Best Irish folk songs

March 24, 2016

The Best 40 Favourite Irish

Our pick of the top ten Irish songs to get your party started.Our pick of the top ten Irish songs to get your party started. Photo by: Tourism Ireland

Now you've no excuse not to join in the celebrations! Here's a low down of the names, background and we've even provided you with lyrics!

“The Irish Rover”

A traditional Irish song about a magnificent, though improbable, sailing ship that reaches an unfortunate end. One that is only sung after many a beer is consumed and Irish people get nostalgic. Some may end up in tears.

Sing along now:

“On the fourth of July eighteen hundred and six,
We set sail from the sweet cove of Cork,
We were sailing away with a cargo of bricks,
For the grand city hall in New York,
'Twas a wonderful craft, she was rigged fore-and-aft,
And oh, how the wild winds drove her.
She'd got several blasts, she'd 27 masts,
And we called her the Irish Rover…”

"A Nation Once Again"

The song is a prime example of the "Irish rebel music" sub-genre (though it does not celebrate fallen Irish freedom fighters by name, or cast aspersions on the British government as so many rebel songs do).

“When boyhood's fire was in my blood,
I read of ancient freemen,
For Greece and Rome who bravely stood,
Three hundred men and three men;
And then I prayed I yet might see,
Our fetters rent in twain,
And Ireland, long a province, be?A Nation once again…!”

“The Boys of the Old Brigade”

An Irish Republican folk song about the Irish Republican Army in the Irish War of Independence. The title is borrowed from the older (but different) military song, a slow march that is always played at the annual Festival of Remembrance when the Chelsea Pensioners file in. ("Then steadily shoulder to shoulder, steadily blade by blade, marching along, hearty and strong, like the boys of the old brigade").

“Oh, father why are you so sad
On this bright Easter morn’
When Irish men are proud and glad
Of the land where they were born?
Oh, son, I see in mem’ry's view
A far off distant day
When being just a lad like you
I joined the IRA….”

“Arthur McBride”

In this song, the narrator and his cousin Arthur McBride, both Irish, were taking a walk when they were approached by three British military recruiters, a recruiting sergeant, a corporal and a drummer. The recruiters attempt to induce the narrator and Arthur McBride into military service, extolling the virtues of serving the King of England, having money to spend, and wearing nice clothes.

“I had a first cousin called Arthur McBride,
He and I went a walkin' down by the seaside;
In search of good fortune and what might betide,
It was just as the day was a'dawnin.’”

"Come Out Ye Black and Tans"

An Irish rebel song referring to the Black and Tans, the British paramilitary police auxiliary force in Ireland during the 1920s. The song was written by Dominic Behan as a tribute to his father Stephen; authorship of the song is often attributed to Stephen. The melody was adapted from an old air used for the Loyalist song "Boyne Water" as well as several other songs in English and Irish.

“Oh, come out you black and tans,
Come out and fight me like a man,
Show your wife how you won medals down in Flanders,
Tell her how the IRA made you run like hell away,
From the green and lovely lanes in Killeshandra…."

“Some Say the Devil is Dead”

A satirical song about the British Army written by Derek Warfield. He is an Irish singer, songwriter, historian, and a founding member of the musical group the Wolfe Tones.

“Some say the devil is dead, the devil is dead, the devil is dead,
Some say the devil is dead and buried in Killarney.
More say he rose again, more say he rose again, more say he rose again,
And joined the British Army….”

"Molly Malone"

The Molly Malone statue on Grafton Street was unveiled by then Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alderman Ben Briscoe, during the 1988 Dublin Millennium celebrations, declaring June 13 as Molly Malone Day.

The song tells the tale of a beautiful fishmonger who plied her trade on the streets of Dublin, but who died young of a fever. Recently a legend has grown up that there was a historical Molly, who lived in the 17th century. She is typically represented as a hawker by day and part-time prostitute by night.

In contrast she has also been portrayed as one of the few chaste female street-hawkers of her day.

“In Dublin's fair city,
where the girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,
As she wheeled her wheel-barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh…!"

A ballad usually set to the tune of the "Londonderry Air, " it is most closely associated with Irish communities. "Danny Boy" was written by the English lawyer and lyricist Frederick Weatherly in 1910. Although the lyrics were originally written for a different tune, Weatherly modified them to fit "Londonderry Air" in 1913 when his sister-in-law in America sent him a copy.

Ernestine Schumann-Heink made the first recording in 1915. Weatherly gave the song to the vocalist Elsie Griffin, who in turn made it one of the most popular songs in the new century. In 1928, Weatherly suggested that the second verse would provide a fitting requiem for the actress Ellen Terry.

“Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling,
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side,
The summer's gone, and all the roses falling,
'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.

The Rose of Allendale - Irish folk song
The Rose of Allendale - Irish folk song
Dennis Leary - Traditional Irish Folk Song
Dennis Leary - Traditional Irish Folk Song
Danny Boy - Irish folk song (popular Irish songs)
Danny Boy - Irish folk song (popular Irish songs)

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