By Matt Eisenberg

Special to The Wild Geese Today 

I remember driving home from the mall. It was a cold January afternoon and the radio DJ reported that Phil Lynott, founder/ singer/ bassist/ songwriter of Thin Lizzy, had died at age 35 after longtime abuse of heroin, cocaine, and alcohol. The leader of one my favorite bands had just passed. Sadly, there were not many that shared my pain, due to the fact that Thin Lizzy was never too popular in the United States.

Photo left, Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott.

Many Irish rock bands, like Thin Lizzy and U2, have provided me with some of the best recorded and live listening experiences of my life. What draws me to bands from Ireland is that for a long time it seemed to be a far-off land removed from rock 'n' roll. But I was quite wrong. The fusion of American music, such as blues, country, and rock, with Celtic sensibilities in a pop song resonated strongly with me. As with all music that interests me, I wanted to know the history behind my musical heroes. What inspired them? What were their upbringings like? What were their personalities? These were some the aspects that intrigued me.

The fusion of American music, such as blues, country, and rock, with Celtic sensibilities in a pop song resonated strongly with me.

When I came upon bands and singers from countries other than the America and England, they were of particular interest to me. As I grew up,  it seemed that most bands I heard on the radio came from these two countries. I wanted to know how bands from "foreign lands" broke through this Yank/Brit barrier.

Hence, I wind up here. Some of my favorite music comes from Ireland, so when I was asked to contribute to this site as a music columnist, I jumped at the chance. I plan on sharing my love of Irish rock through band profiles, interviews, record reviews and anything else that might be of interest. Comments and suggestions are welcome. Assembled here is what I consider the top 10, most important and influential rock artists to come out of Ireland. I realize that there are other bands deserving of recognition, but I had to keep to ten.

Thin Lizzy: A Rock Legend
Phil Lynott, Brian Downey and Eric Bell.

1. Thin Lizzy 
FORMED: 1970, Dublin

Mostly known for their song "The Boys Are Back in Town" from the "Jailbreak" album, Thin Lizzy has influenced many bands since its breakup in 1983. Phil Lynott brought a great sense of romance and sensibility to hard rock, while maintaining a tough guy, ladies' man image. Thin Lizzy combined hard rock, ballads, blues, and traditional Irish folk into a lethal combination of songs. Originally a trio, with drummer Brian Downey and guitarist Eric Bell, Lizzy had a revolving door for guitarists, which passed through Gary Moore, Brian Robertson, Snowy White, and John Sykes, all of whom played with Scott Gorham, one of the few consistent musicians in the band's history. With their twin-lead guitar attack, the band put out many great albums, including "Fighting," "Chinatown," "Black Rose," "Live" and "Dangerous" (live record), and "Life Live" (live record).

Get "Thin Lizzy's" latest release: Extended Versions, or check out some of their other music below.

2. U2 
FORMED: 1976, Dublin
The cover of "U2-3" the first single released by U2 in September 1979.

In 1995, I got to see one of the greatest concerts in my life. It was U2's "Unforgettable Fire Tour." Just four guys on an uncluttered stage, playing with great emotion and conviction. Today, these guys can still move an audience like no other. U2 brought a new awareness of politics in Ireland to the United States with clever, intelligent, upfront lyrics that addressed the violence in Northern Ireland, as well as religious corruption and the negatives of capitalism. What sets U2 apart from political punk bands like Clash and Dead Kennedys, are band members' strong Christian faith and their unique musical sound. Guitarist Edge, in his own way, reinvented guitar playing. He doesn't have tons of technical skill, but has the ability to find new ways to express, which gives him a distinctive sound. All U2's albums from the 1980s ("Boy", "October," "War," "Unforgettable Fire," "Joshua Tree") are great and worth having. I admire the band for trying to explore new ground in the 1990s, but "Achtung Baby" and "Pop" just did not cut it.

Get U2's Best of 1980-1990, or check out one of their other great releases below.

