My Irish music top ten

St. Patrick’s Day is tomorrow! Allan (the boyfriend) isn’t from around here and says he never knew it was a “thing.” When I was little and in Catholic school, I seriously thought that basically everyone was either Irish or Italian and that St. Patrick’s Day was a real holiday right up there with Halloween. We even got the day off from school. Seriously, it took me till, like, seventh grade to realize that we got that day off because of Evacuation Day (non-Bostonians/history buffs, check the link). (I also for a couple years when I was just starting school thought that we got the day after Halloween off so that we could stay up late eating candy… All Saints Day, what’s that?) So when I was younger, St. Patrick’s Day meant a day off from school and gross food for supper. Yes, my mother always made the classic corned beef and cabbage. I’ve never been the biggest fan of red meat, so St. Patrick’s Day for me always meant trying my best to fill up on cabbage and possibly potatoes and carrots that had been boiled in beefjuice all day. yum!

Then I got to college, and St. Patrick’s Day at an Irish-Catholic school is, like, an event. It is insanity. It was hard to get into it sometimes because of course there were the people who’d go overboard and throw up in the dining hall or knock over all the trash cans on your hall and all of that and make it a lot less fun.

But now that I no longer have to eat corned beef and cabbage or deal with sloppy drunks on my hall, it’s a fun holiday again. I have a thing for Irish music, and this time of year I can get away with listening to it without getting looked at oddly. So, for your enjoyment, may I present…

My Irish Top Ten (in Random Order)

1. Whiskey in the Jar
You may be familiar with this version by Metallica:

I actually love this version. It’s by far my favorite Metallica song (sorry, Enter Sandman). It’s Metallica’s version of Thin Lizzy’s cover of this Irish standard. For a more traditional take on it, here’s a good version by the Dubliners.

Completely different feel, and also completely awesome. Like most folk songs, there’s variations in the lyrics among the different versions. One thing about the version Metallica chose to cover that I like better is that the woman’s name is Molly, whereas in this version she’s named Jenny. I’m partial to the name Molly… my Prayer Bargain main character is named Molly.

2. Wild Rover
No nay never, no more….

This version is from a group called the High Kings. The Dubliners have a good version too, but I’m trying for some variety in my videos. I also like the Irish Rovers version. But the High Kings have some amazing harmonies on this. And they understand the supreme importance of the four claps after “no nay never.” That is vital to full enjoyment of this song.

3. I’ll Tell Me Ma
Please excuse the horrible lyrics-scrolling video, but this is my favorite recording of the song.

My mp3 says it’s by a group called Quilty, but who knows how reliable that is. In any case, fun song for dancing.

4. Fields of Athenry
Here’s one I love that manages to be incredibly sad but also have wonderful sing-along potential. This version is again by the Dubliners.

It’s a bit slower and more sad than the other live recording I’ve seen of them doing it, but the guy’s voice is just awesome. My family has busted this one out at all sorts of holidays. For another less-traditional take on an Irish favorite, I also enjoy the Dropkick Murphys’ Celtic-punk version:

5. Black Velvet Band
Beware of the pretty colleens!

This one of those songs I learned before I was even old enough to go to school. I liked that it had my name in it. For those of you NOT named Colleen, the name means “girl” in Irish. In this song (as in Whiskey in the Jar), the bewitching girl tricks the poor hapless guy and gets him shipped off to Australia. Lots of people were getting shipped off to Australia in Irish music (see Fields of Athenry).

6. The Orange and the Green

Yet another one I learned before I was five. A lot of the songs on my aunts’ Irish Rovers record became staples of my childhood. I was confused by this one when I was little. The part about “my father he was orange and me mother she was green” (for those unfamiliar with Irish-ness, orange would be Protestant and green would be Catholic… I didn’t know that when I was little). I was picturing this guy’s mother being some sort of alien from outer space until I asked my mother about it and she cleared it up for me. After that I thought it was cool because on my mom’s side, my grandfather was the lone Protestant in my family and my grandmother is Catholic.

7. The Unicorn

This one’s not really an Irish folk classic.. it was actually written by Shel Silverstein. I of course learned this song before I could read, so I was confused as hell when I opened up Where the Sidewalk Ends in second grade and saw a poem that was almost identical to this song. But yeah, so this song is actually awful, in that it’s horrifying and guilt inducing (no wonder it caught on as an Irish song). It’s about why there are no unicorns anymore because they were goofing off instead of getting on Noah’s ark. Check out these lines: “The ark started moving, it drifted with the tide. Them unicorns looked up from the rocks and they cried. And the waters came down and sort of floated them away. And that’s why you never seen a unicorn to this very day.” WHAT. THE. HELL. That’s all kids of frightening.

Buuut the song has a dance, so that sort of makes up for it a little. If you don’t know it, get me or one of my brothers to show it to you.

8. Riverdance title theme

I know it’s cheesy, but I had to nerd out to this one. I used to dance, and Irish step is like tap but a million times more awesome… especially the hard-shoes. I will learn this someday. When I drink I like to pretend I can do Irish step to this song. It’s not good.

9. Boston Rose

I somehow didn’t come across this one until I was an adult. It’s another sad one. Try to ignore the supreme 80s-ness of this video. This one reminds me a lot of my family. I can’t end on this one because it’s too sad. So with that….

10. Lily the Pink
Now here’s a story, a little bit gory, a little bit happy, a little bit sad…

I grew up to a 45 of this song. It’s kind of hilarious that I knew this song at such a young age. I wish I could find the studio version to post, but this live one was the best I could do.

So those are ten of my favorites. What are yours?

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “My Irish music top ten

  1. There’s a stagering amount of songs I could choose. I’ll go with the gorgeous “Her Mantle So Green” which is on a Sinead O’Connor album.

  2. james tasker

    why is there no ‘The Script’

    • I had no idea they were Irish! Cool. 🙂 I was going more folksy overall for the list, hence the lack of U2 and Sinead and the Cranberries and all the rest of them. But there’s just too many good songs to choose!

  3. Bo Ek

    I’ll Tell Me Ma:
    I’m not 100% sure, but it sounds like the group Quilty. It’s a three man group, from Sweden.

  4. Libby

    This is a good list, I like how a lot of it is traditional irish. I do like Dropkick Murray’s version of Fields Of Athenry
    And on The Orange And Green describes my parents. My mum was baptized in a Catholic Church and everyone else in my family is in Christianity.
    I’m trying to learn Gaelic at the moment.

    • I would love to learn Irish… BU’s MFA gave out travel fellowships, and for my proposal I wrote about going to Ireland and learning the language, but the fellowship program heavily favored poets and fiction writers so playwrights only got two slots. boo.

      The Orange and the Green is sooo my grandparents on my mom’s side, where my grandfather is the lone Protestant of the family. He wasn’t allowed to stand on the altar during their pre-Vatican II wedding.

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