The Top Five Irish Folk Songs You Need to Know

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


While “Danny Boy” may be the most popular Irish folk song in the world, there are plenty of other great ones out there. Here are five of the best.

The Wild Rover

“The Wild Rover” is a traditional folk song from Ireland. The song is about a man who is looking for a place to drink and gamble. He eventually finds a pub, but it is closed for the night. He then decides to go to the next pub, but it is also closed. He then decides to go home, but he is stopped by the police.

The Galway Shawl

The Galway Shawl is a traditional Irish folk song that warns of the dangers of spending too much time away from home. The lyrics tell the story of a young woman who is lured away from her home in Galway by a young man who promises her a fine shawl. However, when she arrives in his village, she finds that he has married another woman and she is left penniless. The song is a cautionary tale about the dangers of being deceived by false promises.

The Irish Washerwoman

The Irish Washerwoman is a traditional Irish folk song that dates back to the 19th century. The song is about a woman who is doing her laundry in a river when she spots a man on the banks. She starts to sing to him, and the two eventually fall in love.

The Black Velvet Band

“The Black Velvet Band” is a song written in the late 19th century, first published in Boston in 1895. It tells the story of a young man who is seduced by a “black velvet band” while away from home, and sent to Australia as a convict.

The song was originally composed as an American minstrel song, but has been adapted and popularized by many artists over the years. The most notable adaptation was done by the Irish band The Dubliners, who released their version in 1967.

Other notable versions include those done by Luke Kelly (1972), planxty (1974), The Pogues (1985), Dick Gaughan (1986), The Wolfe Tones (1987), and Mary Black (1989).

The Fields of Athenry

“The Fields of Athenry” is a ballad set during the Great Famine. The lyrics tell the story of a young man transported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) as a result of stealing food to feed his family during the Irish Potato Famine.

The song was written by Pete St. John in 1978 and has been recorded by numerous artists, including the Dubliners, Christy Moore, Mary Black, Paul Brady, and Boyzone. In 2007, the Irish singer Mundy released a version of the song which reached number one on the Irish Singles Chart.

The song has also been used extensively in popular culture, appearing in films such as The Railway Man and TV shows such as Sons of Anarchy and Outlander.

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