3. The Fat Lady Sings/ Nick Kelly 
FORMED: 1986, Dublin

Singer/songwriter and former front man for The Fat Lady Sings, Nick Kelly has contributed a tremendous amount to modern music. I consider The Fat Lady Sings' 1991 debut album "Twist" to be one of the greatest all-time rock records. The songs "Arc Light" and "Man Scared" provided the group with some U.S. chart success. In 1993, the band toured in support of its second album, "Johnson," with Howard Jones, and headlined small clubs in the States. Unfortunately, The Fat Lady Sings decided to split up after the tour. Nick Kelly went on to have a very successful solo career in Ireland, releasing two records on his Self Possessed label, including his recent award-winning "Between Trapezes." In 1998, Nick won the "Best Solo Male Artist" award at Ireland's preeminent music awards, The Heineken/Hot Press Awards.

WHO IS ON YOUR TOP 10 IRISH ROCKERS LIST? Join WGT Rocker-in-Chief Matt Eisenberg in The Wild Geese Forum to swap notes about the groups that best stir your Celtic soul.

The Van Morrison Website
Van Morrison in a 70s publicity shot.

4. Van Morrison 
BORN: August 31, 1945, Belfast

Born George Ivan Morrison, Van brings a unique talent to songwriting. Van's fusing of R&B, jazz, blues, and Celtic folk, has produced such legendary songs as "Moondance," "Brown-Eyed Girl," and "Domino." Even though he is best known for his early work, including Them's "Gloria," Van's best work came in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1988, Van teamed up with The Chieftains to record "Irish Heartbeat," a collection of traditional folk songs. That same year, he released one of his best albums, "Enlightenment." The single "Real, Real Gone" is probably one of the best songs he has ever written. But in 1991, Van created and released his greatest recording ever, "Hymns to the Silence." This double album takes the listener through some very beautiful music, sung with incredible passion.

Get Morrison's collaboration with the Chieftans, Irish Heartbeat, or one of his other releases below.

5. Sinéad O'Connor 
BORN: December 8, 1966, Dublin

Sinéad O'Connor Official Homepage
The beautiful, enigmatic Sinéad O'Connor in her younger days.

Sinéad is the most controversial artist on this list. Best known for ripping up a picture of Pope John Paul II on national television, few know that as a child she was abused by her mother, who was a fanatical Christian. Hence, Sinéad's anger and passion, which helped create some of the most compassionate and emotional albums of the late 1980s and early 1990s. In the early part of her career, Sinéad's appearance (shaved head and non-flashy clothing) drew much criticism from the unintelligent press. What they failed to see, but fans understood, was that she was and is a great artist. Sinéad's debut album "The Lion and the Cobra," in reference to Psalm 91, was one of the best recordings of 1987, featuring the singles "Mandinka" and "Troy." I still feel it is her best work to date. In April 2003, Sinéad announced that she would retiring from the music business come July.

Get So Far...The Best of Sinéad O'Connor, or check out one of her other releases below.

6. Stiff Little Fingers 
FORMED: 1977, Belfast, Northern Ireland

It was a hot, humid, summer night at the Ritz in New York City. The club was packed to see the reunion of Stiff Little Fingers, Ireland's version of The Clash. These guys rocked out, playing classics like "Gotta Get Away," "Wait and See," "Doesn't Make it Alright," and "Tin Soldiers." Since 1987, Stiff Little Fingers (named after a Vibrators song) has toured small venues around the world with ex-Jam bassist Bruce Foxton on board. Led by front man Jake Burns, Stiff Little Fingers infused punk and reggae into political songs, addressing the harsh realities of violence in Northern Ireland. Their best-known album, and one well worth owning, is 1980s "Nobody's Heroes."

Buy Nobody's Heroes.

Official Gary Moore Website
Gary Moore, left, with Phil Lynott.

