10 Of The Most Famous Irish Country Singers

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Written by Laura Macmillan
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For many, country music conjures images of the Smoky Mountains, Dolly Parton, and Nashville, Tennessee. However, the genre’s influences extend across the Atlantic to the Emerald Isle.

Ireland has a robust and bustling country music scene, partly influenced by traditional Irish folk.

Below you will find our list of 10 of the most famous Irish country singers. Some of them have even recorded and collaborated with American country music stars! Read on to learn about them.

Related: Check out our list of the best country artists of all time here.

1. Philomena Begley

Many know of Philomena Begley as the Irish Queen of Country, and one of her albums shares that esteemed title. For over 60 years, Begley has dominated the hearts of country music-loving fans on the island. 

Begley was born in Northern Ireland and worked in a factory until, on a dare, she decided to sing with a local band. In the late 1960s, the band broke into the Irish charts before Begley decided to go solo.

Since then, Begley has performed with Porter Wagoner on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. Her musical talent also runs in the family, with her son Aiden Quinn following in her footsteps.

2. Nathan Carter

Though Nathan Carter was born outside of Ireland, both his parents were from Northern Ireland. He has also become one of the country’s most treasured contemporary country singers, often infusing traditional Irish instruments in his classic country tunes.

Carter fully immersed himself in music from an early age, competing in Irish music competitions. After developing a solo career in Liverpool and London, he turned his sights on Ireland.

Today, Carter has had five number one albums, while his cover of “Wagon Wheel” was a huge commercial success. He has performed in front of Pope Francis in 2018 and headlined concerts for over 60,000 people in Dublin. 

3. Larry Cunningham

Our next singer, Larry Cunningham, was from the townland Clooneen and was a big name in the Irish showband scene and country music. In addition to performing with the Grafton Showband, he was one of the first Irish singers to break into the British charts in the mid-1960s.

In 1969, he formed the country music band Larry Cunningham and the Country Blue Boys. The band was immensely popular in the early 1970s.

After his period of success, Cunningham retreated to live a relatively quiet life, only performing occasionally until his death in 2012.

4. Mike Denver

Prolific country music star Mike Denver was born in Portumna in County Galway, Ireland. Denver got his big break when he was 16 years old, signing on with Willie Carty Entertainment.

In 2008, he recorded a song called “The Real Deal” with American country music legend George Jones, and after his 2009 album Galway Boy, his fans began affectionately calling him the Galway Boy.

Denver, who has released more than ten albums, has performed across the Atlantic. In 2016, Denver’s album Cut Loose reached #1 in Ireland, and he was also named Entertainer of the Year.

5. Derek Ryan

Hailing from Garryhill, County Carlow, we have Derek Ryan, a natural-born musician. He competed in regional and national music competitions all across Ireland as a child. Just shy of 18 years old, Ryan signed on with an agent and joined the Celtic boy band D-Side.

After his time with D-Side came to a natural conclusion, Ryan began experimenting with country music. He found a musical home in the genre and has since enjoyed multiple #1 albums in Ireland.

Ryan has won the Entertainer of the Year, Album of the Year, and Best Live Performer awards. The Irish Country Music Awards have also recognized him for his original songwriting. In addition, Ryan has recorded and performed in the United States.

6. Margo

Born Margaret Catherine O’Donnell in County Donegal,  Margo grew up hopping between Donegal and Owey Island in Scotland. She sang in church choirs as a young girl and joined an Irish showband in the mid-1960s.

By the late 1960s, O’Donnell was already recording her solo songs. She worked under the name Margo and the Keynotes until starting a new musical venture called Margo & the Country Folk.

O’Donnell is not the only person in her family with the musical bug, as her brother Daniel is prominent in the Irish country music scene. In her storied career, she has won several awards and recorded a duet with country music idol Dolly Parton.

7. Declan Nerney

Our next Irish country singer is Declan Nerney. He was born just as the Irish showband scene began to pick up.

Before starting his solo career, he performed with Irish bands the Hi-Lows, the Gene Stuart Band, and Brian Coll and the Buckaroos. He then focused more on his songs and songwriting, sometimes with Henry McMahon.

Hailing from Drumlish County Longford, Nerney is the main organizer of the music festival Hooley in the Sun. It is an all-inclusive travel experience, typically held in Europe, that features an array of performing artists from Ireland.

8. Cliona Hagan

Our next country singer has a classical singing background. Cleona Hagan, born in Tyrone, Northern Ireland, studied music at Queens University in Ireland and Music Education at Edinburgh University.

In 2009, Hagan started getting media attention as a finalist for Ireland’s All Ireland Talent Show. The Queen of Irish Country, Philomena Begley, also predicted that Hagan would become a household name in the Irish country music scene.

Hagan has toured with Begley, as well as with Nathan Carter. Since her breakthrough, she has released three albums.

Hagan’s awards and nominations include Irish Country Music Awards’ Best Newcomer, Irish Country Music Radio Newcomer, Leinster Entertainment Newcomer, and Irish TV Best Newcomer.

9. Mary Duff

Second to last on this list, we have Mary Duff, a country music singer from County Meath. Her father, recognizing her interest and talent, invited her to join his band when she was a child. After winning many regional competitions, she signed onto Ritz Records.

Duff’s career has lasted over 30 years and earned her several awards. She was named the 1990 Meath Person of the Year and the Female Vocalist of the Year in 2013 by the Sunday World Irish Music Awards.  Her 2007 album Together Again with Daniel O’Donnel was certified Gold by the BPI.

In 2020, Duff teamed up with other notable musicians to form the band Tramyard. They released their debut single, “People Puttin’ People Down,” in 2021 as a tribute to John Prine.

10. Lisa McHugh

Though our last singer Lisa McHugh grew up in Scotland, her parents are Irish from County Tyrone and County Donegal. A life-long lover of music, McHugh performed and studied music in Scotland until she moved to Ireland to pursue her country music career.

McHugh’s career has included performances at the Grand Ole Opry in Tennessee, as well as countless awards as a vocalist and musician. She has released seven albums, four of which charted in the top 20 on Irish music charts.

In addition to her musical career, McHugh also hosts a podcast called the Lisa McHugh Podcast. McHugh interviews notable musicians, actors, and comedians about how they got their start.

Summing Up Our list Of Famous Country Singers From Ireland

While any of the stars on this list could play to sold-out houses in Nashville, you can also hear the unmistakable influence of traditional Irish music in their songs. 

Lose yourself in the songs of these ten incredible country music artists, and find a little bit of comfort and joy from some of Ireland’s finest singers.

This list, however, is far from complete. Did we miss a favorite Irish country singer of yours? Let us know and we’ll add them.

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Laura has over 12 years experience teaching both classical and jazz saxophone and clarinet. She now resides in California where she works as a session and live performer.