13 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Irish Rock Bands

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

Rock music transforms our emotions and souls, and some songs have more power to do so than others. This feeling we get from rock music, especially from Irish musicians, with all their years of unique musical culture, has created a perfect storm of creativity and songwriting.

From hard metal to punk-rock, and some even have a pop-rock flare, there’s something for everyone on this list of 13 of the most famous Irish rock bands of all time. Let’s get started.

1. U2

Up first, we have U2. The band was born after drummer Larry Mullen posted an ad looking for musicians, and they’ve come a long way since their early beginnings.

They initially were more punk-rock but have since stepped into other genres. Not only did their style of music change, but also the topics they sang about. Some songs were more political, like “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” while others came from a more personal place, like “I Will Follow.”

They’ve had 19 number-one hits, received 22 Grammys, released 14 studio albums, and sold over 170 million records globally. Although not everyone in Ireland loves them, their success in their music speaks for itself.

Their songs are catchy, often meaningful, and full of talent. There’s no doubt that this band is eternal and doesn’t seem to age.

2. Cranberries

Consisting originally of Niall Quinn, Noel Hogan, Mike Hogan, and Fergal Lawler, we have the Cranberries, formed in 1989. Soon after their start, Dolores O’Riordan replaced Quinn.

They released their first album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, in the early 1990s, and it rocketed the band onto the pop/rock scene, making them international legends.

The lyrics penetrate deeply into your soul with incredible power in songs like “Zombie” and “Dreams.” Although they’re mainly known for their songs from the ’90s, they’ve continued to play through the years. Their last song, “Roses,” was released in 2012.

In 2018, O’Riordan tragically passed away, and the band disbanded. However, she remains alive through their music every time it’s played.

3. Thin Lizzy

Formed in 1969, Thin Lizzy banded together with members from both sides of the Irish border. They were one of the first bands to have two lead guitarists, and their sound mix was phenomenal.

Their success wasn’t immediate, but they gained traction after the release of their cover for the Irish ballad “Whiskey in the Jar,” which peaked in Irish charts. Soon, they were releasing other major hits, like “The Boys Are Back in Town” and “Jailbreak.”

After their vocalist, Phil Lynott, passed away in 1986, the band never fully recovered. His passing made Thunder and Lightning, released in 1983, their last album.

4. Horslips

The 1970s saw the formation of Irish rock band Horslips. They were the pioneers of their time, interpreting rock with their Irish roots.

They’re known most for the songs “Dearg Doom” and “Trouble with a Capital T,” but fans also enjoyed the movement in “King of the Fairies.”

Horslips used a mix of electric guitar and traditional Irish instruments to create their own reels and jigs. Their blend of beats and instruments makes you want to get up and move.

Although they weren’t considered hugely successful and disbanded after only ten years, they are still considered a significant influence on Irish rock.

5. My Bloody Valentine

The name My Bloody Valentine may sound like a generic emo band from the 2000s, but they’re more than just that.

They carry on that tradition of being unique in their intense and epic guitar riffs, and songs like “Only Shallow” have a unique blend of intense hard rock and gentle vocals.

Their music sounds almost futuristic and hypnotic at the same time. Although their beat was there, some felt their performance was lacking. The lack of movement on stage they were known to do was termed “shoegazing,” which encouraged others to do the same.

Their style may not be for everyone, but they’re still considered iconic and influential.

6. Flogging Molly

Although Flogging Molly is technically based in Los Angeles, the lead singer Dave King is from Dublin. Their shows are full of high energy, and their songs contain a mix of hard Irish rock and some slower-paced music.

They have sold over a million albums, and there’s no doubt why. When they begin to play, the drum beat flows, and you cannot help but explode with energy. This energy is evident in their songs like “Drunken Lullabies” and “Punch Drunk Grinning Soul.”

They have not only a unique beat but also a unique name. Their name originated from their local pub, Molly Malone’s, where they used to play weekly.

7. Snow Patrol

One of the best rock bands from the 2000s with Irish roots, Snow Patrol have had national and international fame since their 2003 album Run, which had five platinum records.