7. Gary Moore 
BORN: April 4, 1952, Belfast

This is a man that never quite got his due respect. Guitarists and some well-known musicians around the world have taken notice of his playing and songwriting talent. Besides his great work with Thin Lizzy, Gary produced some very inspiring fusion, heavy metal, and blues recordings. He has achieved much success in Europe and Asia, but is virtually unknown in America.
I feel he belongs on any list of best of all-time guitarists, next to Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Eddie Van Halen. Gary has worked with Phil Lynott, Tommy Aldridge, Greg Lake, Cozy Powell, Albert Collins, Albert King, George Harrison, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker, to name a few. Gary's best playing is on Thin Lizzy's "Black Rose" record. The title track displays his Irish influence, and is played with great technical skill. In the 1980s, Gary released many fine heavy metal-based albums including 1982's "Corridors of Power," 1983's "Victims of the Future," 1984's "Dirty Fingers and We Want Moore!" (live record), 1985's "Run for Cover," 1987's "Wild Frontier," and 1989's "After the War." The 1990s were a blues decade for Gary. He put out some great straight-ahead blues records, including 1990's "Still Got the Blues" (his best selling album to date), 1992's "After Hours" and 1993's "Blues Alive."

Buy Gary Moore's Blues Alive.

8. Eithne Ní Bhraonáin (Enya) 
BORN: May 17, 1961, Gweedore, Donegal, Ireland

Enya (born Eithne Ní Bhraonáin) brought a new lush sound, never before heard in music. Her second recording -- 1988's "Watermark" -- and the follow-up album, "Shepherd Moons," are incredible pieces of work. Through her music, Enya has been able to create pictures and landscapes with light, rich textures that bring peace and joy to the listener. The success of the single "Orinoco Flow" helped to sell 8 million copies of "Watermark" worldwide. Part of the magic was due to the impressive recording techniques, which included layering more than 100 vocal tracks onto each other. This has been one of the reasons why Enya hasn't been able to reproduce it live, and is hence not touring.

Get Enya's classic Watermark, or check out some of her other music below.

9. An Emotional Fish 
FORMED: 1988, Dublin

Mainly a popular band in Ireland, An Emotional Fish has had much critical acclaim but little success in other parts of the world. An Emotional Fish created a buzz in Dublin clubs and got signed to Atlantic Records. They released An Emotional Fish in 1990, which featured songs about travel, space, people, trains, and traffic lights. Their music intertwined psychedelic sounds with "dirty" guitars. The minor hit "Celebrate" from their self-titled album helped An Emotional Fish reach a greater audience. The band toured with Simple Minds in 1991 and opened for U2 on the 1993 Zooropa Tour. 1993's Junk Puppets is their best record to date, with the legendary song "If God Was a Girl." Dave Stewart of Eurythmics fame and Clive Langer of Madness coproduced several of the tracks. In 1994, An Emotional Fish released their third album, "Sloper."

Buy Sloper

10. Corrs 
FORMED: 1991 

The cover for "Forgiven, Not Forgotten," 1995.

The Corrs are comprised of three sisters (Andrea, Caroline, and Sharon) and one brother (Jim). They are a pop band with Irish sensibilities, but bring quite a bit of country/western style into their songs. I was surprised to find out that they are from Ireland. The first time I heard them I thought they sounded like a Southern band. The Corrs went from being a regional success in their native land to worldwide popularity in the 1990s. Much of this is due the exposure they got from performing at the 1994 World Cup in Boston and their tour with Celine Dion in 1996. Also in 1996, they appeared at the summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. The Corrs' debut album "Forgiven, Not Forgotten" went four-times-platinum in Ireland, making it one of the most popular debuts by an Irish group. The record became internationally popular, as did their follow up "Talk on Corners."

Get the Best of the Corrs CD or check out some of their other releases below.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Merrick, N.Y.-based writer Matt Eisenberg ( is a guitarist, bassist, and songwriter. He has been a member of the Hazmats, Ripple Road, and Onion Boy and is currently recording with his own project, N.F.G., which features a former member of James Brown's band JBs.

  1. Thin Lizzy
  2. U2
  3. Nick Kelly
  4. Van Morrison
  5. Sinéad O'Connor
  6. Stiff Little Fingers
  7. Gary Moore
  8. Enya
  9. An Emotional Fish
  10. The Corrs

Copyright © 2012 GAR Media LLC. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed without prior permission from the author. Direct questions about permissions to

Views: 435

Tags: Irish, Music, Rock

Founding Member
Comment by Nollaig 2016 on July 3, 2013 at 12:03pm

How about Rory Gallagher?


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