The Best Irish Musicians – Top 14 Irish artists of all time
Updated On: August 04, 2022
The Emerald Isle is renowned for its music; it has always been an integral part of our culture. From traditional music to folk songs, to whimsical indie vocals and international rock stars, Irish musicians and artists have captivated audiences around the globe. In this article we will list our top 14 Irish artists that have taken the world by storm.
Who do you think will feature on the list? Read below to see our list of top 15 Irish musicians in no particular order!
Best Irish Musicians #1: Dermot Kennedy
Singer-songwriter Dermot Kennedy is one of the most popular Irish musicians all over the world. Hugely inspired by Van Morrison, Dermot even went on to cover Days Like This on the Late Late Show.
From Busking on the streets of Dublin in his early days to travelling the world and selling out arenas Dermot’s success can only be attributed to his artistry. Not only a quality vocalist, but also a talented musician and superb lyricist, Kennedy’s songs often feel like poetry.
Initially a singer in the Band Shadow and Dust, Dermot gained popularity as a solo artist after the release of his 2017 EP ‘Doves and Ravens’. His album Without Fear reached #1 in the Irish and UK charts, and has been streamed online over 1.5 Billion times.
Dermot was nominated in the ‘Best International Male’ category at the BRIT awards in 2020. in the same year he hosted one of the biggest ever selling live streamed shows performing with a full-band in the Natural History Museum in London.
Dermot’s latest album Sonder will release on the 23rd of September 2022, and we can’t wait to listen to the next chapter in the Irish musician’s discography.
Hits include: ‘Power Over Me’, ‘Outnumbered’ & ‘Giants’.
Best Irish Musicians #2: Lisa Hannigan
Irish folk-pop singer Lisa Hannigan is a versatile artist in the music industry; a multi-instrumentalist with an impressive career.
Lisa Hannigan featured as a vocal partner on fellow Irish musician Damien Rice’s first two albums ‘O’ and ‘9’, including vocals on the hit singles ‘9 crimes’, ‘The Blowers Daughter’, ‘Volcano’, and ‘I Remember’, Before starting a solo career in 2008.
That very year, Hannigan opened for both Jason Mraz’s and David Gray’s US and Canadian tours before releasing her solo album ‘Sea Sew’ which went double platinum. Hannigan would go on to release two more albums, ‘Passengers’ and ‘At Swim’ to commercial and critical success.
Hannigan’s music has featured in such blockbuster films as Closer, Shrek III, Gravity and Fury as well as TV shows such as Fargo and Grey’s Anatomy. She has also gotten involved in voice acting appearing in the animated film Song of the Sea as well as Stephen Universe, providing songs to both soundtracks.
Hannigan was part of the Irish female collective ‘Irish Women in Harmony’ in 2020 who recorded a version of the Cranberries’ Dreams, in aid of domestic abuse charity Safe Ireland, recognising the detrimental impact the Covid-19 lockdown had had on victims of abusive relationships.
Hits include: ‘Undertow,’ ‘I Don’t Know’ & ‘Knots‘
Best Irish Musicians #3: Hozier
Andrew Hozier-Byrne was born in 1990, in Bray Co. Wicklow. A singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Hozier attended Trinity College Dublin, but dropped out after one year to record demos with Universal Music.
Hozier’s career skyrocketed in 2013 when “Take Me To Church”, his first EP became a viral success online, earning him a Grammy Nomination. Both the song and music video for Take me to Church were hailed for their social commentary on how religious organisations, especially the Catholic Church in Ireland, discriminated against members of the LGBT community.
Hozier’s success continued with the release of his eponymous debut album, and he spent the next few years touring and performing. in 2018 he released his EP ‘Nina Cried Power’ to critical and commercial acclaim
His second album ‘Wasteland, Baby!’ hit number one in the US and Ireland, after its release in 2019.
Hits include: ‘Take Me To Church’, ‘Someone New’, ‘Cherry Wine’ & ‘Almost‘.
Best Irish Musicians #4: Dolores O’Riordan / The Cranberries:
Dolores O’Riordan was the lead singer of the Cranberries, the famous Limerick alternative rock band with a distinct Celtic aura. Dolores’s captivating vocals alongside a talented group of band members took the world by storm, and they used their platform to create music that is both catchy and socially conscious.
Originally called ‘The Cranberry Saw Us’, the band comprised of brothers Noel and Mike Hogan and drummer Fergal Lawler. Following the departure of their original singer Niall Quinn, Dolores auditioned for the band, bringing with her lyrics and melodies. She was hired on the spot after showing the group a rough version of what would become Linger, one of their most popular songs.
Dolores O’Riordan tragically died of an accidental drowning in 2018, at the age of 46. the band had been working on a new album, and using demo vocals of Dolores, they released their final album in 2019, featuring the single ‘All Over Now’.
