Irish Music: The Top 10 Irish Folk Bands

July 19, 2021 by
POSTED BY July 19, 2021

Irish music is unique. For centuries Ireland has developed a lively music scene closely linked to social life. The best gigs here don’t take place in a concert hall, but in a pub. Musicians of very different abilities meet there for a session. All play without notes and fit into the whole. In this blog post we introduce you to the top 10 Irish folk bands.

1. The Chieftains

The music of the Chieftains is one of the absolute classics of Irish folk. The band was founded in 1962 by Paddy Moloney. Moloney plays two instruments typical of Irish music: Tin Whistle and Uilleann Pipes. Uilleann Pipes is the name of the Irish bagpipes and means something like elbow pipe. Unlike the Scottish version, this bellows is not filled with the mouth, but through the elbow.

2. The Bothy Band

The Bothy Band were considered a supergroup of the Irish Trad. They consisted of famous musicians such as Matt Molloy (also a member of the Chieftains), Donal Lunny and Triona Ni Dhomnaill. The dynamic music of the Bothy Band celebrated great success in the 1970s, but although they broke up in 1979, their musical influence can still be felt today. They were among the first to combine new instruments such as the Greek bouzouki with traditional Irish sounds.

3. Lúnasa

Lúnasa say they are “the hottest Irish acoustic band on the planet”. Rightly. The band has already delighted listeners in 36 countries with their first-class trad. Since the 1990s, various musicians from successful bands and groups have been doing the honors playing in Lúnasa. For their 20th anniversary, they released the new album CAS in 2017.

4. Sharon Shannon Band

Sharon Shannon was born into a musical family in County Clare in 1968. After supporting the “Waterboys” as an accordionist and violinist, she recorded her first solo album in 1991. She was also featured on the song A Woman’s Heart. This CD consisted exclusively of recordings by various Irish musicians and was sold over 200,000 times in Ireland. Her appearance on this song made Sharon a celebrity. She later formed the Sharon Shannon Band and had her greatest success in 2007 with The Galway Girl. In addition to music, Sharon Shannon campaigns for animal rights and has a vegan food stand for festivals.

5. Dervish

The band Dervish was formed in 1989 in County Sligo. They not only play instrumental pieces, but in Cathy Jordan they found a charismatic singer and percussionist. Dervish are often praised for the dynamic interaction of the three rhythm instruments. 

6. Planxty

The well-known Christy Moore was one of the founders of Planxty. Together with Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny (also Chieftains) and Liam O’Flynn, this formation gained first notoriety as the opening act for Donovan. In the history of Planxty there have also been various personnel changes, collaborations and overlaps with other groups such as the Chieftains and follow-up projects such as Moving Hearts. There was a reunification in the early 2000s. Although relatively unknown outside of Ireland, Planxty are considered “the most influential band in the history of traditional Irish music.”

7. Clannad

World star Enya emerged from Clannad. Clannad means “family of Dobhair” and is in fact made up of the Brennans’ siblings and relatives. The musical children performed early on in their father’s pub in Donegal. Their first album was released in 1973 and also received some attention outside of Ireland. Clannad composed the soundtrack for the BBC production of the film Harry’s Game and this made them known to an ever wider audience. Enya started her solo career in the 90s. By the way, her mother tongue is Irish.

8. Altan

The band Altan also comes from Donegal. The love of music brought this band together. Violinist and singer Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and flautist Frankie Kennedy not only founded Altan, they also married shortly after they met. Altan are considered a strongly traditional band that bring the beautiful melodies of their homeland Donegal to life. The high voice of Mairéad is another hallmark of Altan.

9. The Kane Sisters

Liz and Yvonne Kane are a violin duo from Letterfrack in Connemara. In 2010, they released their first album Side by Side. Since then they have released two more CDs. The Kane Sisters began their musical career as violinists in the Sharon Shannon Band and played concerts with her all over the world. Two violins are definitely a band according to the sisters. 

10. The Dubliners

The Dubliners are giants of Irish music. In various casts, they look back on half a century of music history in Ireland. Many of its members dedicated their entire lives to music. And the “craic” (Irish = fun). In Ireland, the two are inseparable. Nobody embodies this as much as Luke Kelly, legendary redhead and the first singer for the Dubliners. He was there when the band formed in 1962. In a pub, of course.


Want to visit Ireland to get the true Irish folk bands experience? There’s no better way than on an Ireland hiking holiday!


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