One of their most popular songs,  “Chasing Cars,” is a masterpiece of simplicity, feeling, and raw emotion. These feelings are evident in many of their songs that pull on your heartstrings.

This group met at Dundee University as young lads. They have since achieved a Grammy, six Brit Awards, and seven Meteor Island Awards. They’ve had global success, and their songs still move their audiences today.

8. The Corrs

Another worthy band to mention on this list is the Corrs. This group of sisters began in 1990 and became famous across the globe.

These musicians are loved for their blend of Irish rock and pop music. Listening to hits like “Breathless” and “Runaway” bring back a sense of nostalgia, thinking of long joy rides with the windows down.

They have been #1 and #2 simultaneously in the UK charts, and only a handful of bands can boast of this. Their success alone cements them as true rockstars. After three decades of selling over 40 million albums, they still tour and release new ones today!

9. Stiff Little Fingers

Hailing from Belfast, Stiff Little Fingers has the true soul of punk rock and all of the passion that comes with it. The rage and energy they put in their music are contagious.

Having their start during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the band created lyrics that were honest and personal. They mixed their life experiences with political views and added in the vigor of punk rock.

This feature can be seen in their songs “Wasted Life” and “Suspect Device.” The lyrics in these are timeless and still feel relevant today.

After 10 albums and many tours, SLF continues to perform. They play some new jams and some of their earlier classics while maintaining their outspoken nature.

10. Pogues

You’ve got to love the Pogues for sticking to their Irish roots by playing more traditional Irish instruments in their music.

The songs they’ve created are great, but the lyrics are even better, which are more politically motivated. Their passion for communicating with their music is evident even in their name.

The group was initially named Pogue Mahone, which roughly means “kiss me arse” in Gaelic. They eventually shortened their name to just the Pogues. 

When thinking about the band’s best songs, it’s hard to choose just one. From “Dirty Old Town” to “A Pair of Brown Eyes,” many come to mind when thinking of the band

Their single “Fairytale of New York” goes hand in hand with Christmas and is inarguably on the list of Irish classics.

11. Undertones

The Undertones is another Irish rock phenomenon. They formed in Northern Ireland and were ahead of their time in their music style, encouraging copy bands to develop in their area. They are true geniuses of eclectic music.

Their hit song “Teenage Kicks” is the epitome of garage rock. It’s timeless with an addicting melody and still feels fresh and relatable today.

After breaking up for 16 years, the band reunited in 1999, but without Sharkey, their original lead vocalist. As of 2022, they may be more well-known for their earlier years, but they still tour successfully.

12. Boomtown Rats

Although Boomtown Rats eventually moved to London, they originated from Dublin. They were the first Irish band to rank number in the UK charts with their song “Rat Trap.”

The following year, they accomplished this feat with “I Don’t Like Mondays.” It’s still debatable which one is more iconic.

Reaching the top of the chart was not their only significant achievement. They also played in front of a global audience of 1.9 billion people in 1985 at a benefit concert. This Irish punk band also had 11 charting singles worth rocking out to.

13. Them

Coming from Belfast, Ireland, in 1964, Them had a unique sound. Their music included a mix of R&B, Irish show bands, and pop.

They had charting singles, including “Mystic Eyes,” “Here Comes the Night,” and “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” that gained them their reputation. However, their lead singer, Van Morrison, chose to go solo in 1966. Without him, the band wasn’t as successful but still highly favored.

They’re most noted for their song “Gloria,” which has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and has been a cover song for other bands, such as Shadows of Knight, the Doors, and even Morrison himself.

Summing Up Our List Of Rock Bands From Ireland

Rock music isn’t meant to be something you just listen to; it’s meant to be something you genuinely internalize and feel. With their Irish culture—known for its music, dance, and folklore—the bands from this list truly took from their heritage and created lasting music.

This list is excellent if you’re looking for some great hits to expand your playlist or just looking to rediscover some of your favorites.

We hope you found some classics that bring back memories and new favorites.

Have we left out a band that you think should be on here? Let us know and we’ll add them!

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.