Ireland is well known for its drinking and its music. Nearly every Irish person has been touched by music. Even if they can’t hold a note or play a tune, music is still something that has a brilliant habit of bringing them together.
There’s nothing quite like grabbing a beer in a quaint Irish pub when the entire bar breaks out into song in unison. Many of the most popular Irish drinking songs find their roots in the struggles of the Irish people, whether it be singing about the Brits when they tried to crush the Irish spirit or the struggles of the famine and Ireland’s subsequent mass emigration.
Our quintessentially Irish drinking songs may have a catchy tune but many of them have a much deeper meaning.
The 10 Best Irish Drinking Songs
Many Irish drinking songs have become more well-known worldwide thanks to the Irish rebel bands and musicians of Ireland, such as The Dubliners, The Wolfetones, Willy McBride, and even The Pogues.
Irish rebel music, also called Irish folk song, really is the music of Ireland. Since the early 1900s, rebel music would describe and narrate many of the battles and experiences the Irish people endured and it became the music of the pub scene.
However, if you want to experience the true emotion and revelry behind the songs you need to get yourself inside a traditional Irish pub.
As you travel around Ireland, you will find that each different county, town, and even village will have its own favorite drinking songs. They may even rejig the lyrics to include the people they know and the town they live in but many songs are loved by the entire country.
Here are ten of the best Irish songs you should know if you plan to spend some time in Irish pubs.
#1 The Irish Rover
One of the most famous and well-loved Irish drinking songs is ‘The Irish Rover,’ also known as The Wild Rover in some circles. It tells the story of a massive sailing ship from the perspective of the only surviving crew member.
It is a song full of huge exaggerations – a ship with 27 sails and an impossibly sized cargo comes to mind. It is also pretty explicit considering the Victorian era it first popped up in. But, like many Irish drinking songs, this one doesn’t end happily.
This Irish folk song has been loved and performed by many different musicians. Each musician has put their spin on the lyrics of the song. Every version tells a new exaggerated story of the magnificent ship, but it can make it tricky to know which version you’re supposed to sing.
If you find yourself in the middle of a rendition of The Irish Rover and you’re not sure which version is being sung, shouting ‘Irish Rover’ at the end of every verse should keep your novice skills under wraps.
#2 Fields Of Athenry
One of the best Irish drinking songs is Fields of Athenry. Written in 1979 by Pete St. John, this song details the unfortunate events that a fictional man from Athenry experienced during the Great Irish Famine.
It talks of how he stole food for his starving family only to be sent to the Australian penal colony, Botany Bay, just to try to feed his family.
It’s a song with a rather depressing theme but you’ll find this is common with Irish drinking songs. However, it has also become a song synonymous with Irish football and has even found itself on the Irish charts many times.
Since being adopted by the Irish football team during the 1990 World Cup, it has become a football tradition.
#3 Molly Malone
This unofficial anthem for the city of Dublin has a hazy history. Telling the story of the fishmonger, Molly Malone, as she pushes her cart of wares around Dublin before she passes from fever and continues to haunt the streets of Dublin. It’s another Irish song with a catchy melody and a sad story.
There have been many investigations to discover whether Molly Malone was a real person but there is no concrete evidence that she actually existed. However, that didn’t stop the city of Dublin from erecting a statue in her honor.
Which is more commonly known as ‘The Tart With A Cart’ to the Dublin locals thanks to her rather buxom appearance.
#4 Galway Girl
Despite not actually being an Irish song, Galway Girl is one song that’s known all over the world. It was written by American songwriter, Steve Earle, when he stayed in Ireland. Earle wanted his song to feel more authentic, which meant getting some of the Irish musicians he had been hanging around with to perform the song.
It was performed by some of the most popular Irish performers in Ireland at the time. Including national Irish treasure, Sharon Shannon. Galway Girl was about a specific woman that Earle was attracted to and, it’s said, that girl knows the song is about her but has never wanted her name to be known.
It wasn’t until 2008 when Mundy rerecorded Galway Girl, with Sharon Shannon again, that this song embedded itself in the Irish pub scene. It’s a fairly modern song in comparison to many of Ireland’s best drinking songs but that doesn’t make its toe-tapping tune and cheery lyrics any less of a fun singalong Irish pub song.
#5 Whiskey In The Jar
Whiskey in the jar is one of the most widely recorded Irish drinking songs with covers by Thin Lizzy, Metallic, The Pogues, U2, and Pulp. However, it is The Dubliners traditional version from the 1960s that most will consider the best version.
This traditional song is set in the south west of Ireland and tells the story of a man who his wife or sweetheart betrays after stealing from a British officer.
Having put water in his pistol and relieved him of his saber, the man of the song is left defenseless and is taken prisoner for his crimes.
