Three weeks ago, I had the novel idea to post a list of Irish songs in time for Saint Patrick’s Day, but, by my own standards of authenticity, this proved more easily said than done. If you were to check out the ‘song lists’ section of this website, you’d find some fairly well researched lists with some interesting factoids about each song. When I first embarked on this project, I found that I knew less than I had thought about Irish music, so this project involved quite a bit more research than I had initially anticipated. In the end, my research took me to the source to find the answers… Ireland.
A quick preface would be to say that as an American (United States) Disc Jockey and Musicologist, I am always searching for music knowledge. Perhaps from the American perspective, artists like U2 and Van Morrison certainly happen to be Irish, but their music is not particularly ‘Irish’, but pop. Over the years I’ve amassed many Irish songs that are perhaps more traditional, but I soon discovered that “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen” was – as I had suspected – an “old war horse”, and not truly representative. And for the record – to all our American readers – Dexy’s Midnight Runners, who sang “Come On Eileen”, and British not Irish.
It took speaking with a real flesh-and-blood Irish Disc Jockey to find the answers, and, ultimately, compile the following list. Brian Flynn is not just a DJ on Clare FM in Clare, Ireland, but and accomplished musician as well. Even more fascinating to me, was his extensive knowledge of not just Irish music, but all music. A true Musicologist! When I asked Brian a few pointed questions, he quickly corrected me on several points including the pronunciation of Clannad, the fact that Runrig isn’t Irish but Scottish and Loreena McKennitt is in fact Canadian, although I always believed her music to be Celtic in origin.
Within twenty four hours, not only did I receive the following list via email from Mr. Flynn, it included short descriptions just like we’ve done in all of our previous song lists. Bravo Mr. Flynn! So here is a list, and at the bottom you will find a player, as I’ve excitedly assembled and listened to each and every one of Brian’s selected eight Irish tunes, so that you the reader might enjoy listening to on St. Patrick’s Day (or as Brian says, “Paddy’s Day”), or on any other day you might just be feeling a little Irish.
“The Holy Ground” by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem
The Original Irish superstars in the US (Sorry Bono !)… these guys were really huge in the early sixties and no less a luminary than Bob Dylan said that “Liam Clancy is the best ballad singer in the world, ever !” They used to close their concerts with this one quite a lot. They are all passed away now but their music will live on.
“The Fields of Athenry” by Paddy Reilly
If you ever wondered what the Irish themselves sing when they are feeling “emotional” at 4am this is it. Written by Pete St. John, it is one of the ultimate songs of deportation, a savage punishment inflicted on poor farmers in Ireland in the 18th century by the English Landlords for the smallest of crimes, usually stealing some food to feed their kids, as is the case here.
“My Irish Molly O” by Maura O’Connell with De Dannan
One of Ireland’s greatest vocalists with one of Ireland’s greatest traditional bands, this song swings like few others and is one of these impossible not tap your feet numbers!
“The Wild Rover” by The Dubliners
Far and away the most popular song in Ireland and Europe (not sure about the U.S. )… even more so than “Fields of Athenry”, this is a song which, sooner or later, usually later, will be heard at every real Irish session. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of versions of this but I have chosen the version by the Dubliners. If the Clancy Brothers were the Beatles of Irish music in the 60s then these guys were definitely the Rolling Stones and in more ways than one!
“Down by The Sally Gardens” by Clannad
This musical family from County Donegal in the north west of Ireland was made up of 3 member of one family and their 2 first cousins. Their lead singer Moira Ni Bhranoin has one of the lovelist Irish voices you will hear. The song is a very old one, and the best version of this is a live one which is included on one of their albums (not sure which at this moment in time !). The group broke up sometime in the 1980s. Another member of this family who originally played with them and then went on to solo success is Enya.
“The Salamanca/The Sailor’s Bonnet/The Banshee” by The Bothy Band
To have a real list of Irish music you must always include some tunes and here The Bothy Band plays three fast and furious reels. The Bothy Band were formed in 1975 and released three seminal albums which have influenced a whole generation of Irish musicians. They literally comprised the cream of Ireland’s musicians at the time but they broke totally with the traditional and rather stiff way of playing the music.
“Home away from Home” by Sean Keane
The brother of the even better known Dolores Keane, Sean here sings a beautiful and wistful song about an Irishman who lives and works in the U.S. but loves going home to Ireland as often as possible althought it is clear that he likes both places. A modern song where the Jet replaces the traditional ships which took the Irish away, never to return.
“Danny Boy” by Eva Cassidy
Okay, so I’ve kept away from the old warhorses as much as possible, but you simply cannot totally overlook this song even though it was written by an Englishman living in Canada and has absolutely nothing to do with Ireland but instead sings of a man going to fight with the allied forces in the First World War. Written by Fredrick Weatherby to his son, the only Irish connection might be that the melody is the same as an old Irish harp tune “The Derry Air”. Eva Cassidy was an American girl who lived in Ireland for a time and became hugely popular, but sadly only after her death from skin cancer at a tragically early age.
Thank you to Mr. Brian Flynn for this most excellent list of authentic Irish songs, especially on such short notice with Paddy’s Day quickly encroaching. I love the tunes (especially the selection by The Bothy Band), and I look forward to future music discourse with you. And of course, a Happy Paddy’s Day to all.
Check out Brian Flynn at www.brianflynn.ie