Irish folk music dates back thousands of years, but collections only date as far back as the 18th century. It is believed that Irish folk music survived more strongly than that of other European countries because Ireland was not a battlefield during either world war and because the country’s economy is derived mostly from agriculture, in which oral tradition (used in folk) music thrives.The folk music of Ireland was preserved in part due to collectors such as George Petrie, Edward Bunting, Francis O’Neill, and Canon James Goodman.
Even so, from the early ‘40s until the late ‘50s, Irish folk music wasn’t very popular. It saw a resurgence in popularity due primarily to the Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann (an association that promotes Irish music, song, dance, and language) and its Fleadh Cheoil, the organization’s popular music festival.
The Clancy Brothers were successful in the United States in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, as the folk music scene there was beginning to grow in popularity. By the mid-‘60s, groups like The Dubliners and The Chieftains were having hits all over the world. By the ‘70s, artists such as Rory Gallagher, Thin Lizzy, and Van Morrison had fused Irish folk music with rock and roll and punk. Today, bands like Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly often incorporate Irish folk music into their punk sound.
Here are a few Irish folk song favorites:
“Danny Boy” is considered by many to be an Irish anthem.Written in 1910, the song has many interpretations including from a woman to a man and from a father to his son going off to war. It has been covered by many artists including Connie Francis, Seamus Kennedy, Charlotte Church, and Diana Krall with The Chieftains.
“Finnegan’s Wake” From the 1850s, “Finnegan’s Wake” is a comical music-hall song about whiskey being both the cause of Finnegan’s death and his resurrection.The song has been covered by bands such as the Dropkick Murphys, The Clancy Brothers, Celtic Connection, and Darby O’Gill.
“Rocky Road to Dublin”About a man’s journey from his home in Tuam to Dublin, “Rocky Road to Dublin” is from the 19th century and has been covered by the Dropkick Murphys, The Clancy Brothers, Fiddler’s Green, and The Pogues.
“The Wild Rover” Covered by such bands as The Seekers, The Dubliners, Orthodox Celts, and Four to the Bar, “The Wild Rover” is a song from the early 1800s in which, when performed live, the audience participates by banging on the table or clapping during the break in the chorus.
“Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye” This song is an anti-war song that dates back to the early 19th century, when Irish troops served the British East India Company. The song has been covered by Joan Baez, the Chad Mitchell Trio, The Tossers, and Karan Casey.