Every year in the weeks coming up to St Patrick’s Day, singers and bands from all over the world descend on the lyrics and chords section of the Irish Music Daily website to brush up on their Irish material in time for the big celebration.
We can gauge the popularity of each song by the number of hits it gets on our site. So here we are, this is the top 20 St Patrick’s Day songs according to the number of performers who arrive on our site to check out the lyrics and chords.
We’re showing them in reverse order between now and St Patrick’s Day.
20. Black Velvet Band
A tale of deceit which sees an unfortunate young Irishman sentenced to seven years hard labour in Australia after being betrayed by a beautiful young temptress who turns out to be a thief. It has a great chorus that has everyone singing along in pubs and bars across the world.
19. Wild Colonial Boy
Sticking with the theme of penal servitude, the Wild Colonial Boy tells the tale of 16-year-old Jack Duggan from Castlemaine in Kerry. He was sent to the colonies for a petty crime and quickly became the “terror of Australia”. To the British authorities he was a ruthless criminal; to the working Australians he was a hero. The song was performed in the Irish American film, the Quiet Man, in the famous pub scene in which the John Wayne character arrives back in Ireland for the first time.
18. Dirty Old Town
Did you think this was about your town? Many people do, from places as far apart as Dublin to Detroit. In fact, this Ewan MacColl masterpiece is about a small town in the north of England. It’s not Irish at all but it’s become so popular in Ireland that is has been absorbed into the tradition.
17. Fairytale of New York
So many people’s favourite Christmas song, it also gets a new lease of life around St Patrick’s Day. It’s not easy to recreate the contrasting vocals of Kirsty MacColl and Shane MacGowan from the original. Irish singer Christy Moore solved the problem by turning the song into a solo and he’s been copied by hundreds of performers since.
16. Mountains of Mourne
Possibly the most famous song by the great Irish songwriter Percy French. The lyrics are in the form of a letter from a young Irish man in London to a woman friend back in Ireland. The song is full of exquisite, whimsical humour which can sometimes be lost in the raucous St Patrick’s Day atmosphere. For some people, who possibly fail to recognise the gentle humour, it can seem a little schmaltzy, but it always goes down well with audiences all over the world.
15. Holy Ground
A wonderful song that works equally well as a fast moving chorus song or a heartrending slow ballad. The debate still rages as to where the Holy Ground is, but most people agree that it refers to the Cobh harbour area in Cork.
14. Galway Girl
A modern classic by American song writer Steve Earle. It was only written in 2000 but has now entered the Irish folk tradition.
At any given moment Ireland, you’re likely to hear this song blaring out on the radio, or wafting out of a tourist shop as you wander along.
It’s based on a true story involving Earle and a beautiful Irish woman he met while working in Ireland. Irish singer Mundy and Sharon Shannon, who had a big hit with the song, know the woman involved but refuse to reveal her identity.
More on Galway Girl, including videos by top performers.
13. I’ll Tell Me Ma
This classic is thought to have started life as a children’s skipping song, which explains the irresistible rhythm that gets toes tapping everywhere. Cities argue over where it originate, Belfast, Dublin, Galway, even towns in England have staked a claim.
12. Irish Rover
This fantastical ship is supposed to have set sail from Cobh Harbour in 1806. The date and location may be year may be real but everything else is pure fantasy. The story of ship, its unbelievable characters and incredible cargo is a firm St Patrick’s Day favourite. Watch out for the live version featuring the Pogues and the Dubliners performing together.
11. Leaving of Liverpool
A sad song of farewell, with a rousing chorus. It could have been written for sad Irish emigres a long way from home on St Patrick’s Day. Bob Dylan used it as the inspiration for his song, the Restless Farewell.