The Dubliners live in 2007. Photo: DJ Buck

In the ’60s, Irish folk was born, popularizing bands like The Dubliners and The Clancy Brothers who used traditional songs and instruments with a more modern sound, opening Irish music to new possibilities for Celtic fusion bands like Horslips. Later, The Pogues brought a rebellious spirit to Irish music, defining a new punk genre now commonly known as Celtic punk.
For St. Patrick’s Day, I’ve put together 10 songs. Some are good for celebrating, some for having a think and singing along, and there’s maybe one in there that encourages sobriety.
Happy St. Paddy’s day, everyone.
Thousands are Sailing: The Pogues

Shane MacGowan playing with The Pogues in Glasgow last
December. Photo: (also used as feature photo):
Fishbones Photography

Formed in the early ’80s , The Pogues have broken up numerous times but are together for now and playing together this St. Patrick’s Day at Roseland in NYC.

This song about immigration to America applies to millions, and pays homage to the Irish pride, mixed feelings, and struggles of the Irish transplant. The lyrics are personal and emotional, and if you have immigrant ancestors, it’s touching to think about the hardships it took to make your life possible, which parts of this song do nicely.

Another personal favorite I leave off here because it makes me cry (so it’s hard to call it festive) Fairy Tale of New York.

Seven Drunken Nights: The Dubliners

Founded in 1962, The Dubliners are named after James Joyce’s book. Though there are only two original members left in the band, they still tour Europe every year. You can catch them this St. Patrick’s Day at Birmington Hall in Birmington.

In “Seven Drunken Nights,” the narrator is a cuckholded man who comes home “drunk as drunk can be” each night throughout a week and asks his wife about out-of-place details he notices. Here’s Friday’s exchange:

And as I went home on Friday night as drunk as drunk could be
I saw a head upon the bed where my old head should be.
Well, I called me wife and I said to her: Will you kindly tell to me
Who owns that head upon the bed where my old head should be?
“Ah, you’re drunk, you’re drunk you silly old fool,
So drunk you can not see
That’s a baby boy that me mother sent to me.”
Well, it’s many a day I’ve travelled a hundred miles or more
But a baby boy with his whiskers on sure I never saw before.

Beer Beer Beer: The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem

Sons of Irish Immigrants, The Clancy Brothers had been popular and released several albums in the US in the eleven or so years since they’d formed when they hit in Ireland in 1962. They popularized many traditional Irish songs, influenced by the American folk movement. They are credited with reinvigorating worldwide interest in Irish music, bringing a modern rebellious spirit to traditional songs.

“Beer Beer Beer” is a great one for throwing ’em back, so is probably more suited to American beers. A classic, the Clancy Brothers’ version is probably the most well known.

The Irish Rover: The Dubliners with the Pogues

This traditional song has been recorded by more than 20 bands, recently by the Dropkick Murphys. In this live version vocalists Shane MacGowan and the now deceased former singer of The Dubliners, Ronnie Drew, share lead in the tall tale of a massive ship that wrecks on its way to New York City. A single featuring the same lineup was released on St. Patrick’s Day of 1987.

Salty Dog: Flogging Molly

Flogging Molly at Terminal 5 in NYC earlier this month.
Photo: TalAtlas

You’ve probably heard this one before, but you should hear it again. A hard jig featuring accordion and fiddle, and sung so fast you may have missed the point, it’s about an impossibly tough character who survives hell and having his eye pecked out by a crow.

Frontman and Irish expat Dave King (currently of LA) started the band in 1997, growing a truly Irish American sound that goes far beyond novelty. A tight and well practiced group, they’re on the road more often than not. They’re playing Tempe, AZ this St. Patrick’s Day.

Come Out Ye Black and Tans: The Wolfe Tones

Written during the Irish war of Independence, this song rails against colonialism and Britain. The Black and Tans were British parliamentary police auxiliary forces in Dublin. So in case you didn’t know, it’s not just the name for a combination of Guinness floating on top of Bass in a pint glass.

The Irish were compelled to fight for Britain in the First World War with the promise of independence once the war was over. Sinn Féin and Ulster Unionist dissidents’ protests led to the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916 in which leaders of the movement were killed, and British Parliamentary forces (wearing a hodgepodge of uniforms as a result of their disparate origins, hence their name “Black and Tans”) imposed martial law against the largely unarmed populace. The Irish War of Independence had begun, though it’s officially said to have started in 1919.

The song was written by Dominic Behan, son of IRA member and “apostle” to Michael Collins, Stephan Behan in 1920. This rendition is by Irish folk band, the Wolfe Tones. The lyrics to this song are worth a read and can be seen on Wikipedia.

An Irish Pub Song: The Rumjacks

If you’re an Irish expat, this might be the song that gives you a little solace amid the green beer and antics on amateur night in the local “Irish Pub.” I’m not sure how Irish these Aussies are, but the song rocks and the lyrics are pretty amusing. You can see them at the band’s YouTube page.

Kiss Me I’m Shitfaced: The Dropkick Murphys

The current Lead singer of Dropkick
Murphys, Al Barr, live in Perth last
December. Photo: stusev

Personally, I think you’d have to be well on your way to shitfaced to really get into this one, but in fairness, you may already be. In the spirit of Irish American punk that wavers between taking itself very seriously and not seriously at all, this is a lucky one to come up on the jukebox when you’re looking for a reason to kiss someone, and an excuse in case it doesn’t work out.

Most recently, The Dropkick Murphys released the song “Take ‘Em Down” in advance of their upcoming album in support of the union struggle in Wisconsin. You can listen to it at their website, and maybe even buy a shirt to support Workers’ Rights Emergency Response Fund.

They’ll be playing House of Blues in Boston for St. Patrick’s Day.

King of the Fairies: Horslips

The Irish Times’ Fintan O’Toole says of Horselips’ significance to Irish rock at the time of their initial popularity, “Rock in Ireland would no longer be second hand. It would not be an imitation of English people imitating American blacks.”

Their first record was released in 1972, and the band went on to remain successful in Ireland, breaking up in 1980, though notably playing for mixed crowds without incident at a time when violence within Ireland was very intense. They reunited in 2009 and still play shows.This St. Patrick’s Day, they’ll be performing with the Ulster Orchestra in Belfast.

Sober Again: Blood or Whiskey

This one would be my Irish drinking song for the last several years. Blood and Whiskey are from Dublin and Kildare.

The band started in 1994 and their bio page shows their short career has been full of mishaps including deaths, lawsuits and illnesses, including the lymphoma their singer and lead guitarist Dugs is currently suffering from. That’s why, this St. Patrick’s Day, they won’t be playing. Let’s hope for a speedy recovery for Dugs and to see tour dates for them next year.

Community Connection

Yeah. I know this list is nowhere near being comprehensive. If you’ve got suggestions for songs you’d have liked to see here, please leave them in the comments below.

If you’re on your way to Ireland, you probably ought to know how to comport yourself in a real Irish pub. Read about that in Irishmen Lecture on Pub Etiquette.

And to read about more Irish pubs outside Ireland, check out community member deva’s blog about Encounters in Irish Pubs, Part One and Two.