The Emerald Isle is a hotbed of talent when it comes to bands. Here we spotlight some of Irelands best, including first-gen punk pioneers, rock legends and edgy indie-pop acts who are loved at home and abroad. Here’s our top ten. Did we miss anyone?
U2 was formed in Dublin in 1976. Consisting of Bono (lead vocals and rhythm guitar), the Edge (lead guitar, keyboards, and backing vocals), Adam Clayton (bass guitar), and Larry Mullen Jr. (drums and percussion), these Irish natives would emerge to become one of the biggest bands on the planet. U2 have released 14 studio albums and are now one of the world’s best-selling music artists in history, having sold more than 170 million records worldwide. The band has won 22 Grammy Awards, more than any other band, and in 2005, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility.
Oh, the irony, one of the most Irish of Irish alt-rock bands of all time were actually formed in England in 1982. The band found international success in the 1980s and early 1990s, recording several hit albums and singles. Singer and founder member Shane MacGowan quit the band in 1991 due to drinking problems, but the band continued – first with the Clash’s Joe Strummer and then with Spider Stacy on vocals. The band broke up in 1996 and re-formed in late 2001 playing regularly across the UK and Ireland and on the East Coast of the USA, before splitting up again in 2014.
Made up of Feargal Sharkey (vocals), John O’Neill (rhythm guitar, vocals), Damian O’Neill (lead guitar, vocals), Michael Bradley (bass, vocals) and Billy Doherty (drums), The Undertones grew up in the heart of Northern Ireland in the ‘70s. Tough times yes, but the band turned that turmoil into tough, in your face, pop-punk, and eventually turned their musical talents to writing power pop. Despite the political climate at the time in Northern Ireland, the majority of the material the band released focused on adolescence, teenage angst and heartbreak. With tracks like: “Teenage Kicks,” and “My Perfect Cousin,” The Undertones cemented themselves as one of Irelands greatest exports.
My Bloody Valentine
Formed in Dublin in 1983. My Bloody Valentine has consisted of founding members Kevin Shields (vocals, guitar, sampler) and Colm Ó Cíosóig (drums, sampler), Bilinda Butcher (vocals, guitar) and Debbie Googe (bass). The band signed to Creation Records in 1988 and released albums full of dissonant guitar textures, ethereal melodies, and some pretty unorthodox production techniques. All of these elements helped to pioneer the alternative rock subgenre known as ‘shoegazing’ during the late 1980s and early 1990s. As quickly as they arrived on the scene, the band did one of rock’s greatest disappearing acts, finally finding their way back 22 years later for the follow-up, ‘MBV.’
Damien Rice was born in on 7th December 1973 in Kildare. After a brief stint with a band called Juniper, and then working as a farmer in Tuscany and busking throughout Europe, Rice returned to Ireland in 2001 and began forging a solo musical career. In 2002 his debut album ‘O’ reached No. 8 on the UK albums chart, won the Shortlist Music Prize and spawned three top-30 singles in the UK. Rice’s second album ‘9’ was released in 2006 and his songs have since appeared in numerous films and television episodes. A full eight years of various collaborations later, Rice released his third studio album My Favourite Faded Fantasy on 31st October 2014. Rice has also made musical contributions to charitable projects such as the Songs for Tibet, Freedom Campaign and the Enough Project.
Dolores O’Riordan’s heavenly voice took this Limerick alt-pop outfit to international heights during the 90s. Formed in 1989, TheCranberries, found worldwide fame in the 1990s with their debut album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?, Since then they have sold over 40 million records worldwide, and achieved four top 20 albums on the Billboard 200 chart: The aforementioned: Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?; No Need to Argue, To the Faithful Departed, and Bury the Hatchet and eight top 20 singles on the Modern Rock Tracks chart: “Linger”, “Dreams”, “Zombie”, “Ode to My Family”, “Ridiculous Thoughts”, “Salvation”, “Free to Decide”, and “Promises.” Tragically, on the 15thof January 2018, singer Dolores O’Riordan was found dead of drowning in a London hotel room. The Cranberries later confirmed in November 2018 that they will not be continuing as a band and will release their final album: In the End in 2019 and will disband after that, with Noel Hogan stating: “the Cranberries was the four of us. We don’t want to do this without Dolores. So we’re going to leave it after this.”
Stiff Little Fingers
Formed in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1977, Stiff Little Fingers were the Irish equivalent to London’s punk hero’s, the Clash. Yeah, they were brash and could bring it like the best of any of the punk bands of that era, but like The Clash, the band could match punk fury with serious songwriting chops. Still fronted by original lead singer Jake Burns, and despite major personnel changes, SLF is still touring and recording, and in 2014 the band released their tenth studio album and a world tour followed its release.
As the Britpop wars were raging during the ’90s, Ireland put their own group into the hat, that band was Downpatrick’s Ash. The band’s sound was far punkier than most of their contemporaries, but their ability to be pop savvy and write a tune was always an indelible element of their sound. Their first full-length album called: 1977 was released in 1996, and upon release was named by NME as one of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The band has had one silver, two gold and two platinum-selling records in the United Kingdom, as well as 18 songs in the top 40 of the UK Singles Chart.
Therapy? are a band hailing from Northern Ireland, and were formed in 1989 by guitarist-vocalist Andy Cairns and drummer-vocalist Fyfe Ewing. Making serious headway during the alternative boom of the ‘90s, the band signed with A&M records, merging metal and post-punk influences with a fierce and urgent approach. Still bringing it to this day, Therapy? has released 15 full-length studio albums and have sold over two million albums worldwide.
New York City had the Strokes, and Dublin Ireland had the Thrills. Founded in 2001, these Dublin boys channeled the American styled ‘60s and ‘70s West Coast sound and turned it into their own. Critics called their sound: “an ocean-soaked, harmony-heavy homage to California’s dreamy dreams, shaking ground, and unrelenting sunshine.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.