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Ten Top Famous Irish Bands and Singers, Plus a Dancer

Updated on April 2, 2018
RedElf profile image

RedElf (Elle Fredine), published author, musician, life-long fan of Disney, Pixar, classic cartoons, and great entertainment of any kind

Coming from a musical family, and blessed as the descendant of combined Yeoman English, French Hugenot Protestants, Northumbrian landsmen, and Irish immigrants, I am grateful that my "ear" for music is influenced by all my ancestors.

My grandfather never spoke of his Irish heritage. Proud to be a Canadian, he instilled that pride in all of us, and it was not until long after his death that I began to piece together some of his youthful experiences. My grandfather had no discernible accent, but his speech was larded with "Irish-isms". Anyone he considered foolish was an "eedjit" - a truly silly act could only have been committed by a "greet flamin' eedjit" (great flaming idiot ).

He loved music, and loved to hear his granddaughters sing. We were the "featured performers" at many an Eastern Star fête and family gathering. Some of the songs I learned, and that I still love to this day, are the traditional folk songs and ballads of my Irish forebears.

The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem

These are names to conjure by in the world of traditional folk music. Their first project with Columbia Records featured Pete Seeger as backup banjo player for the live album A Spontaneous Performance Recording. Including songs that would soon become classics in any modern folk-singer's repertoire, "Brennan on the Moor ," "Jug of Punch ," "Reilly's Daughter ," "Finnegan's Wake ," "Haul Away Joe ," "Roddy McCorley ," "Portlairge ," and "Moonshiner ", the album was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1961.

I begin with this particular offering because of it's sentimental significance. One of my sisters and I were engaged by the CBC radio for a summer replacement series that aired once a week on the CBC Northern Network and was broadcast on CBC Armed Forces Radio to our troops in Metz, France, and Wiesbaden, Germany.

Like The Clancy Brother and Tommy Makem at the beginning of their careers, we, too, started with no name - we just sang. The producer of our radio show knew our repertoire, and our lives as Armed Forces "gypsies", and in a stroke of marketing genius declared that our name would be "The Singing Gypsies" and this, our signature piece, would be our theme...

Tommy Makem and The Clancy Brothers

The Chieftains

"The Rocky Road to Dublin " is an Irish "standard", performed with great verve and elan by a group that gained world renown as performers of traditional Irish music. The Chieftains were instrumental in the rebirth of Irish folk music, centering it firmly and deservedly on the international stage.

Winners of six Grammy Awards, The Chieftains have been nominated eighteen times. They have also won an Emmy and a Genie and contributed to Leonard Rosenman's Oscar-winning score for Stanley Kubrick's 1975 film Barry Lyndon . In 2002 they were given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the BBC Radio 2. Two of their singles, "Have I Told You Lately", with Van Morrison, and "I Know My Love ", featuring The Corrs, made the Top 100 Popular Songs lists in the years they were released..

The Dubliners

"Whiskey in the Jar " is is one of the first Irish folk songs I learned. If you search the title on line, you will find almost as many groups and individuals have covered this partiers anthem as have recorded their own versions of "Molly Malone " or "The Black Velvet Band ".

At a time of a renewed interest in all traditional folk forms, it was de rigeur for any singer, duo, or group to have at least a dozen or so traditional songs and ballads in their repertoire. This song remains, in the hands of these masters, a worthy story ballad.

The Pogues

The Pogues are of mixed Irish and English background, and play traditional Irish music with influences from punk rock and jazz. The band was formed in 1982, with Shane MacGowan as their lead singer, reaching international recognition in the 1980s and early 1990s. Founded in King's Cross, a district of North London, in 1982 as Pogue Mahone, their name was an Anglicisation of the Irish phrase póg mo thóin , meaning "kiss me arse".

Their politically-laced, in your-face-style was influenced by The Clash, but The Pogues used traditional Irish instruments, including the tin whistle, banjo, cittern, mandolin, and accordion, later incorporating rock instruments such as the electric guitar.


Clannad is the name of an Irish musical group, from Gaoth Dobhair, County Donegal, Ireland. Their music has been described as folk or folk rock, Irish, Celtic, and New Age, depending on the selection being categorized. In fact, their music and style defy such narrow categorization.

