The 10 Best Irish Rock Acts Ever


Following on from our Top 10 Most Iconic Rock Concerts, brings you the 10 Best Irish rock acts ever.

10. The Saw Doctors

Kicking off our list are Galway rockers, The Saw Doctors. Since 1986, the band have thrilled audiences around the world and have set some records along the way. Their famous hit ‘I Useta Lover’  is Ireland’s all time biggest selling single.

The Saw Doctors came to prominence by playing concerts and pub sessions throughout Galway. Another reason as to why the band became extremely popular in Ireland is due to the fact that the many members of the Saw Doctors throughout the years have come from different musical backgrounds. Elements of pop punk, rock and roll and Irish trad music have all featured in their music throughout the years.

Their most iconic hit is ‘I Useta Lover’ and you can listen to it here.

Other notable tracks include: ‘N17’, ‘To Win Just Once’ and their cover of the Sugababes ‘About You Now’.

9. Therapy?

The first band from Northern Ireland on our list are alternative metal band, Therapy? Formed in 1989, Therapy? enjoyed great success throughout the 90s. Northern Ireland have had a great tradition with metal, especially Sweet Savage and their influence in the new wave of British heavy metal scene from the 80s.

Therapy? released the E.P. Shortsharpshock in 1993 and this propelled them into the mainstream with appearances on Top of the Pops. The band received Mercury Music nominations and won Kerrang! Awards. The band toured around the world and joined the bill with metal legends Slayer and Metallica at Donnington in 1995. The band intend on touring in 2021.

Their most well known song is ‘Screamager’. Other notable songs include ‘Diane’, ‘Nowhere’ and ‘Die Laughing’.

8. Stiff Little Fingers

Stiff Little Fingers are a punk rock band, formed in Belfast at the height of the troubles in 1977. The band started out as a cover band called Highway Star after the Deep Purple song. Once they discovered punk music, the band went to new heights.

The group called on their experiences of living through the troubles to write their music. The track ‘Suspect Device’ was played many times by legendary DJ John Peel. This attention led to a record deal.

Their first album ‘Inflammable Material’ was a hit and peaked at 14 in the British charts. It was the first album on an independent label to enter the top 20. The band’s signature song ‘Alternative Ulster’ featured on the album. Stiff Little Fingers broke up in 1982 and reformed in 1987.  The band are still active today and in 2019 played Slane Castle.

‘Alternative Ulster’ is the band’s most iconic track. Other tracks such as ‘Suspect Device’, ‘Gotta Getaway’ and their cover of Bob Marley’s ‘Johnny Was’ also contributed to their success.

7. The Undertones

Another Northern Irish band who came to prominence during the troubles are The Undertones. Hailing from Derry, the band did not use the troubles as a source of inspiration for the music, but the challenges and tribulations that adolescents and young adults face. They accused Stiff Little Fingers of glamorising the troubles, while The Undertones ignored the troubles according to the Belfast band.

Formed in 1974, the band enjoyed much success until their breakup in 1983. The song ‘Teenage Kicks’ became a legendary track thanks to John Peel. The first time Peel ever played the song, he played it again after. He had never done that before. It is Peel’s favourite song. It’s hard not to see why. It’s a song most people can relate to and the riff is a catchy, energetic one that is instantly recognisable.

The band reformed in 1999 and are still active today. UK and European dates have been announced for 2021. Along with ‘Teenage Kicks’, other notable Undertones songs include ‘My Perfect Cousin’, ‘Here Comes The Summer’ and ‘Get Over You’.

6. Horslips

This list would not be complete without Horslips. Regarded as the founders of Celtic rock, the Dublin band found success and were widely accepted in both Ireland and Northern Ireland during the troubles.

They combined Irish traditional music with brilliant electric guitar work. It gave them a distinct sound. The band used Irish mythology as inspiration and motivation for their music. The band bucked the trend of many Irish bands who enjoyed success in Ireland in the 70s, Horslips stayed in Ireland and made their base here.

Without a doubt, their most famous song is Dearg Doom. The opening riff was used in ‘Put Em Under Pressure’, Ireland’s anthem for Italia 90. That riff resonates with any Irish football fan. It resonates with any Irish person. Horslips were instrumental in Celtic rock and inspiring many acts who followed them.

As well as ‘Dearg Doom’, ‘King of the Fairies’, ‘Trouble (With a capital T)’ and ‘Sword of Light’ are the band’s other famous songs.

5. The Pogues

The Pogues are a Celtic punk band formed in 1982. Fronted by the legendary ‘Shane MacGowan’, The Pogues were inspired by their punk music roots and Irish traditional music.

The Pogues enjoyed huge success in the 80s and 90s. However, as the band were reaching new heights, they were also becoming quite unstable. MacGowan had substance abuse and the band argued over the political nature of their songs.

‘If I Should Fall from Grace With God’ was the band’s third album and their most successful one due to ‘Fairytale of New York’. It is regarded as one of the best Christmas songs of all time, despite the fact it wasn’t Christmas number one the year it was released.