Hits include: ‘Linger’, ‘Dreams’, ‘Ode to my Family’ & ‘Zombie’.
Best Irish Musicians #5: Christy Moore
One of Irish music’s best singer/songwriters, Christy helped to revive traditional Irish Music in modern day Ireland, mixing elements of rock and pop with trad. He has been a major inspiration to artists such as U2 and the Pogues.
Christy Moore was the former lead vocalist of Planxty and Moving Hearts. Luka Bloom as known as Barry Moore, another well known Irish Musician is the younger brother of Christy.
His incredible discography includes albums such as Ride on (1984), Ordinary Man (1985), Voyage (1989) as well as countless live albums.
In 2007 Christy was named as Ireland’s greatest living musician in RTÉ’s People of the Year Award.
During the Covid Pandemic Christy Moore was further immortalised, appearing alongside, Hozier, Lisa Hannigan and Sinéad O’Connor on a set of special An Post stamps, commemorating their performances at Glastonbury and donating some of the proceeds to a Music Industry Covid-19 Emergency fund. The four artists performed in the GPO to a virtual audience to celebrate this occasion, something which Moore said was one of the greatest achievements of his life.
Christy is touring throughout Ireland in 2022, playing songs from a career that has spanned over 40 years.
Hits include: ‘Ride On’, ‘Black is the Colour’, ‘Ordinary Man’, ‘Nancy Spain’, ‘City of Chicago’, ‘Beeswing’, ‘The Contender’ & ‘The Cliffs of Dooneen’.
Best Irish Musicians #6: Niall Horan
The only Irishman in One Direction, Mullingar‘s own Niall Horan has made history in one of the biggest boybands of all time.
Horan emerged from the X-factor as part of the judge-created group, and would go on to take the world by storm. In early 2015, the band took an indefinite hiatus and the audience began to speculate which artists would embark on a solo career.
Horan has since successfully cemented himself as a solo artist with albums such as ‘Flicker’ and ‘Heartbreak Weather’, a mix of soft nostalgic rock and modern pop, and has no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Hits include: ‘Nice To Meet Ya’, ‘Slow Hands’ & ‘This Town’
Best Irish Musicians #7: Damien Rice
Indie rock musician Damien Rice made an explosive debut as an Irish singer songwriter in the group Juniper. Rice embarked on a solo career there after, his first single ‘The Blowers Daughter’ was a hit, with the following album ‘O’ making waves in Ireland, the UK, and the USA.
His second album ‘9’ was also a success featuring major hits such as ‘9 Crimes’ and ‘Coconut Skins’.
Hits include: ‘9 Crimes’, ‘The Blower’s Daughter’, ‘Cannonball’ and ‘Delicate’
Best Irish Musicians #8: Glen Hansard
An indie folk icon, Irish musician Glen Hansard first gained popularity as a member of ‘The Frames’ and ‘The Swell Season’.
Hansard collaborated with singer songwriter Markéta Irglová in ‘The Swell Season’ and around the same time John Carney, another former member of ‘the Frames’ invited the duo to star in an independent Irish feature film about an Irish busker and an Eastern European musician who fall in love called Once. The film mirrored the real life of the two stars who were also involved romantically.
Once would go on to be a international success, boosting the duo to new heights of fame, with ‘Falling Slowly’ earning them an Academy Award for best original song in 2007. The man who busked on the streets of Dublin was now an Oscar winner.
The film has since been adapted into a Broadway production in 2012. When the duo amicably parted ways, Hansard began a solo career
Hits include: ‘Falling Slowly’, ‘Why Woman’ & ‘Drive All Night’
Best Irish Musicians #9: Enya
Known for her whimsical, almost ethereal flow of Celtic and New Age music blended perfectly together, Enya is without a doubt a unique Irish musician. Hailing from Donegal. At age 19 Enya joined Clannnad, a group that bridged the gap between traditional Irish music and pop. The group actually comprised of several of her family members, including her sister, brothers and uncles.
Two years later Enya would embark on a solo career releasing hit songs, and has earned 4 Grammy’s throughout her career including Best New Age Album for ‘A Day Without Rain’.
Hits include: Only Time, Orinoco Flow, and May It Be.
Best Irish Musicians #10: Shane MacGowan
Shane MacGowan was part of the Pogues, a band that incorporated an iconic blend of traditional Irish melodies and a fresh punk vibe in Ireland in the 80’s.
The Pogues’ radical, political and punk injected folk fused with beautiful and poetic melodies created a style that is further elevated by MacGowan’s iconic voice.
The Pogues would go on to collaborate with Kirsty MacColl to create one of the most beloved and iconic Christmas songs of all time ‘Fairytale of New York’, an unapologetic anthem about resentful ex-lovers ringing in Christmas together.
