What is good music from Ireland

8 famous Irish songs - from hit songs to love ballads

First of all, it is almost impossible to make a selection of the most famous Irish songs. Because there are so many of them that it would blow this list. The following selection is therefore incomplete. Because the Irish are a musical people - music and lyrics have played an important role for them for centuries. Ballads, drinking songs and rebel songs are just as much a part of the Green Island as pop and rock songs. Below I present 8 famous Irish songs and the stories behind them.

A small selection of famous Irish songs

Whiskey in the Jar

Whiskey in the Jar is a famous Irish song that countless bands and artists have already put their stamp on: The usual suspects such as The Dubliners and The Pogues have set the robber ballad to music, as have artists as diverse as Thin Lizzy, Bryan Adams, Gary Moore, Pulp or Metallica. And there is even a German version by Klaus and Klaus called Rum Buddel Rum.

The famous Irish song is about a mugger who is up to mischief in the mountains around Cork. One day he steals gold from a certain Captain Farrel. But he is betrayed by his lover. Sometimes her name is Molly, sometimes Jenny. In some variations of the text, the protagonist tries to find his brother in the army. In some versions, the robber seeks revenge or escapes.

In any case, a lot of whiskey is drunk in all the different versions of the text. The mountains in which the robber lives also differ depending on the version. But the Irish song is already a few centuries old: it probably dates from the 17th or 18th century. But that doesn’t detract from the song’s popularity in recent times: In 2000 the band Metallica won a Grammy for their version.

Molly Malone

This Irish song is a melancholy monument to Dublin's past. Because the main character Molly Malone works as a street vendor for fish and mussels - and some say she also sells other things. In any case, she lives a hard and short life that ends with a fever. A fate that many contemporaries suffered - because life on Dublin's streets in the 18th century was tough.

Today the song is Dublin's secret anthem and is part of the repertoire of sports fans in the Irish capital. And Molly Malone's statue is a popular tourist destination. Molly Malone probably didn't exist, but she still fires the imagination of many people so much that they are still tirelessly looking for historical traces of her. You can read the full story behind the song in our article Molly Malone.

Danny Boy

Danny Boy is one of the most internationally known Irish songs. The melody may have come from the 17th century Irish harpist Rory Dall O‘Cahan, who lived in exile in Scotland. The text known today, however, comes from the Englishman Frederick Edward Weatherly. The song was made famous by the opera singer Elsie Griffin during the First World War. The song stands like no other for Ireland's struggle for independence and sovereignty. Check out our Oh Danny Boy article for the full story.

Fields of Athenry

This Irish song stands in a special way for the Irish soul. He is relatively young: the author Pete St. John wrote it in the seventies. Fields of Athenry thematizes the tragic events during the Irish famine using the example of a young couple: They are separated because the young man steals food for his family. He is shipped to Australia and his wife and child remain in Ireland.

The song captures the dramatic past of the Emerald Isle in an emotional way. Despite all the melancholy, it is a popular song at sporting events of all kinds. The Irish showed it most impressively at the European Football Championship in 2012, when they sang for minutes even though their team had long since lost. The German commentators were silent, so that only the singing of the Irish fans could be heard. If you want to know more about the song, check out our Fields of Athenry article.

Finnegan's wake

Finnegan's Wake is about the wake of an Irish man named Tim Finnegan. He had an accident on a construction site because he was too fond of whiskey one morning. At the traditional wake, friends and family gather and first mourn good Tim. But at some point there is whiskey and the grief turns into a feast - which ultimately leads to an argument. On this occasion, the whiskey bottles also fly. One of them lands on Finnegan's deathbed and the alcohol wets his lips. That wakes him up immediately and he is furious about the rude use of good alcohol.

But everyone is happy that he is back. The wake turns into a happy party. So the whiskey that cost Finnegan his life wakes him up again in the end. And wake means not only to watch, but also to wake up. This parable on life also inspired James Joyce for his novel Finnegans Wake. We have also written a separate article for this song. You can find more details under Finnegans Wake.

Raglan Road

Raglan Road is a romantic Irish song from more recent times. The text comes from the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh. Inspired by his past love Hilda Moriarty, he wrote the wistful lines. One evening he met Luke Kelly of the Dubliners at the Bailey Bar in Dublin. The two of them came to speak of the poem. Luke Kelly combined the lyrics with the melody of Dawning of the Day to create a modern classic that was played by many other artists. But Luke Kelly's version still has a very special power. Here you can find out more about the unfortunate love story behind On Raglan Road.

The Auld Triangle

The Auld Triangle is a rough Irish song that tells about life in a prison. It first appeared as the opening song of Brendan Behan's play The Quare Fellow in 1954. Behan himself had been imprisoned in Mountjoy Prison because of his ties to the IRA. So he had first-hand experience - and at first everyone believed he had written the song himself. But the song actually comes from his brother Dominic. The musicality obviously ran in the family, as Brendan Behan's uncle wrote The Soldier Song, today's national anthem of the Emerald Isle. Incidentally, Behan described himself as a drinker with a writing problem. He shares this fact in a way with Shane MacGowan of the Pogues, who interpret the song as follows:

The Wild Rover

The Wild Rover is an absolute classic. The song is the Irish hit song par excellence. Almost every Irish folk band has the famous song in their program. And it is also available in German: under the name “On the North Sea Coast” by Klaus and Klaus. Some claim the famous Irish song is over 400 years old. Its exact age is unclear, but it dates back to at least the 18th century. The text describes the experiences of a prodigal son who knocks all his money for whiskey and beer on the head. But at some point he ruefully promises to return home. The song is, so to speak, the Irish version of the biblical story.

Galway Races

The Galway Races is the name of a well-known horse race that continues to attract countless visitors every year. The accompanying song probably dates from the 19th century. In the text, the spectacle takes place on August 17th. The unknown author describes the lively atmosphere that resembles a large folk festival. In many verses he mainly describes all the different visitors to the race: They come from all corners of Ireland and have the most diverse religions. There are married and unmarried people - as well as musicians and dancers. Despite all these differences, there is great harmony and everyone is excited when the race finally starts. The song stands for the great hospitality of the Irish. Luke Kelly, The Clancy Brothers and The Pogues recorded versions of this song.

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