Throughout their career, The Pogues wrote some incredible music, they entertained millions and shone a light on Irish traditional music. Their cover of ‘Dirty Old Town’ and ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ along with ‘Love You Till The End’, ‘Sally MacLeanne’ and the iconic ‘Fairytale of New York’ are just some of the songs that make The Pogues one of the best Irish acts of all time.

4. The Cranberries

Fronted by the enigmatic singer, Dolores O’Riordan, The Cranberries were an Irish band that found incredible success in the 90s. The Limerick band were a rock band but incorporated aspects of indie and folk music into their songs.

O’Riordan was one of the best female singers of all time. Her voice was instantly recognisable due to her yodelling style of singing, which others such as Sinead O’Connor replicated. With her unique singing style, The Cranberries wrote some of the best songs of the 90s.

There were many number ones and awards for The Cranberries. Songs such as ‘Dreams’ and ‘Linger’ were instant hits. However, the song ‘Zombie’ was their pinnacle. It was a protest song written about the troubles Ireland had faced and was written in memory of two young victims of the IRA Warrington bombs in 1993.

O’Riordan sadly passed away in January 2018. The country and the world mourned her death. The Cranberries are no longer active as the band don’t want to continue without O’Riordan. Despite this, the legacy of The Cranberries will live on.

3. Rory Gallagher

Rory Gallagher is regarded as one of the best guitarists of all time and rightly so. He is credited with inspiring Eric Clapton. He was wanted by the Rolling Stones and of course, there is always that Jimi Hendrix quote that is either true or one of the best urban myths out there.

Born in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal, Gallagher spent time in Derry and Cork. He formed his band Taste in the 60s. Once Taste broke up, Gallagher went on to be a solo artist and gained a lot of fame due to his live performances.

Playing rock and blues, Gallagher wowed fans. His music is inspiring, groovy, and captivating. While he was recognised by his peers and fans and sold 30 million records worldwide, he never got mainstream attention.

Gallagher passed away in 1995 due to health complications with his liver. Gallagher will be remembered as one of the best guitarists of all time. His music is timeless and can be enjoyed by anyone. ‘As The Crowe Flies’, ‘Philby’, ‘Bad Penny’ ‘I Fall Apart’ and ‘A Million Miles Away’ are just some of his best and iconic songs.

2. Thin Lizzy

Formed in 1969, with Phil Lynott as frontman, Thin Lizzy became one of the best Irish bands of all time and one of the best rock acts too. The band consisted of both Catholics and Protestants, which was an anomaly for Irish bands during the 70s. Lynott was the first black man to garner commercial success as a musician in Ireland.

Thin Lizzy were one of the first bands to have two lead guitarists in their band. This became popular in the heavy metal scene in the 70s and was replicated by Iron Maiden. The guitar playing by Gary Moore, Eric Bell, Scott Gorham, Brian Robertson, and Snowy White throughout the years influenced many metal bands throughout the year.

Phil Lynott was an incredible wordsmith. He could write love songs, songs that dealt with the issues the working class faced and he could write songs that would resonate with anyone. Thin Lizzy were never the same once Lynott died, but their music lives on today. It lives on in rock music, it lives on in heavy metal.

Tracks such ‘Jailbreak’, ‘Emerald’ ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’ were hits enjoyed by all. Songs like ‘Thunder and Lightning’ and ‘Stone Cold Sweat’ were heavier in nature, but still became popular. ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ remains their most iconic hit to this day. Whether it’s played in Dublin, or in an Irish bar far away, that song will always unite people in song and dance.

1. U2

When four young lads played a lunch time concert in Mount Temple secondary school, they changed the world of music forever. It was the beginning of U2. From the north side of Dublin, the band have played all around the world and sold an estimated 150-170 million albums in their career.

When you analyse U2, it is no surprise to see how successful they have become. The rhythm from drummer Larry Mullen Jr. backed by Adam Clayton’s bass playing, The Edge’s unconventional guitar playing, and Bono’s incredible lyrics all make U2 what they are today.

U2’s music is filled with songs of love, hope, fear and the certainty and uncertainty of all those emotions. Bono has been with his wife since his teenage days, yet he was able to see the break ups around him and understand people’s emotions to write one of the best songs about heartache ‘Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses’.

When you think about great musical duos, The Edge and Bono are up there. Throughout their career, the two have written some of the best songs of all time. From the early punk days of ‘Boy’ up until modern releases such ‘Songs of Experiences’, U2 have always had the ability  to write great music, to inspire people and to thrill audiences around the world.

For all their success and glory, U2 remain a love them or hate them band in Ireland. Or maybe it’s more of a love or hate Bono thing. Regardless, it’s time to put all that behind us and enjoy them. They are the best Irish act of all time.

Enjoy four songs from four different eras of U2. For the latest news on U2, check out Radio Nova here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *