Irish music is one of the few indigenous music styles to have attained both international popularity and commercial success. Though traditional music styles do not often translate well when played for audiences outside of their native country, Irish folk ballads, drinking songs, and rock music have all connected with listeners around the globe. This is particularly true for American audiences with a hankering for a sense of the ‘old country’. Below you’ll find Panrimo’s picks for the Top 7 Most Beloved Irish Songs.
7) I’ll Tell Me Ma
Though the video above is a performance by the all-male troupe Na Fianna, I’ll Tell Me Ma is a song traditionally sung by young girls. A well-known children’s song bemoaning the hijinks that result from adolescent flirtations, it is lively, fun, and easy to dance to. In fact, it used to be associated with a game! Similar to ‘Ring around the Rosie’, a group would hold hands to form a circle around a boy (or girl) in the middle. At the appropriate moment, the center child would call out the initials of their crush, who would then join them in the middle. Ah, young love.
6) Siúl A Rún
Siúl A Rún (Walk, My Love) is a lament for lost love was written during a particularly war-torn period of Ireland’s history, though no one is quite sure which. Best guesses place it sometime around the Glorious Revolution, when English occupying forces gave young Irishmen the difficult choice of joining the British army or going into exile. With both Irish and English language verses, the lyrics tell the tale of a woman heartbroken at the loss of her black-haired, blue-eyed love who has chosen the latter option and fled to France.
This Irish folk song pines for the old town of Carrickfergus, which is located in Northern Ireland and still more than happy to welcome tourists in search of happy times and nostalgia. As with many traditional songs, the origins are murky, but many people attribute the lyrics to a 18th century poet with the intimidating name Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna. (Say that five times fast!) Though the song has never truly fallen from popularity, it has seen an increase in awareness thanks to being chosen as the closing credits of Boardwalk Empire.
4) Finnegan’s Wake
One of those great songs that tells a story complete with vice, death, parties, and surprising resurrections, Finnegan’s Wake literally has it all. The hero, Finnegan, is a drunk of the highest order who manages to fracture his skull not long after the first chorus. His friends, sorrowful though they be, cannot resist throwing him one last party which ultimately results in bringing good ol’ Finnegan back from the dead. (Never underestimate the power of whiskey) It doesn’t get much more Irish than this.
3) Molly Malone
Sinead O’Connor’s version is a bit down-tempo, whereas other groups have performed it as a bawdy drinking song, but that is the magic of Molly Malone which has stood the test of time simply by being so darn catchy. The song tells the story of a young fishmonger who spends her days selling cockles and mussels until she suddenly and tragically dies of a fever. (She comes back as a ghost to haunt her old marketplace though, so…yay?) It has been unofficially declared the anthem of Dublin, which also erected a rather buxom statue in Molly’s honor and observes ‘Molly Malone Day’ every June 13th.
2) Whiskey in the Jar
Metallica’s cover of this classic Irish song won them a Grammy in 2000, which just goes to show you can never discount the power of a good highwayman story. Some historians believe that the lyrics pay homage to the exploits of Patrick Fleming, an Irish rogue executed in 1650 for his crimes. Over the centuries, the song has appealed to various groups of rebels, including the American Revolutionaries who used it to taunt British officials. Good anthems never die.
1) Danny Boy
Considering Danny Boy is one of the most popular Irish tunes in history it is slightly ironic that the poignant lyrics were written by an Englishman. Set to the purely Irish music formerly known as “Londonderry Air”, Frederic Weatherly’s words paint the heartbreaking picture of someone bidding farewell to Danny, who they will not live to meet again. Often used at funerals in the USA, this beautiful song perfectly captures the sorrow many feel when faced with goodbyes.