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The 15 best Irish songs for St. Patrick’s Day

Check out our playlist of the best Irish songs to get you revved up for 2024's St. Patrick's Day celebrations.

Written by
Andrew Frisicano
,
Ro Samarth
,
Matthew Singer
&
Ella Doyle
Contributor
Liv Kelly
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Love St Patrick’s Day? Well, we’ve got news for you. March 17 isn’t just about drinking gallons of Guinness and fighting your way through screaming crowds dressed in green (although, that is a big part). St Patrick’s Day has actually been around since 1631, and there’s a lot about Ireland’s complex history to be learned from it. 

There’s a million and one brilliant songs for Paddy’s Day, from traditional folk song to belters by The Cranberries. Some of them can teach you a lot about the history of St Paddy’s, but all of them will make you want to sing along. And given we’ve lost two icons of Irish music in the last year, with the passing of Shane MacGowan and Sinéad O’Connor, there’s no better time to get into the spirit. We’ve rounded up the 15 very best Irish tunes to get those pipes going, ahead of 2024’s upcoming celebrations. Go grab a Guinness – it’s time to get green, folks.

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Best Irish songs for St. Patrick's Day

“Dirty Old Town” by the Pogues

1. “Dirty Old Town” by the Pogues

Led by the incendiary and perpetually drunk lead singer Shane McGowan, the Pogues are the forefathers of Irish punk music (direct descendants include the Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly). Traditional Irish folk instrumentation, punk balladry and tearful fervor coalesce in a fiery concoction on every song from these Dublin punk legends, best featured on their killer rendition of this Ewan MacColl tune.

“This Is a Rebel Song” by Sinead O'Connor

2. “This Is a Rebel Song” by Sinead O'Connor

Singer Sinead O'Connor is a divisive figure, but regardless of how you feel—love her or hate her—one thing's for sure: She doesn't give a shit. Regardless of one's fame, no one is protected from the incisively political folk-rocker's critical lens. This song serves as evidence of that, with the title chiding U2's apolitical pacifism (see ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ above) and the lyrical plea to a lover veiling a surprisingly levelheaded indictment of English violence waged against the Irish.

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“Zombie” by the Cranberries

3. “Zombie” by the Cranberries

Protest never sounded so sweet. One of the '90s most distinctive pop-rock outfits (Irish or otherwise), the Cranberries ran circles around the globe with intimately ethereal singles like ‘Linger’ and Dreams.’ Augmenting the same breathy vocals from singer Dolores O'Riordian with crushing guitar fuzz, ‘Zombie’ left-turns into more somber political waters than the band's typical love ballads, commemorating the two boys killed in the Warrington IRA bombings.

“Molly Malone” by the Dubliners

4. “Molly Malone” by the Dubliners

Eminent Irish-folk institution the Dubliners and its rousing edition of ‘Molly Malone’ share one thing in common: staying power. The guys just passed their 50th anniversary, and the Irish capital's unofficial anthem—an ode to a young lass who sells cockles and mussels—dates back to the 1800s. Amid hundreds of years worth of recorded covers, this Dubliners track has become the definitive version—impressive!

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“Whiskey in the Jar” by Thin Lizzy
Decca

5. “Whiskey in the Jar” by Thin Lizzy

This traditional folk ditty recounts a gripping story: a bandit ransacks a wealthy Englishman but ends up thwarted by his perfidious girl. Sexual trysts, violence and tons of alcohol? Sounds like an Irish song, indeed. The Thin Lizzy rendition finally does justice to the song's adventurous spirit, chock-full of the balls-to-the-wall bar-rocker vibes the band's known for.

“Drunken Lullabies” by Flogging Molly

6. “Drunken Lullabies” by Flogging Molly

Flogging Molly might base itself out of Los Angeles, but lead singer Dave King secures the band's native Irish credentials by hailing straight from Dublin. Though the crew grew to an arena-sized punk act, the guys actually cut their teeth performing weekly at the famous L.A. digs Molly Malone's. So rest assured that the gritty pub growl in tunes like this drunken anthem come from genuine house-band beginnings playing to hordes of shitfaced bar crawlers.

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“Irish Cousin” by Kirsty MacColl
ZTT Records

7. “Irish Cousin” by Kirsty MacColl

MacColl was born in England, to Scottish parents, but on this outtake from 1993’s ‘Titanic Days’, the punk-edged singer-songwriter wistfully remembers a departed relative with whom she ‘had a row in every bar in Dublin.’ Irish or not, it’ll kick dust in the eye of anyone who’s got someone to miss - and maybe even make them go break a bottle over their grave for old time’s sake. 

“Danny Boy” by Celtic Woman

8. “Danny Boy” by Celtic Woman

Ok, granted, this parent's ode to a war-bound son actually originates with an English songwriter (one Frederic Weatherly). Nonetheless, this Irish song is a classic—the rhyme and meter to ‘Londonderry Air’—and has become unofficial anthem of the diaspora. The angelic a capella ensemble Celtic Woman brings a haunting airiness to the classic with its lush vocal harmonies.

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“Alternative Ulster” by Stiff Little Fingers

9. “Alternative Ulster” by Stiff Little Fingers

This Belfast punk band started out as a rock covers group titled after (surprisingly) a piece of English history—Deep Purple's ‘Highway Star’—but somewhere along the way, the group turned toward punker impulses and a political agenda. Some call the band Ireland's answer to the Clash, and if so, it's nothing short of a biting retort. An incisive protest voice, the band's biggest single calls for revolutionary-minded consciousness: ’The R-U-C dog of repression / Is barking at your feet / Is this the kind of place you want to live?’

“Finnegan's Wake” by Dropkick Murphys

10. “Finnegan's Wake” by Dropkick Murphys

Anyone who's seen The Departed (or the trailer, at the very least) can recognize ‘Shipping Up to Boston’ from Celtic rockers the Dropkick Murphys. But even before achieving mainstream notoriety, the Bostonian punks were a celebrated genre act. This track shoots the traditional Irish ballad into hyperdrive with the band's infectious energy and sloppy, fuck-it-all spirit.

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