The Sound of Shamrocks

What's St. Patrick's Day without the Irish music?

There are plenty of reasons to love St. Patrick's Day. Mostly it's the green beer, but Ireland has also given us many great artists, most of whom sound even greater after a pint or two or four. Here are 10 of our favorites, plus the album of theirs you should be listening to during your festivities this week.

Van Morrison

If nothing else, Van Morrison is the ultimate Irishman: He gets pukey-drunk onstage, he often slurs his words, and he can be a belligerent prick. He's also one of the world's greatest singer-songwriters, an R&B folkie who has soul to spare.

St. Pat's Playlist: Astral Weeks is his best, but it's not very celebratory. Plus, there's a song about scoping out high-school girls. Not cool. Go for 1990's Best of Van Morrison.


If you didn't know U2 were Irish, you'd swear they were American. They've explored our nation's mythos more than once on record. But there's a strong sense of Irish brotherhood that cuts beneath their rattle and hums.

St. Pat's Playlist: The Joshua Tree. It's the album that bridges their early enthusiasm with latter-day pretensions. It's big, beautiful, and the key moment when punks became global rock stars.

The Pogues

No band says "Let's get totally fucked up on St. Patrick's Day" like the Pogues. You get the feeling that every page on their calendar reads "March 17." Bonus points: They recorded the best Christmas song of all time too.

St. Pat's Playlist: Rum Sodomy & the Lash. The title of their 1985 album warns you what you're in store for: dirty limericks, plaintive ballads, and traditional sing-alongs to spill your Guinness to.

My Bloody Valentine

These distortion-lovin' Dubliners pretty much invented shoegaze, which is about as far from festive Irish music as you can get. But they paved the way for noise-pop, dreampop, and other alt-rock subgenres since the early '90s.

St. Pat's Playlist: Loveless, their second and final album, from 1991. Beneath all the guitar noise are some lovely melodies just aching to get out. Listen hard, and you can hear their Irish peeking through.

Sinead O'Connor

Sure, she pissed off a lot of people by doing un-Irish things like badmouthing the Pope. But O'Connor's a sentimental traditionalist beneath that tough-punk exterior. Her voice aches with the spirit of her homeland.

St. Pat's Playlist: I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, her second album and only No. 1. It's still an amazing record, filled with heartbreaking ballads, undisciplined rage, and scar-revealing self-reflection.

The Chieftains

The most popular Irish traditionalists are also one of the world's best folk groups. Their songs teem with the sounds of Ireland: uilleann pipes, tin whistles, and bodhrán. Like a less-rowdy Pogues, with better teeth.

St. Pat's Playlist: Irish Heartbeat, the 1988 album they made with Van Morrison. Play this one for Irish old-timers: It's loaded with unpronounceable traditional tunes like "Tá Mo Chleamhnas Déanta."

Thin Lizzy

They perfected the twin-guitar attack. They sounded like Bruce Springsteen. And they were led by a black guy. That's not very Irish. But Thin Lizzy had a hit with "Whiskey in the Jar," which is waaaay Irish.

St. Pat's Playlist: Jailbreak. It's the one everybody knows for a good reason: It stockpiles the band's best songs, including "The Boys Are Back in Town" and the title track. Great drinking music too.

The Frames

Frontman Glen Hansard is better known as the male half of NPR faves the Swell Season. But he never would have made the indie hit Once if it wasn't for these underrated Dubliners. Way louder and cooler than his other band.

St. Pat's Playlist: The Cost, from 2006, the same year Hansard filmed Once. Two of its songs were recorded by the Swell Season, including the Oscar-winning "Falling Slowly," way louder and cooler here.

The Undertones

These mostly forgotten punks spit out teenage anthems that weren't nearly as nihilistic as the music their U.K. peers were making. They were from Derry, the city where Bloody Sunday went down, so there's still some anger.

St. Pat's Playlist: The Undertones were a better singles band than album band during their late-'70s/early-'80s heyday. So go for the Singles = A+B's or Teenage Kicks: The Very Best of the Undertones sets.

The Cranberries

The Cranberries were one of the hugest alt-rock bands of the '90s. But singer Dolores O'Riordan is Irish through and through, a nice Catholic girl from a large family, with a voice as big as Belfast.

St. Pat's Playlist: We're gonna go with 1994's No Need to Argue, because it contains the Cranberries' best-ever song, the wall-rattling "Zombie." "Ode to My Family," an Irish alt-lullaby, is on there too.

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