Ten of the best Irish singer-songwriters and their iconic wonderful ballads that are among Ireland favorites.
Here's a Spotify playlist of some of the top tracks:
1. Sinéad O'Connor - 'Mandinka'
Although she is better known for her smash-hit "Nothing Compares 2U", Sinéad O'Connor's songwriting ability is more evident in 1987's "Mandinka". The song launched O'Connor towards international stardom, rocketing to number six in the Irish charts and number 17 in the UK Top 40. The song is based on an African tribe - the Mandinkas - and is one of the earliest examples of O'Connor's rebellious character.
O'Connor would reach international superstardom three years after "Mandinka" with her cover of Prince's "Nothing Compares 2U", when she famously appeared with a shaved head in the song's accompanying music video.
2. Paul Brady - 'The Island'
This Northern Irish singer-songwriter straddles the line of folk and pop music. The Strabane native played in a variety of bands before going solo. Brady first joined the popular traditional Irish group the Johnstons in 1967 before moving on to Planxty in 1974. In Planxty, Brady played with such Irish music greats as Andy Irvine, Liam O’Flynn, Donal Lunny, and Christy Moore. "Welcome Here Kind Stranger" was the first solo record released by Brady in 1978 and was awarded Melody Maker Folk Album of the Year.
Brady is listed among the favorite musicians of Bob Dylan and Bonnie Raitt and has gone on to 15 studio albums including his latest "Hooba Dooba." 'The Island' appears on 1986’s "Back to the Centre."
3. Paddy Casey - 'Saints and Sinners'
Dublin-born singer-songwriter Paddy Casey began playing music on the streets at 12 years old.
He was discovered busking in Dublin by music producer Muff Winwood who signed him to Sony Records. His first album "Amen (So be it)" was released in 1999 and became certified double platinum. The crooner followed that up with 2003’s multi-platinum Living which climbed to the top of the charts 21 weeks after its release. 'Saints and Sinners' was a charted hit for Casey off the album "Living."
4. Glen Hansard - 'Falling Slowly'
Glen is best known for his work in the hit movie “Once” as the street busking, heartbroken “Guy” who meets his musical soul mate on the streets of Dublin. Glen scored the album as well, earning the best songwriting Oscar for the movie’s musical heartwarming centerpiece 'Falling Slowly.' He is the first Irishman to win an award in this category.
Like his movie counterpart, Glen started busking at 13 after quitting school and formed the band The Frames in 1990. This seminal Irish band has released 9 albums and continues to tour and make music today. He is also one-half of the rock duo, The Swell Season with his "Once" co-star Marketa Irglova.
5. Eleanor McEvoy - 'Only a Woman's Heart'
McEvoy helped break Irish chart records with the 1992 compilation album "A Woman's Heart". The album sold more than 750,000 copies in Ireland, making it the biggest-selling album in Irish chart history, and McEvoy's title track played a huge role in the album's success.
The song has been covered by artists like Mary Black, Phil Coulter, and Celtic Woman and is the highlight of McEvoy's glittering career.
6. Dolores O'Riordain - 'Zombie'
The first Irish song to reach one billion views on YouTube, "Zombie" is an Irish political protest song that found unlikely international fame. Cranberries frontwoman Dolores O'Riordain penned the iconic track at the height of the Troubles in 1993 after two IRA bombs in Warrington left two children dead and dozens more injured. The song references the 1916 Easter Rising and condemns IRA violence in Northern Ireland.
"Zombie" topped the charts in ten different countries and catapulted the Cranberries towards international superstardom. The song is easily O'Riordain's best-known work, but she is also responsible for several other smash-hits, including "Linger", "Dreams" and "Ode to my Family".
7. Shane McGowan - 'Fairytale of New York'
Shane Patrick Lysaght MacGowan is an Irish musician and singer. He is best known as the original songwriter and singer of the Pogues. Born in Kent England to Irish parents, McGowan spent his early childhood in Tipperary.
The crooner lists 19th Century Irish poet James Clarence Mangan and playwright Brendan Behan as influences. Between 1985 and 1987, he co-wrote 'Fairytale in New York' which he performed with Kirsty MacColl. The Pogues went on to release several albums before having a falling out due to McGowan’s struggles with substance abuse. The band later reformed to tour internationally. Shane started a new band called Shane McGowan and the Popes and recorded new material and a live DVD. The living legend was voted #50 in the NME Rock Heroes List.
8. Mundy (Edmund Enright) - 'July'
Edmund Enright is a singer-songwriter nicknamed “Mundy” born on 12 February 1976, Birr, County Offaly. He was signed to Epic Records and released his debut album Jellylegs in 1996.
The album’s song 'To You I Bestow' was featured on the "Romeo + Juliet" soundtrack. The royalties from this tune allowed Mundy to start his own record label, Camcor Records, on which he released his second album, 24 Star Hotel. The album contained the song 'July,' an ode to the joy of Irish Summers, which gained heavy airplay throughout the summer months and is his signature tune. The album has gone on to triple-platinum status. Mundy has recorded three more albums on his Camcor label to much success.
9. Damien Rice - 'Nine Crimes'
The Kildare native is an Irish singer-songwriter and musician who plays guitar, piano, clarinet, and percussion. He started his career in the 90s as a member of the rock group Juniper. Rice left the band in 1998 and briefly became a farmer in Italy. After busking around Europe, he returned to Ireland to embark on a solo career.
In 2002, Rice’s debut album "O" reached #8 on the UK charts, won the Shortlist music prize, and garnered many awards and accolades. Rice released his second album 9 in 2006. The single 'Nine Crimes' appears on this album and peaked at #29 on the UK singles charts. In 2009, Rice made an appearance at number thirty-four on The Irish Times’ “The Best 50 Irish Acts Right Now.”
10. Pete St. John - 'Fields of Athenry'
Pete St. John (real name Peter Mooney) is an Irish folk singer-songwriter. He is most well known for writing 'Fields of Athenry.' This modern balladeer also penned the classic 'Dublin in the Rare Old Times.'
The Dubliner lived and worked abroad as a truck driver, logging camp laborer, professional athlete, and electrical contracting executive. He returned to Ireland in the 1970s and began writing music reflecting his involvement in the peace movement and international civil rights.
St. John’s songs have become part of the repertoires of Ireland’s leading singers and musicians. His work has been cited by The Irish Association of Songwriters and Composers and The U.S. Irish Cultural Society among others.
* Originally published in 2013, updated Jan 2021.