Irish Folk Songs: Express your Irish Side Through Traditional Irish Music!

The impact of Irish folk songs can be traced as far back as the 18th century, telling stories of war, heartbreak and the joys of a hearty brew.

These simple songs from Ireland have a long lasting, haunting quality to them that has led to their ongoing popularity.

Today you'll find folk songs from Ireland re-created into many of the new modern Irish Rock music versions, played by groups like the Dubliners and Flogging Molly.

Traditional Irish Folk music was in no way as simple as belting out a song either, in fact most of them were performed with as many as 10 instruments, often including a fiddle as well.

If you have never experienced the joy of live Irish music, in a pub with the clientele singing their hearts out to music they all know and love - you simply must.

And when you do have that opportunity, you'll be ready!

Irish Folk SOngs - Singing in a Pub

Whiskey in the Jar

One of the most iconic of Irish folk songs, Whiskey in the Jar is the story of an Irish highwayman who commits a robbery against a hated government or military official, only to be betrayed by his sweetheart.

The song has many versions, some situated in Ireland, some in other countries with Irish populations.  The names of the protagonist and his sweetheart (or wife) also change with the telling.

It has been performed by many artists on many stages.  The Dubliners and Thin Lizzy popularized the song in several different styles, and it even won a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance for Metallica (of all things) in 2000.

And it is still performed by local artists in Irish pubs around the world.  I know - I've enjoyed many of them in person over the years.

Molly Brannigan

This tune was originally played at the Dance Music of Ireland festival in 1858 under a different name, but soon became identified with as Molly Brannigan.

It has a somber tone to it, as much of Irish folk music does, but it is full of spirit and hope as well. Molly Brannigan is one of Ireland's most iconic folk songs.

The Battle of the Boyne

As the title implies, this song is based on a bloody piece of history. The Battle of the Boyne occurred in 1690 under the rule of James the 2nd, who had fled to Ireland since he was recognized as a King there.

This is where he raised up forces in his efforts to try and retain his title but he was defeated. The song cheers on about both death and liberty. It sings of the glory of the Boyne and is full of Irish pride.

The Battle of the Boyne is one of the most politically charged, prideful Irish Folk songs in existence today.

Green Bushes

This Irish folk song has appeared in many folk anthologies whether they are exclusively Irish or not, and it has become the quintessential symbol of traditional Irish Folk music.

Green Bushes became popular when it was associated with a Buckstone play and it was distributed soon after. There have been a few variations of the song made over the years but it is still one that any folk music lover knows by heart today.

Green Bushes is a somber tale of the loss of love and one that somehow seems to fit the Irish pub scene perfectly.

Rakes of Mallow

This is an Irish drinking song, and possibly the oldest one recorded to date. It has been around since the mid-17th century and while the slang might not make as much sense today as it did back then, it is still pertinent to the culture, and has a huge influence on Irish Folk songs.

A Rake was a man who lived an immoral life, and the song is essentially all about the life of the wild Rakes in Mallow.

Danny Boy

Danny Boy is regarded by many people to be an Irish anthem. Danny Boy was written in 1910 and has had a variety of interpretations including from a father to the son or the wife to her husband going off to war.

It has been performed by a variety of artists including Seamus Kennedy, Connie Francis, Diana Krall with The Chieftains and Charlotte Church.

Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye

This anti-war song dates back to the early 19th century, when Irish forces supported the British East India Co and has been touchingly performed since by the Tossers, Joan Baez and the Chad Mitchell Trio.

Unicorn Song

The Irish love of music is expressed - loudly - in the Unicorn song, at pubs across the Emerald Isle and around the world.

At first glance it’s a surprising choice for beer lovers considering its childlike lyrics but when you hear it and sing along with it, you will understand why it is so beloved. 

Such a popular song deserves a page all its own, so rather than linking to the song itself, let's have a look at our page dedicated to The Unicorn Song here.

Never fear, you'll get the chance to sing along!

Want More?

One article could never do justice to such an important part of Irish culture and customs.  For more information, you might like to check out our article on Irish pub songs, for more examples of the kind of song we sing and drink to!

Or have a look at famous Irish songs for a discussion of different kinds of Irish songs, where they come from and what they mean.

All pages have real examples of the songs, so you can listen and sing along!

We Hope You Enjoyed Our Favorite Irish Folk Songs!

Irish folk songs are an essential part of Irish musical traditions.  Even if you're not really into folk music, these Irish melodies tell fascinating stories that take you back to a special time in Ireland's long and proud history. 

Sing them, listen to them, dance to them, to celebrate Irish culture and share your personal Irish side!

And while you are at it, please share your feedback, opinions and stories with your Irish Expressions community!  You can do that using our contact form.

Meanwhile, thanks for visiting Irish Folk Songs! Now let's click on another topic above and continue expressing your Irish side at Irish



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