Clannad is built around brother and sister Moya Brennan (born Máire Ní Bhraonáin) and Ciarán Brennan (born Ciarán Ó Braonáin), and their twin uncles Noel Duggan (born Noel Ó Dúgáin) and Pádraig Duggan (born Pádraig Ó Dúgáin). Another sister and brother, Enya (born Eithne Ní Bhraonáin) and Pól Brennan (born Pól Ó Braonáin), left the group in 1981 and 1990 to pursue solo careers.

"The Hunter " was composed by Clannad for a television series "Robin of Sherwood " that aired in the 1980s, featuring actor Micheal Praed as Robin Hood, The Hooded Man .

Clannad - The Hunter

The Irish Descendants

This charming ditty is the spiritual forebear of such well-known folk songs as "There's a Hole in the Bottom of The Sea", and "I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly". Performed with manic precision by this modern folk group, it captures the spirit of fun so closely associated with the happy-go-lucky side of the "Irish personality".


From the giddy to the sublime - Enya, formerly of the ground-breaking Irish group Clannad, is, without a doubt, one of the most gifted musicians to ever come along. Her amazing vocals, interwoven with an eclectic yet carefully chosen assortment of instruments perfectly compliment her many and varied themes.

Watermark is one of my personal favorites, although it seems every new album by this Irish musical wizard quickly becomes a new favorite.

Sinead O'Connor

This star's controversial choices both as a performer and in her private life cannot overshadow her amazing gifts.

From the first album that gained her international attention in 1987, The Lion and the Cobra, to her 2007 release, Theology, her music has brought joy to millions of listeners the world over.

Her renditions of traditional Celtic airs could "bring tears to the eyes of the very Saints and Angels".

This is one of my favorite versions of the great Irish lament, "Mna na h Eireann" ("Women of Ireland").


This iconic Irish band has released 12 studio albums and are among the most critically and commercially successful groups in popular music, with 22 Grammy Awards, and sales of more than 145 million records. In 2005, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility. Rolling Stone magazine places U2 at #22 in its list of the 100 All-Time Greatest Artists.

Throughout their career, the members of U2, collectively and individually, have campaigned tirelessly for human rights and philanthropic causes, including Amnesty International, the ONE Campaign, Product Red, and Bono's DATA campaign.

Michael Flately

To describe Michael Flately, Irish-American creator/choreographer of "Riverdance ", "Lord of the Dance" , "Feet of Flames" , and "Celtic Tiger ", as simply an Irish step dancer, is to dismiss Michelangelo's "David " a pretty statue.

According to Wikipedia:

Flatley received the National Endowment for the Arts' National Heritage Fellowship in 1988 and was named one of National Geographic Society's Living Treasures in 1991 for mastery of a traditional art form by a living person - the youngest person at that time ever to receive this accolade.

In May 1989, Flatley set a Guinness Book world record for tapping speed at 29 taps per second; when this record was broken, he set another record in February 1998, by achieving 35 taps per second.

In December 2001, Flatley became the first recipient of the Irish Dancing Commission Fellowship award, an honorary degree in Irish dance, and was made a Fellow of the American Irish Dance Teachers’ Association. Irish America Magazine named Flatley Irish American of the Year in March 2003.

On the 3rd June 2007 The Freedom of the City of Cork was conferred on the entertainer at a ceremony in Cork's City Hall and in 2008, with The Freedom of the Borough of Sligo at a ceremony in Sligo City Hall.

After such a grand finale, one would expect anything else to be completely anti-climactic. But how could I leave you without a proper Irish fare-thee-well? I suppose that means I should have gone back and deleted one of these talented folk (horrors! ), or at least have changed the title of the hub to "Eleven Famous Irish Performers", but ten is such a lovely round number, don't ya think, then?

And who better to sing this lovely, traditional Irish farewell than The High Kings ...

The Parting Glass

Of all the money that ere I had, I spent it in good company.
And of all the harm that ere I've done, alas was done to none but me.
And all I've done for want of wit, to memory now I cannot recall.
So fill me to the parting glass. Goodnight and joy be with you all.

Of all the comrades that ere I had, they're sorry for my going away,
And of all the sweethearts that ere I had , they wish me one more day to stay,
But since it falls unto my lot that I should rise while you should not,
I will gently rise and I'll softly call, "Goodnight and joy be with you all!"