Hits include: ‘Fairytale of New York’, ‘Dirty Old Town’, ‘A Rainy Night in Soho’ and ‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’
Best Irish Musicians #11: Phil Lynott / Thin Lizzy
The lead singer of Thin Lizzy, Lynott was one of the first artists to merge poetry and rock music masterfully together. Phil was shaped by artists such as Van Morrison and Jimi Hendrix
Other band members include Brian Downey, Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson, however the line up changed over the years.
Lynott was raised mostly by his grandmother Sarah, and even named his daughter after her. he wrote songs about both of them but ‘Sarah’ about his daughter is the most well known. Lynott also released many books of poetry throughout his career.
Phil Lynott sadly died in 1986, at only 36 years old, but his legacy in Thin Lizzy continues to inspire many artists and musicians all over the world, a charismatic and mulit-talented Irish artist, forever immortalised as a legend in the world of rock and roll.
Hits include: ‘The Boys are back in Town’, ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’, ‘Sarah’ & ‘Whiskey in the Jar’.
Best Irish Musicians #12: Van Morrison
George Ivan “Van” Morrison was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on August 31, 1945.
His first experience as an Irish musician was with a local band called the Monarchs. The band toured Europe but by the time he was 19, Morrison had left the Monarchs behind to open a Belfast R&B club and form a new band called Them. The band was succesful, but Morrison decided that it was time to go solo.
Van Morrison’s reputation speaks for itself, both musically and with the multiple honours that have been bestowed upon the Irish singer/songwriter. He has earned his place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well as being awarded 2 Grammy Awards.
Van Morrison has inspired many other Irish musicians such as Phil Lynott and Dermott Kennedy to name a few. His contribution to music has been recognised all around the world.
In 2016, he received a knighthood from the Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace for services to the music industry and tourism in Northern Ireland.
Hits include: ‘Moondance’, ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ and ‘Days Like This’
Best Irish Musicians #13: Luke Kelly / The Dubliners
Both a solo artist and founding member of The Dubliners, Luke Kelly is an iconic Irish musician.
Kelly was a balladeer and played the banjo. He was known not only for his distinctive singing style, but also by his political engagement and activism. Kelly’s versions of songs such as ‘The Black Velvet Band’ and ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ are often seen as the definitive versions.
Other notable members of The Dubliners include Ronnie Drew, Barney MacKenna, Ciarán Bourke, John Sheahan, Bobby Lynch, Jim McCann, Seán Cannon, Eamonn Campbell, Paddy Reilly, Patsy Watchorn.
Luke’s career was cut short by his death at age 44, many statues of Luke Kelly can be seen around Dublin city and his legacy is fondly remembered by other members of the Dubliners as well as the general public.
Hits include: ‘Seven Drunken Nights’, ‘Black Velvet Band’, ‘Raglan Road’ & ‘The Rare Auld Times’.
Best Irish Musicians #14: Bono / U2
In 1976, Larry Mullen Jr, a 14-year-old student from Dublin posted a note on the school notice board while searching for musicians for his new band.— Eric Alper 🎧 (@ThatEricAlper) October 14, 2021
He got responses from Paul Hewson, David Evans and Adam Clayton, and U2 have been together since. pic.twitter.com/XdvH2h2uHj
In the year 1976, aspiring drummer Larry Mullen pinned an ad on the notice board at Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Dublin, looking for people to join a band. He’d just acquired his first drum kit at the time and wanted someone to practice with. Paul Hewson (Bono), Dave Evans (The Edge), Dik Evans, Ivan McCormick and Adam Clayton joined up with him. Little did he know that he would end up forming one of the most successful rock bands of all time.
‘The Feedback’ became ‘The Hype’ before the band eventually settled on U2, as the group of 7 was whittled down to the ensemble of Bono, The Edge, Clayton and Mullen.
U2 has achieve consistent success across four decades, both artistically and commercially in the music industry. Their first album Boy was released in 1980.
It’s difficult to argue that Bono is one of the most famous Irishmen in history, or that U2 is one of the most famous bands in the music industry, but their success isn’t a surprise to anyone. With 22 Grammys, 2 golden globes, and a world record for the highest grossing tour of all time for their 360° Tour in 2011 U2’s success is unquestionable. The Joshua Tree is one of the best selling albums of all time, with over 25 million copies sold world wide.
Hits include: ‘With or Without You’, ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ & ‘Beautiful Day‘.
Do you think we left out any Irish musicians who deserve a place on this list? Who would you rank as your top 5 Irish musician? Let us know in the comments below!
Why not see which of these artists have featured in our list of famous Irish people who have made history in their lifetime, past and present.