is nothing short of mighty.
This song chronicles the 1916 Easter Rising, and at the time it aimed to encourage Irishmen to fight for the Irish cause, rather than for the British Empire (something many young Irish men did during the First World War).
9. The Men Behind the Wire
This is one of the better known of the many Irish protest songs out there. It was composed by Paddy McGuigan and it was released in 1971.
The lyrics of ‘The Men Behind The Wire’ describe the raids that were made by British soldiers in Ireland. The song also mentions those that were imprisoned without charge at Long Kesh prison camp and Magilligan prison camp.
10. Óró Sé Do Bheatha Bhaile
This is one of the more gentle Irish rebel songs that has a knack of making the hair of the back of your neck stand tall.
Now, when this song was first written it wasn’t classed as Irish rebel music. However, new verses were introduced to the lyrics in the early 20th century and it’s said that it was sung at fast marches during Ireland’s War of Independence.
11. Seán South of Garryowen
This is one of the lesser-known Irish fighting songs to be released. The lyrics of this song tell the story of a member of the IRA who was wounded during an attack in Fermanagh.
The song focuses on an event that took place New Year’s Day in 1957 where 14 IRA volunteers launched an attack on a barracks in County Fermanagh. Sean was one of those that was fatally injured.
12. A Nation Once Again
‘A Nation Once Again’ is one of the oldest Irish war songs in this guide. It’s thought that it was written during the mid-1800s by a chap named Thomas Osborne Davis.
Davis was a founder of an Irish movement called ‘Young Ireland’. The group wished to help Ireland reach independence from Britain. The lyrics are written in a narrative where the lead character dreams of a time when Ireland will be free.
13. Back Home in Derry
‘Back Home in Derry’ was written by Bobby Sands, one of the hunger strikers, while he was imprisoned in HM Maze (a prison in Northern Ireland used to house paramilitary prisoners during the Troubles).
The lyrics tell the story of the voyage of many Irish rebels that were convicted to exile in Australia after the Irish Rebellion of 1803.
14. Belfast Brigade
‘The Belfast Brigade’ is a particularly old Irish folk song that was written about the Belfast Brigade in the IRA during the Irish War of Independence.
The song makes reference to James Craig, the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, who is accused of sending the Ulster Special Constabulary to shoot people down.
If you hit play above, you’ll also hear mention of Seaforde Street. This was an area in east Belfast where the conflict between the British forces, loyalist gunmen and the IRA often took place.
15. Kelly the Boy From Killane
A man named John Kelly, a United Irish leader that fought in the 1798 Rebellion, lived in the town of Killane in County Wexford in the late 1700s.
He’s mentioned in several Irish rebel songs, but ‘Kelly the boy from Killanne’ is dedicated to the man himself. The last verse of the song speaks about his involvement in the Wexford Rebellion:
‘But the gold sun of freedom grew darkened at Ross And it set by the Slaney’s red waves And poor Wexford stripped naked, hung high on a cross With her heart pierced by traitors and knaves Glory-o, glory-o to her brave sons who died For the cause of long down-trodden man Glory-o to Mount Leinster’s own darling and pride Dauntless Kelly the boy from Killane.’
16. The Rising of the Moon
‘The Rising of the Moon’ is another popular Irish rebel song that tells the story of a battle that took place between the United Irishmen and the British Army during the Irish Rebellion of 1798.
The balled is believed to have been written by JK Casey during the mid-1800s and contains a calling in the last verse for those listening to take action.
17. The Valley of Knockanure
‘The Valley of Knockanure’ is a ballad that tells the story of an incident that occurred during the Irish War of Independence. On the 12th of May, 1921, a group of Black and Tans were moving from Kerry to Athea when they unlawfully arrested four young men.
The troops, who were intoxicated, executed the unarmed men. After the first man was killed, another in the group, Cornelius Dee, ran. As he made a run for it he was shot in the leg.
Although injured, he managed to escape. The other two men were shot on the spot. A memorial to the three who were killed is present to this day.
18. The Croppy Boy
‘The Croppy Boy’ is another great bit of Irish rebel music. It’s a ballad that’s set in 1798 that speaks of a doomed young Irish rebel.
The lyrics tell the story of a man who stops at a church on his way to battle. When he enters the Church, he notices a cloaked figure. It turns out the figure is a British soldier who sought protection from rebels in the Church.
The rebel completes his confession and the soldier arrests him and takes him to prison to be executed.
19. God Save Ireland
‘God Save Ireland’ is an Irish rebel song that celebrates the lives of the Manchester Martyrs, three men that were executed in 1867.
The Manchester Martyrs were part of a group of men that ambushed a carriage transporting two Republican prisoners to a prison in Manchester. As they tried to shoot the lock off, a police guard was killed.
Five men were tried and sentenced to death. They were said to have responded to the sentence with ‘God Save Ireland’.
20. Four Green Fields
‘The Four Green Fields’ is a song about Ireland’s four provinces – one of which (Ulster) is partly occupied by the British.
The song personifies Ireland as a woman and the 4 provinces as her sons. The topic of the song revolves how, despite Ireland’s best efforts, Britain still retains hold of part of Ulster.
If you’ve had enough of the rebel music and fancy something a little smoother, hop into our guide to the most popular Irish love songs.
Irish rebel songs Spotify playlist
It’s packed with the best Irish rebel sounds from the list above that you can play away until your heart’s content.
What Irish war songs and music have we missed?
Have you a couple of Irish freedom songs that you listen to regularly that we’ve left out? Or do you know of some more recent Irish fighting songs that should be included?
If you do, pop a comment into the comments section below and we’ll have a listen. Cheers.
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