37 Best Irish Songs Ever, Perfect For St. Patrick’s Day

What sets the best Irish songs apart from other pieces? It’s hard to pinpoint magical formula that sets some head and shoulders above others. But what stands out is that they are inherently love letters.

Sometimes that’s to a nation, other times to a people. Still other times it’s for a bygone era. Here are some of the best Irish songs to get you singing and celebrating on St. Patrick’s Day; or any other day for that matter.

Contents

1. “Irish Rover” by Seamus Kennedy

Song Year: 2008

“Irish Rover” is seen by many as one of the best Irish songs ever. It’s a spirited romp designed to get your blood pumping.

That’s appropriate because there are several dances set to this tune. The only drawback is that the most notorious one requires the dancer to know not Irish but Scottish Country Dance.

2. “Danny Boy” by Elvis Presley

Song Year: 1976

Elvis Presley might not be Irish, but it’s hard to get more overtly Irish than “Danny Boy.” It’s the quintessential Irish folk song. Plaintive and poignant, it has been featured prominently at several famous funerals, among them those of:

  • Princess Diana
  • John F. Kennedy
  •  Elvis Presley

3. “Zombie” by The Cranberries

Song Year: 1994

It’s difficult to discuss the best Irish songs ever without discussing their turbulent history. The Cranberry’s song “Zombie” is an excellent example.

Lead singer Dolores O’Riordan wrote the song to commemorate the deaths of two young people during the 1993 IRA Warrington bombing.

It became the catalyst for much of the band’s musical protesting against terrorism and one of Ireland’s unofficial anthems.

4. “Molly Malone” by The Dubliners

Song Year: 2003

Another of the best Irish songs ever is “Molly Malone.” Sometimes better known as “Cockles and Mussels,” it speaks to the country’s long tradition of fishing. It’s less rowdy than some Irish songs but is still a song to be sung with vim.

5. “Snowy-Breasted Pearl” by Wolfe Tones

Song Year: 2008

Like many folk songs, the lyrics of “Snowy-Breasted Pearl” can vary depending on the Irish singer. But the lyrics used by Wolfe Tones are the most recognizable.

As songs for St. Patrick’s Day go, this one is surprisingly perfect. It’s romantic, sentimental, and lyrical in true Irish tradition.

6. “Kerry Dancing” by New College, Oxford

Song Year: 1997

“Kerry Dancing” is another of the best Irish songs. It’s less melancholy than “Danny Boy” and less raucous than other folk songs on this list.

It’s tinged with nostalgia for a better and vanished time. It’s a theme that circles many Irish songs but seldom so movingly.

7. “Whisky in the Jar” by The Seekers

Song Year: 1965

If it’s true you can’t talk about the best Irish songs without getting into politics, it's equally true that you are hard-pressed not to mention whisky.

Many of the best St. Patrick’s Day songs feature whisky, and “Whisky in the Jar” is the best-known of these. The Seekers sing this version, but other notable versions include those performed by:

  • Metallica
  • Thin Lizzy

8. “Rocky Road to Dublin” by The High Kings

Song Year: 2008

“The Rocky Road to Dublin” is another song fit for St. Patrick’s Day. It tells the story of a man who treks from Liverpool back to Dublin. Along the way, he has several misadventures, including a fraught encounter with some pigs.

The song is fast-paced and ribald in keeping with the spirit of this Irish holiday.

9. “Song for Ireland” by Luke Kelly

Song Year: 1986

Ireland isn’t just known for its fraught history and excellent whisky. It’s also a breathtakingly beautiful country. “Song for Ireland,” written and performed by Luke Kelly, is a tribute to that beauty.

It’s an atypically hopeful Irish anthem, making it one of the best Irish songs for commemorating the country’s patron saint.

10. “Foggy Dew” by Derek Warfield and The Young Wolfe Tones

Song Year: 2016

This song is another of the best Irish songs to combine an excellent melody with history.

The song remembers the Easter Rising of 1916. Although Ireland had internal disagreements about the necessity of the rebellion, they all agreed that the British decision to execute the rebels was an overreaction.

“Foggy Dew” reflects on that complicated history and a rare moment of unity for a nation too often divided.

11. “Fields of Athenry” by Paddy Reilly

Song Year: 1991

“Fields of Athenry” is another of the best Irish songs rooted in history. It tells the story of a man who steals corn for his family at the height of the Potato Famine.  It goes predictably badly, and the song is haunting and melancholy as a result.

12. “The Blower’s Daughter” by Damien Rice

Song Year: 2010

Damien Rice’s piece “The Blower’s Daughter” is both one of the best Irish songs and one of the most mysterious.

Because Rice didn’t do much to publicize his early albums, people knew little about the music. And what little they knew intrigued them. The result was lots of speculation about the subject of “The Blower’s Daughter.”

The prevailing theory was that she was the daughter of Rice’s clarinet teacher. Supposedly he fancied her and wrote her into the song.

That might cause you to think the “blower” of the title was a clarinet. After all, they’re wind instruments. Rather, it refers to an old-fashioned word for the telephone. Given the way this song got people talking, it proved accidentally apt.

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