As well as some of the greatest writers in the world of literature, Ireland also has its fair share of talented musicians, across many genres and decades. Music in Ireland has completely transformed over the centuries, but the musicians have stayed as talented as ever! In the post-Celtic era people would have enjoyed music at the courts of chieftains, with musicians being quite well paid and well revered among the population. Lowly farmers and labourers would have had to settle for simple singing at local gatherings using primitive instruments. From the late Middle Ages onwards, music became more accessible to everyone. In typical Irish fashion countless witty rhyming songs were composed and became popular throughout the country. Traditional, native instruments such as the harp, tin whistle and bodhran were used, and a unique style of Irish dancing also emerged. When outside influences such as jazz and other popular music of the twentieth century started spreading across mainland Europe, Ireland was slow to open up to it – mostly because of the highly influential Catholic church who were opposed to such things. That has all changed however, and nowadays Ireland produces one hit artist after another with many visitors travelling to visit great Irish Music Festivals such as Electric Picnic and Cork Jazz Festival to name but a few. Here at Claddagh Design we have compiled 10 of the most well known acts to come out of the Emerald Isle in the last few decades.
Probably the most well known act to ever come out of Ireland, Dublin 4-piece U2 have been on the go since they were teenagers in 1976. The band formed in Mount Temple School on Dublin’s Northside, originally with 6 members. They went through two name changes (‘Feedback’ and ‘The Hype’) and lost 2 members before settling on their current name and line-up. Despite having very little musical ability when they formed, within 4 years the band had signed with Island Records, and within ten they were considered the biggest band around, touring all over the world. As of 2014, they have released 13 studio albums, have sold more than 150 million records worldwide, and hold the records for the highest grossing concert tour in history, the highest attended tour in history, and the largest concert stage structure ever.
Essential Songs: One, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Pride (In the Name of Love), With or Without You, New Year’s Day,
2. The Frames
Another Dublin four piece band that has achieved critical acclaim both in Ireland and abroad is The Frames, Founded in 1990 by frontman Glen Hansard, who started his musical career by busking on the streets of Dublin. The band got its name from Hansard’s house, which was always full of old bike frames that people would leave in his garden (he would frequently fix them up for friends and family). Much to his mother’s displeasure, it became known by locals as ‘the frames house’. Although they haven’t achieved the huge commercial success of U2, the band is arguably more acclaimed and influential, in the Irish rock scene in particular. Hansard has also starred in two classic Irish films, The Commitments and Once, the latter of which won him an Oscar for best song (he composed all of the music in the film himself).
Essential Songs: Fitzcarraldo, Falling Slowly, Revelate, Lay Me Down,
3. Van Morrison
One of the most quintessential sing-along tracks that you can’t help tapping your foot and singing along to, Brown Eyed Girl, was first penned and performed by an Irishman. Van Morrison was born on Hynford Street in Bloomfield, Belfast, in 1945, and got his love for music from his father’s extensive record collection. He began playing guitar at the young age of eleven, and soon added piano and saxophone to his repertoire while still in his teens. After touring Ireland as part of a showband, Van joined R&B band ‘Them’ and set off on the road to stardom and a successful solo career. He is still touring and making new music today, although he doesn’t often perform his classic hits as he rejects the idea of being seen as a ‘nostalgia artist’.
Essential Songs: Brown Eyed Girl, Moondance, Gloria, Have I Told You Lately
Andrew Hozier-Byrne, better known simply as Hozier, is Ireland’s latest music star, sky rocketing to fame this year. Hailing from Bray, Co. Wicklow, this young blues musician took over Irish airwaves with his anthem ‘Take Me to Church’ this summer, and is currently doing the same on an even bigger scale in the US. His debut studio album was released globally in October 2014, and is getting upwards of 70,000 downloads per week on iTunes. The 24-year-old grew up surrounded by blues music thanks to his father, who is also a musician. He dropped out of Dublin’s Trinity College, where he was undertaking a music degree, to record demos – thankfully the risk has paid off! He was also part of the vocal choir group Anuna until 2 years ago, when he left to focus on his own career.