Whiskey in the jar is along that demands for all of its singers to actively tap their feet, clap their hands, and roar the chorus line ‘Walk fall the daddy-o’ with a sloshing beer or Irish whiskey in hand.
#6 Sean South Of Garryowen
Sean South of Garryowen is an Irish rebel song written about Sean South, a member of the IRA. He was fatally wounded during the Brookeborough barracks attacks in 1957 and the words to the song were first published only a week after his death in the Roman Catholic newspaper, The Irish Catholic.
This song is actually sung to the tune of a different song, Roddy McCorley but it has been sung by many Irish rebel bands, such as the Wolfetones.
Although Sean South was written about a real man, there was a little bit of artistic license used when it came to where the song’s subject came from. The real Sean South was actually born in Limerick.
#7 Come Out, Ye Black and Tans
Another popular rebel song. Come out, ye black and tans refers to the special reserve constables that were recruited in Great Britain before being brought to Ireland.
The colors of their uniforms were the inspiration for their nickname, Black and Tans. It also uses the term with those living in Ireland, who were pro-British, during the Irish War of Independence in the 1920s.
It’s believed to have been written by Dominic Behan about his father Stephen Behan, who was a prominent Irish republican.
Although it’s a song that is supposed to incite rebellion it has most recently been used in an Irish advert for Bradys Family Ham. Come Out, Ye Black and Tans is a relatively short tune, which makes it the perfect singalong pub song.
#8 Dirty Old Town
Although this song was originally written in 1949 by Ewan MacColl about the town he was born and raised in, Salford, Lancashire. Dirty Old Town is a song that sets a scene of chimneys, smog, and smoke, which many believe, even wrongly so, to be Dublin.
It became popular thanks to The Dubliners who released their version in 1968. There have been many covers since, most notably by the Pogues in 1985.
The song was originally supposed to be a song for MacColl’s play, Landscape With Chimneys, but once Irish pub-goers got a hold of it, it became a lifelong part of some of the best Irish drinking songs in history.
#9 Finnegan’s Wake
Finnegan’s is a fast-paced and lively traditional Irish folk song that tells the story of whiskey lover Tim Finnegan and how his love for the drink causes him to fall off a ladder, crack his skull and die. How very Irish.
True to Irish tradition his death is followed by a wake that begins with a quiet and civil atmosphere before it descends into a drink-fuelled riot.
It’s not a folk song for the faint-hearted and its speed could have you doing tongue twisters in seconds if you so much as stumble over a word but it does provide an immense amount of entertainment on a night out.
#10 Seven Drunken Nights
If you only ever know one Irish pub song, this is the one you want to learn. It tells the story of a very gullible drunk man who is incredibly fond of Whiskey.
Over the course of seven nights, he comes home to his wife to see new evidence of her secret lover. Of course, his wife manages to convince him that no lover exists by blaming his drunken state, even when he finds another man in his bed.
Mostly performed by the popular Irish band, The Dubliners, Seven Drunken Nights has been performed for decades.
They even played the song for their first appearance on the show Top of the Pops in the 60s. However, many of the lines had to be altered, or removed entirely, due to the rather naughty nature of the song and its many dirty jokes.
What Is The Most Common Irish Drinking Song?
It depends on where you are in Ireland as to what is the most common Irish folk song. Different counties, and even towns, will have their own personal favorites. Songs like Seven Drunken Nights, Dirty Old Town, and Whiskey In The Jar will always be popular.
Even the industry that each town thrives from will alter the most common Irish pub song. For example fishing communities, the song Fiddler’s Green will be an often sung song in pubs.
What Is The Most Beautiful Irish Song Ever?
The Fields of Athenry always makes an appearance in many of the beautiful Irish folk song lists but there are a few others, such as Carrickfergus and When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, that are also considered to be the most beautiful Irish songs.
It’s hard to say which Irish folk song is the most beautiful when there are so many of them that are full of the passion and music that creates a beautiful song
What Are Some Popular St Patricks Day Songs?
St Patrick’s Day is a holiday that has left the shores of Ireland and influenced the entire world. Traditional a celebration of St. Patrick banishing the snakes from Ireland, it has become a holiday of drinking, pub culture, and music. Luckily for us, every Irish drinking song is perfect for St. Patricks Day celebration.
So, if you’re ready to celebrate Paddy’s day (please don’t say Patty’s day or face the wrath of many an Irishman) here are some more songs to get that authentic vibe flowing.
- Beer, Beer, Beer – The Clancy Brothers
- The Broad Black Brimmer
- I’ll Tell Me Ma – The Clancy Brothers
- All For Me Grog – The Dubliners
- Jug Of Punch – Paddy Clancy, The Clancy Brothers
- Streams Of Whiskey – The Pogues
- The Green Fields Of France / Willie McBride
- The Rare Auld Times – Dublin City Ramblers