Oh, if I had money enough to spend and leisure time to sit awhile
There is a fair maid in this town that sorely has my heart beguiled
Her rosey cheeks and ruby lips, she alone has my heart in thrall.
So fill me to the parting glass. Goodnight and joy be with you all.

An Irish blessing

Bonus track suggested by Two Pints

© 2010 RedElf


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    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago from Canada

      Thanks so much - and sorry to be so long responding to your comment. I will definitely check out your picks!

    • EndaMac profile image

      Enda McLarnon 

      7 years ago from Belfast

      Well as an Irish man myself you have compiled a great list here. There are a couple I would add to it Christy Moore and Mary Black who are in my opinion fantastic singers. A new lady has arrived on the scene and she is worth checking out as well. Her name is Cara Dillon

    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Canada

      You are most welcome, SpoB - thanks so much for stopping by to comment!

    • SpoB profile image


      9 years ago from LA

      Great material! thanks a lot!

    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Canada

      Hey thanks, Two Pints - those fellers are great! I have added that video to the hub!

    • TwoPints profile image


      9 years ago

      Some great artists you have mentioned here. Came across these guys in the New York Times recently. Apparently the next big act to come out of Ireland.

    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Canada

      Greetings, TBM! Thanks so much - that is high praise indeed, coming from a Dubliner!

    • The Best Man profile image

      The Best Man 

      10 years ago

      Hi RedElf, that is a lovely hub which showcases famous Irish artists of various eras and styles. As a Dubliner, I enjoyed it and will sign up to follow you.

    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Canada

      Hey there, Bill! Thanks so much - I'm still chuckling over this one! Everybody's got a bit of the "Irish" when it comes to music.

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 

      10 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Being of Irish descent, RedElf, I should be more familiar with this great music. Thanks for the primer. I always thought that great Irish music was Bing Crosby's version of "Who Put the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder."

    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Canada

      Thanks, Mekenzie! I love every one of these tunes, and Riverdance is an all-time fav. I first heard "The Parting Glass" many years ago, and was so pleased to find a recording of it. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • Mekenzie profile image

      Susan Ream 

      10 years ago from Michigan

      As a fellow lover of music .. this HUB gave me chills. I loved listening to the good ole' Irish music. I love all kinds and variations of music.. I've seen the riverdancers perform .. indescribable delight. The last video you posted by the high kings was thrilling! Loved it! Thanks Red Elf ... Superb hub

    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Canada

      Greetings, Sandyspider. Nice to meet you. It is great fun, and little kids love it, too ;)

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 

      10 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      Looks like fun.

    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Canada

      You are most welcome, my friend. They are some old friends of mine ;)

    • Paradise7 profile image


      10 years ago from Upstate New York

      Terrific, REd Elf! Thank you so much for including "The Parting Glass". I saw the lyrics as part of an introduction to a book but never heard the music that went with it.

      Oh, you made some terrific picks for the music. Thank you so much again.

    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Canada

      And the top o' the mornin' ta ye too!

    • ThePartyAnimal profile image


      10 years ago

      Great Hub - Happy S. Patty's Day to Ya!!!

    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Canada

      Hh, welcome! So glad you enjoyed the music.

      Greetings, shirleybill, This one was definitely a labor of love ;)

      Thanks so much, Enelle - always a pleasure when you drop by. Brings back memories, that song! :D

    • Enelle Lamb profile image

      Enelle Lamb 

      10 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      What an amazing hub! The music was an absolute delight :D

      "The whislin gypsy came over the hill..." :D very proud moment...

    • shirleybill profile image


      10 years ago from Texas

      Wow, thanks. This is sure well worth reading and watching. Enra is one of my favorites also.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      10 years ago from London, UK

      That was a loely read about good Irish music and performaers. Thank you.

    • RedElf profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Canada

      Most welcome, Mystique. Thanks so much for the very cool link! I shall indeed take a look. I will see about maybe putting up an audio of us sometime - thanks!

    • Mystique1957 profile image


      10 years ago from Caracas-Venezuela


      This was a sure lesson in Irish music and a bit of a background of your own. Quite interesting to know. I like U2 very much but Enya is one of my favorite singers ever. The song you like "Orinoco flow" I love it. Especially because it honors my country`s longest river: The Orinoco River. Check this out:

      Thanks for sharing! Won´t you show a video of you singing?

      Thumbs up!

      warmest regards and blessings,



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