Essential Songs: Take Me to Church, Sedated, Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene, Cherry Wine
5. The Script
Another musical act to make it big both here and across the pond in the States is The Script. Formed in 2001 by Dublin born friends Danny O’Donoghue and Mark Sheehan, the duo worked as producers in Los Angeles for several years before returning to Dublin, recruiting drummer Glen Power, and forming The Script. Their debut album immediately went to the top of the UK album charts and their subsequent two albums have been just as popular. As well as opening for such legendary music acts as Paul McCartney and U2, the band have also held their own sell out concerts to 50,000 people in Dublin’s Aviva stadium. Lead singer Danny has also appeared as a coach on the UK reality show ‘The Voice’
Essential Songs: The Man who Can’t be Moved, We Cry, Superheroes, For the First Time, Hall of Fame
6. Sinead O’Connor
Sinead O’Connor is arguably more famous for the controversies she has caused over the years than for her music, but nonetheless she is one of the most well known acts to come out of Ireland in the 1980s. Her biggest hit was a rearrangement of a song originally written by Prince, ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, which was a worldwide success. She has nine solo albums and counting under her belt along with countless collaborations, singles, and soundtracks for films. Sinead has also proved to be a very outspoken media figure particularly on issues such as child abuse, women’s rights and religion.
Essential Songs: Nothing Compares 2 U, Troy, Mandinka, Bad Girl
7. Thin Lizzy
Thin Lizzy are another Irish rock band formed in Dublin in 1969. Regularly included in ‘Hall of Fame’ lists around the world, the band is considered to be one of the great hard rock bands of the 1970s and their most popular songs are still often played on the airwaves. After multiple changes in line ups and more than one member with drug problems, the band’s success faltered. Lead singer Phil Lynott died in 1996 due to complications from drug dependencies, and has now been immortalised with a statue outside Bruxelles bar just off Grafton Street.
Essential Songs: The Boys are Back in Town, Dancing in the Moonlight, Emerald, Whiskey in the Jar, Old Town
Enya is an artist that evokes what many people think of when ‘Irish music’ comes to mind. Her distinctive musical style includes folk melodies, voice-layering and reverberations, influenced by church music, classical music and traditional Irish music. She holds the title of Ireland’s biggest selling solo musician, with over 75 million albums sold worldwide and 26.5 million albums in the US alone. In all of her recorded music, she plays all of the instruments and provides all of the vocals herself – even when in other languages (to date she has performed in ten different languages!). Some of her songs have been featured in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, one of which, ‘May it Be’, won an Oscar for best original song.
Essential Songs: Orinoco Flow, Exile, Caribbean Blue, Storms in Africa
There are two Irish boy bands who have achieved worldwide fame, and Westlife is the more recent of the two. Their success spanned three decades from 1998 to 2012, during which time they sold 50 million records worldwide, had 14 number one singles in the UK, and won the ‘Record of the Year’ award four separate times. The band was formed with the help of Louis Walsh and Simon Cowell and was originally called ‘Westside’, although they were forced to change it to Westlife when they realised that their previous name was already in use by another band. Their success wasn’t limited to Ireland and the UK, but also Europe and even some Asian countries, although they never managed to crack the US market. The original 5-piece band became a 4-piece after Bryan McFadden left in 2004. He later began his own solo career and also had a stint on Australia’s Got Talent.
Essential Songs: Flying without Wings, When You’re Looking Like That, Home, Uptown Girl
Finally, the second Irish boy band to achieve fame and fortune is Westlife’s 1990s predecessor, Boyzone. The band was formed by Louis Walsh in 1993, and made a now infamous appearance on the Late Late Show before they had even recorded any material. During the 1990s they collected 6 UK and 9 Irish number one hits and sold 25 million records by 2013 – 7 million in the UK alone. Although they split in 1999, the band reformed for a reunion tour and album in 2007. Two years later however, prominent member Stephen Gately died of natural causes while on holiday in Majorca. Since the band’s split in the 1990s each member has enjoyed success in different fields; Gately had a successful musical theatre career, Ronan Keating released several solo songs, and Keith Duffy made a foray into the world of acting. The other two members, Mikey Graham and Shane Lynch, have built up behind the scenes careers in music and other industries.
Essential Songs: No Matter What, Baby Can I Hold You, Love Me for a Reason, Picture of You.
If you enjoyed this article see also Weird and Wacky Irish World Records