The All-Time Most Iconic Celtic Punk and Irish Rock Bands

Phil Lynott graffiti in Cork, Ireland.

Through a rich history of lyrical mastery, colourful charisma and the ability to triumph against the odds, Ireland has become a cultural icon for millions. For example, take any St Patrick’s Day celebration and you’re bound to find revelers from all countries and cultures enjoying the festivities. In fact, it’s this attitude that people love about Ireland in general. Take any St Patrick’s Day celebration and you’re bound to find revelers from all countries and cultures enjoying the festivities. Is it because they love the metallic tang of Guinness? Possibly, but it’s more likely they feel some sort of tacit connection to Ireland. Quite why these feelings have developed is unclear. However, what we do know is they’re real and have inspired and influenced many industries and endeavours in recent times.

It’s not just in the media or when a party breaks out that people are drawn to Irish imagery. The ever-present shamrock and leprechaun can be seen on everything from team mascots to cereals. The Notre Dame Leprechaun is the mascot of the sports teams that represent the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and, although the teams aren’t top in their leagues that often, the mascot itself is instantly recognisable and quite popular, to the point of having adorned the cover of TIME magazine in November 1964. There’s also been a steady interest in Celtic and Irish themes in the world of video games. In The Bard’s Tale, and action role-playing game released in 2004, many of the characters and places are influenced by Celtic mythology, with scenes taking place in Dun Aulin, an ancient ceremonial site in County Kildare. As for the Nancy Drew point-and-click adventure game, it has a whole installment set in the spooky fictional Castle Malloy set in Ireland. Even in terms of typical symbols of Ireland, there are games that embrace them to symbolise good fortune and prosperity. In the case of Irish Magic slots, pots of gold, rainbows and four-leaf clovers use the mystical allure of the Emerald Isle to enliven their action and create positive connotations for players. In addition, a dynamic Irish melody plays in the background. Beyond the sporting and gaming worlds, Lucky Charms, Irish-themed bars and even the Chicago River being dyed green once a year are all testaments to Ireland’s influence on the world and the world’s love of all things Irish. Thanks to this affinity for Ireland via proxy as well as their insistence of adding traditional Irish melodies to their songs, native rock bands have managed to get their message out to a much wider audience than may have otherwise been possible.

Ireland’s Musical Heritage Has Inspired the World

Because people can’t seem to get enough of the Irish culture and spirit, many of Ireland’s native rock bands have enjoyed success on an international stage. U2, The Pogues, and The Frames are just a few of Ireland’s musical success stories. Of course, in light of the untimely death of The Cranberries’ frontwoman, Dolores O’Riordan, it would be remiss not to salute the nineties pop-rock outfit. Formed in 1989, the band managed to sell 40 million records worldwide thanks to hits such as Linger and Zombie. Put simply, a wealth of talent has emerged from Ireland over the last few decades and it’s this success combined with an international affinity for the culture that’s inspired others. Indeed, as the sounds of The Pogues et al. have merged with slightly heavier licks of Thin Lizzy, Rory Gallagher, and My Bloody Valentine, musicians around the world have picked up the “Irish” sound, and gone ahead to make their sound even more “Celtic”. Let’s take a look.

1The Real McKenzies

Perhaps the best example of bands that have taken everything the Emerald Isle has to offer and created their own vibe is The Real McKenzies. Formed in Vancouver, Canada, back in 1992, The Real McKenzies can lay claim to starting the Celtic Punk movement, which embraces both Irish and Scottish sounds – featuring bagpipes, traditional melodies, and all-around fun. The band’s anarchic sound played into the vibe of artists gone by and earned them cult acclaim around the world.

2The Dropkick Murphys

What The Real McKenzies started, the Dropkick Murphys picked up and ran with it in 1996. Starting out in Massachusetts, US, the band are still touring today to a combination of hardcore rockers and mainstream music fans. In many ways, the Dropkicks are the nostalgic punk voice of the Irish diaspora, and they have certainly touched the mainstream with their chart hits. Tessie was the first and remains the most successful, but songs such as I’m Shipping Up to Boston and Rose Tattoo have also pierced the public’s imagination.

3The Killigans

If you enjoy foot-stomping, beer-raising tunes, then a Killigans concert is right up your alley. Taking influences from punk, country, and folk, this American band has a touch of the Irish about them in more ways than one. Aside from lyrics literally filled with tales of whiskey, The Killigans thrive on their audiences. Sure, the music has a slightly ramshackle, Pogues-esque feel to it, but it’s the way the group plays to the crowd that really stands out. When you go to see this band, expect to be on your feet, swilling beer and generally having a raucous time in the same way you would in a good old-fashioned Irish bar.

4The Dreadnoughts

What do you get when you cross sea shanties with a thrashing punk sound? Well, you get The Dreadnoughts. Formed in Canada but picking up inspiration from around the world like a ship full of music-hungry sailors, this band undoubtedly has a Celtic undertone. Of course, the obvious Irish tradition of shipbuilding is one way to link The Dreadnoughts to the Emerald Isle. However, for us, it’s the homage to familiar Irish instruments such as the fiddle, tin whistle, and accordion that gives this band a fantastic fusion sound.

5The Porters

For our final pick of great bands that have tipped their hats to Ireland, we can’t ignore The Porters. While the eight-piece might not have set the world alight like The Real McKenzies or Dropkick Murphys, they are somewhat unique in the fact they hail from Germany. In musical terms, the combination of distorted and acoustic guitars is interesting, even if it does get a little lost in a few places. However, what sticks out for us is that the Irish sound has found its way to a country that many wouldn’t have expected it to. Historically, migration from Ireland to Germany hasn’t been as popular as to the US or Canada. For that reason, we think it stands as a testament to the sound of a nation that it can reverberate around all countries and not just those traditionally associated with immigration.

The Value of the Irish Sound

Could bands from Canada or the US have enjoyed the same level of success with an Irish sound if Ireland didn’t have such a powerful presence in pop culture? Possibly, but there’s no doubt this dynamic has helped. Tapping into the country’s ability to draw light out of dark moments and do it with a certain amount of charm has not only helped The Real McKenzies and Dropkick Murphys, but any band following the path of The Pogues. Although it’s not always a recipe for success, the Irish sound has a lot of value in the music industry. Through historical symbolism, contemporary icons and a way with words, Ireland has become a driving force in the music industry and beyond. For fans of rock, this is something we should all be grateful for.

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