13 Irish Folk Bands You Must Listen To
These 13 essential Irish folk bands will help you learn new songs for your next ‘sing-song’ or just discover new music to listen to.
There are many different forms of Irish folk bands. Many of them use instruments commonly seen in traditional (trad) Irish music, such as the Bodhrán, Fiddle, Tin Whistle, Uilleann Pipes, Accordion, and Harp. Some of the below include both traditional forms of Irish folk music, as well as those that blend more contemporary styles into the genre.
1. The Dubliners
The Dubliners revolutionized Irish folk music in Ireland and introduced it to people around the world. They were formed in 1962 by the founding members Ronnie Drew, Luke Kelly, Barney McKenna, and Ciarán Bourke.
Over their 50 years of activity, their fast-paced folk sounds, street ballads, and lively instrumentals brought them international success.
Their most popular songs include ‘’Seven Drunken Nights’’ and ‘’The Black Velvet Band’’. They also made some rebel and political songs such as ‘’The Foggy Dew’’. However, most of the band’s focus was on non-politicized folk music.
2. The Chieftains
The Chieftains became an international phenomenon during the 1970s and 1980s due to their original traditional Irish folk sound. They were formed in 1962 by Michael Tubridy, Sean Potts, and Paddy Moloney.
Their distinct use of musical instruments which centered around the uilleann pipes helped them popularise a new style of folk music. Some of their biggest hits include songs like ‘’O’ Sullivan’s March’’, ‘’Friel’s Kitchen’’ and ‘’I Know My Love’’.
Having collaborated with famous artists such as The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, and Madonna over the years, the band has built its fanbase and is still active to date, with their ‘’Irish Goodbye Tour’’ ongoing since 2019.
3. The Pogues
The Pogues are widely praised for bringing punk music influences into traditional Irish folk. The band was formed in 1982 by Shane MacGowan, Jem Finer, and Peter ‘’Spider’’ Stacy.
Their live performances were often exciting and brought them a cult following during the 1980s. They disbanded in 1996 but re-formed from 2001-2014 to play live tours.
Most of The Pogues’ music was political. However, their biggest hit was the Christmas carol ‘’Fairytale of New York’’, a song that became one of the most well-known Irish Christmas songs.
4. The Wolfe Tones
Since their formation in 1963, The Wolfe Tones have remained one of the most political Irish folk bands that are still together to date.
The band was started by Derek Warfield, Brain Warfield, and Tommy Byrne. Their folk music has a mix of traditional and contemporary styles. Some of their most notable songs include ‘’Irish Eyes’’ and ‘’Celtic Symphony.’’
5. The Clancy Brothers
The Clancy Brothers re-popularized folk music during the 1950s and 1960s. The band was formed in 1956 by brothers Tom, Liam, and Patrick. Their first few albums were a collaboration with Tommy Makem.
Their musical style is prominent for bringing a lively twist to the traditional ballad folk singing. Some of their most recognizable songs include ‘’Jug of Punch’’ and ‘’Irish Rover’’.
After various group formations, they finally disbanded in 1998.
6. Christy Moore
Also known as the lead vocalist of Planxty and Moving Hearts, Christy Moore is considered to be a pioneer of contemporary Irish folk music. Throughout his career, he brought in rock and modern influences to traditional songs.
His first solo album, ‘’Paddy on the Road’’ was released in 1969 and was followed by several more successful albums. His music has also continued to be a source of inspiration for other artists like U2 and The Pogues.
For his second album ”Prosperous”, Christy Moore wanted to experiment with traditional music, so he asked his friends Andy Irvine, Dónal Lunny, and Liam O’Flynn to help record the album.
The group led to the formation of Planxty in 1972. Planxty’s music brought modern influences to Celtic music. They also brought in sounds from other backgrounds like Eastern Europe. With unique songs such as ‘’Cliffs of Dooneen’’, the band attracted worldwide attention.
The band broke up in 1975 but reunited a few times until their last performance in 2005.
Lankum was formed in 2000 by Ian Lynch, Daragh Lynch, Radie Peat, and Cormac MacDiarmada. Their music revitalized folk music by mixing in progressive, alternative, and psychedelia styles.
They are known for their lively performances, as well as their captivating musical style, which has brought them worldwide acclaim, with songs such as ‘’The Wild Rover’’ and ‘’The Young People’’ being their most widely-recognized songs.
Formed in 1970 by siblings Ciarán, Pól, Moya Brennan, and their uncles Noel and Pádraig Duggan, Clannad has been influential in promoting Irish music and language across the world.
Their melodies brought Celtic music and pop together, and songs such as ‘’I Will Find You’’ and ‘’Harry’s Game’’ helped the band reach international success, as demonstrated by their eight top ten albums in the United Kingdom.
Horslips added Celtic rock and progressive instrumentation to traditional folk music. They were formed in 1970 with John Fean, Barry Devlin, Charles O’Connor, Eamonn Carr, and Jim Lockhart.
The rock influences in their music resembled Genesis or Jethro Tull, as evident in songs like ‘’Dearg Doom’’ or ‘’Trouble’’.
The band broke up in 1980 but reunited in 2004 to continue recording and touring.
11. The Gloaming
The Gloaming is a joint effort between four prominent Irish musicians and a prominent American composer/pianist.
They are referred to as a supergroup, with members such as fiddle player Martin Hayes, guitarist Dennis Cahill, singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, Hardanger fiddle player Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, and pianist Thomas Bartlett.
Starting from 2011, they have had 3 studio albums and are currently on break since 2020.
Lúnasa is an Irish trad band that has had several changes to its lineup since it first started. Nevertheless, the one thing that hasn’t changed is their music quality.
The band was founded in 1997 and is currently consisted of Seán Smyth on the fiddle and whistles, Kevin Crawford on Flutes and whistles, Trevor Hutchinson on double bass, Cillian Vallely on Uilleann pipesand whistles, Ed Boyd on guitar, Colin Farrell on the fiddle and whistles, and Patrick Doocey on guitar.
Lúnasa has always been open to experimenting with various instruments and sounds, even while maintaining their traditional foundations.
Since its inception in 1995, Flook has maintained a static approach to traditional-style instrumental music. They are known for their fast rhythms, which they sometimes punctuate with percussive beats, and for their exceptionally brilliant compositions and hard-driving brand of traditional music.
The band consists of Brian Finnegan, Sarah Allen, Ed Boyd, and John Joe Kelly.
“Ancora” is the title of Flook’s most recent album, which was released on April 12th, 2019.
Irish folk bands have helped sustain and continue the tradition of Irish folk music throughout the years, with their numbers continuously increasing through time. Many genres have been added to this style of music to enhance it and make it more interesting, and many bands have reformed under new names and lineups to continue making excellent content.
All in all, we can say that Irish folk bands are worth our attention, as their melodies have not lost their sense of originality.
This list of famous Irish folk bands proves once and for all that there is always a reason to listen to Irish folk music. Maybe you were looking for some traditional background noise or trying to find some new recipes; nevertheless, we hope that you found what you were looking for and that this list will help guide you in your journey of discovering these wonderful bands.
Featured Image of the Dubliners by LesMeloures, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons