Rock your block this St. Patrick’s Day Immerse yourself in the Irish musical culture with this holiday-themed playlist


St. Patrick’s Day is an Irish celebration honouring the death of the country’s patron saint and nowadays, all things Ireland. Yet, the majority of the Western world treats March 17th as a day for unchecked alcohol consumption and rampant parading; see the annual Ezra Avenue event that I happily and safely read about the following day in the news. While all modern celebrations are rooted in tradition — for practicing Irish Catholics, Lent restrictions on alcohol and eating were lifted on this day — many of us in North America often forget about the rich history of both St. Patrick’s Day and Ireland as a whole when taking part in the festivities. Of course, a big part of any culture is music.

The Irish have been responsible for lots of amazing music over the past several decades. Traditional Celtic styles involving the usual fiddle and stomp-and-holler tempo continue to manifest in contemporary songs. Various musicians have taken these staples and reworked them to develop Celtic fusion, a delightful cross between Celtic and modern music. In addition, North American rock has played its part in usurping Irish territory, in turn creating some iconic tunes that you may not even know are Irish.

This album playlist incorporates everything from stereotypical Irish folk music to some of the furthest departures from typical Celtic mainstays. This St. Patrick’s Day, jam along and immerse yourself in the Irish musical culture. If you are so inclined, treat yourself to a drink or two as well. Sláinte!

U2 – The Joshua Tree (1987)

How can I not talk about one of the most famous Irish rock bands of all time? The Joshua Tree is widely considered to be U2’s best work and is often cited among the greatest albums to ever be released. Throughout the 1980s, U2 was known for its combination of post-punk musical styles and sociopolitical lyricism penned by lead singer Bono. The Joshua Tree marked a subtle transition for the band as it moved towards conventional song structures while still harnessing Bono’s songwriting prowess. Influenced by Irish folk music as well as American rock music, this album paints a stunning contrast of the “real America” and the “fake America” — the latter in which freedom and prosperity dominate — often talked about by the band during live shows. 

Sinéad O’Connor – I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got (1990)

O’Connor has always been a curious figure, garnering both acclaim and controversy during the 1990s. Her second record would not be complete without her famous rendition of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a very touching power ballad that acts as the record’s emotional climax. While primarily being an alternative rock album, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got incorporates Irish folk styles and highlights O’Connor’s unabashed honesty about her personal struggles. The confessional lyrics were inspired by her marriage breakup with John Reynolds and demonstrate both loss and redemption.

The Cranberries – Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? (1993)

While The Cranberries gained significantly more recognition with the release of No Need to Argue and “Zombie” in 1994, the band’s lighter and dreamier debut project is certainly still worth talking about. Containing beauties such as “Dreams” and “Linger,” this record opened several doors for the band in the early 1990s, making their name known both inside and outside of Europe. A 25th anniversary deluxe remaster was planned for release in early 2018, but it was delayed to later in the year after the death of the lead singer and songwriter, Dolores O’Riordan. I consider this album to be the perfect testament to her powerful voice and timeless talent. 

The Dubliners – A Drop of the Hard Stuff (1967)

If the title alone was not enough to give it away, this album concerns itself mostly with drinking, in standard St. Patrick’s Day fashion. However, while the music is so stereotypically Irish, it is surprisingly intricate in its construction. The Dubliners jovially showcase the depths of their talent through the instrumental performances as well as a surprise a cappella rendition of “Limerick Rake.” The fiddle and banjo have never sounded so complex. If you want a proper taste of Celtic folk music, look no further than A Drop of the Hard Stuff with a healthy side of whiskey.

The Corrs – Forgiven, Not Forgotten (1995)

Perhaps the quintessential Celtic fusion band, The Corrs take the sounds fostered by their Irish ancestors and meld them together with pop and rock styles. They recorded their debut album in North America, which saw them writing their own tunes, as well as developing modern rearrangements of traditional Irish folk songs. The stylistic variety makes the record feel more like a live concert rather than a studio project, with the instrumentals acting like brief intermissions. These breaks are welcomed, as the original compositions discuss fairly heavy topics. The Corrs later transitioned towards mainstream pop, but I believe their early folk-rock work is their best.

my bloody valentine – loveless (1991)

loveless is lauded as a pinnacle of the shoegaze subgenre of rock music, which features heavy guitar distortion, indiscernible vocals, and voluntary noise. The album went on to influence several other notable 1990s bands like Slowdive, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Hole. The best part about loveless is that it sounds completely distinct from other Irish work of that period and proves that the country is more than just the fiddle and fish and chips. It may be intimidating, but if I had to recommend only one project from this list, it would be loveless. Check it out — you will not be disappointed.

Hozier – Hozier (2014)

Finally, we will conclude with a modern album! Hozier skyrocketed to the top of the charts with “Take Me to Church,” a song whose mainstream appeal I am still pleasantly shocked by. The chilling piano in the verses and the guttural yelling in the chorus kick off the record amazingly. The rest of Hozier adheres to a blues style of rock, making use of slower tempos and bleaker moods. It also has subtle Irish gospel influences that provide the music with an almost haunting atmosphere. Top it off with Hozier’s evocative vocal performances and you have yourself an experience worth writing home about. Consider having some tissues beside you, as some of the songs are a struggle to get through.