10 MOST famous Irish musicians of ALL TIME (2024)

Join us as we explore Ireland’s most famous musicians who have shaped the country’s musical heritage. 

10 most famous Irish musicians of all time.

With links to the age-old Irish storytelling tradition, Ireland has a deep and rich musical heritage dating back centuries.

From acts that shaped the traditional Irish music scene to the rock bands and singer-songwriters that have dominated the charts, many Irish artists have made their mark on music at home and abroad.

Join us as we take a deep dive into the ten most famous Irish musicians in the last few decades.

Ireland Before You Die’s fun facts about the most famous Irish musicians 

  • Unlike much indigenous traditional music elsewhere, the popularity of Ireland’s native music has remained steadfast into the 20th and 21st centuries.
  • Many Irish musical acts have made a name for themselves in the world of pop, rock, and folk music. U2 have won more Grammy Awards than any group in history, and are the only group to have won the award of Best Album twice.
  • Westlife holds the record for having the most consecutive number-one singles in the UK, thanks to their first seven releases.
  • Donegal singer Enya has won several Grammy Awards as well, in the New Age and Best Instrumental categories.

10. Westlife – riding the wave of boyband mania

Ireland was not immune to the teen-pop revival of the late 90s and 00s, evident in the success of acts like Boyzone and Samantha Mumba.

Riding this wave were Shane, Mark, Brian, Nicky, and Kian, making up Westlife. The band was hugely successful, selling over 55 million records and winning numerous awards and accolades.

9. Thin Lizzy – a hard rock spin on folk classics

Arriving on the music scene at the end of the swinging 60s, Thin Lizzy took the world by storm with its take on Irish traditional-infused hard rock.

Putting a harder spin on classics like ‘Whisky in the Jar’, Thin Lizzy was led by lead vocalist Phil Lynott until he died in 1982.

8. Christy Moore – an enduring folk artist

Christy Moore and Declan Sinnott performing at Dublin's Vicar Street. Christy Moore is one of the best Irish musicians of all time.
Credit: Flickr/ M+MD, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED

Born in County Kildare in 1945, Christy Moore went on to become one of the most famous Irish musicians. Originally working in a bank, Moore was keenly interested in Irish folk music.

Moore is known for the social and political commentary in his music, discussing topics such as Irish republicanism and the anti-nuclear movement.

READ MORE: Where does ‘Ride On’ by Christy Moore rank on IB4UD’s list of the best Irish songs of all time?

7. The Cranberries – Limerick-born legends

When Dolores O’Riordan, the lead singer of The Cranberries, died in 2018, there was an outpouring of grief across the world. This heartfelt response signified just how loved O’Riordan and the music of The Cranberries has been for so many.

O’Riordan sang about love, loss, and the political turmoil of the Troubles, all in her immediately recognisable Limerick accent. Singles like ‘Zombie’ and ‘Linger’ showcase the band’s ability to write timeless songs.

READ: How ‘Zombie’ is one of the best Irish songs written about The Troubles

6. The Dubliners – Irish folk giants

Formed in 1962, The Dubliners are one of the most successful Irish folk bands out there. Although they have seen various line-ups over the years, many fans will remember lead singers Luke Kelly and Ronnie Drew most fondly.

The Dubliners were known for their sometimes controversial political lyrics, most notably being banned by Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTÉ, between 1967 and 1971.

RELATED: The 10 BEST songs by The Dubliners of ALL TIME

5. Niall Horan – from boyband to successful singer-songwriter 

Niall Horan performing on stage as part of One Direction. Niall Horan is one of the most famous Irish musicians of all time.
Credit: Flickr/ Fiona McKinlay, CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

When talking about the most famous Irish musicians, it would be impossible not to mention the One Direction star Niall Horan.

Since the reality talent show X Factor propelled the band into international stardom, Horan has racked up millions of fans worldwide. Following the band’s hiatus in 2016, he has managed to build a successful career as a solo artist.

4. Enya – a new age icon

Enya, with her ethereal voice and Celtic music, takes the title of the best-selling Irish solo artist ever. A new-age music legend, Enya (real name: Eithne Pádraigín Ní Bhraonáin) was born and raised in the Irish-speaking region of Gweedore in County Donegal.

Enya comes from a long line of Irish musicians, and is best known by the casual listener for her single ‘Only Time’.

3. The Pogues – a mix of folk and punk

For many, it isn’t Christmas until they hear the melancholic and swear-filled ‘Fairytale of New York’. Fronted by lead singer Shane MacGowan, The Pogues became a household name in Ireland and across the world.

The band is known for their punk-infused take on folk songs such as ‘The Irish Rover’, as well as their raucous and energetic live shows.

2. Sinead O’Connor – haunting vocals and powerful lyrics

Sinead O'Connor, one of the best Irish musicians.
Credit: Flickr/ Man Alive!, CC BY 2.0 DEED

Born in 1966 in Dublin, Sinead O’Connor released her debut album, The Lion and The Cobra, in 1987. However, it was her cover of Prince’s song ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ that really propelled her to worldwide fame.

O’Connor was vocal about her views on topics such as human rights, child abuse, and organised religion, which have made their way into the lyrics of many of her songs.

1. U2 – Irish musical legends

Credit: U2 Start/ Paul Jones, CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

And there we have it. Bono-fronted rock band U2 is at the top of our list. With their 22 Grammy Awards, international chart success, and critical acclaim, U2 is among the most famous Irish musicians out there.

Bono is also known for his various charitable endeavours and social justice causes, most notably, his campaigns to end extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS.

Other notable mentions 

Although they didn’t quite make it into our list, we had to include some of these Irish musicians and bands:

The Corrs: Don’t worry, Corrs fans, we couldn’t leave out this iconic family band! Blending pop rock with traditional Irish folk, this band forever left their mark on the Irish music scene.

Rory Gallagher: Calling this Irish guitarist one of the most famous Irish musicians wouldn’t quite be accurate. The Ballyshannon native has even been described as “the greatest guitarist you’ve never heard of”. But the quality of the music speaks for itself.

Imelda May: A more recent Irish star, Imelda May has developed somewhat of a cult following over the last few years.

Van Morrison: Singer of iconic hits like ‘Brown Eyed Girl’, Belfast-born Van Morrison is also one of the most famous Irish musicians out there.

The Boomtown Rats: Successful new wave band fronted by Bob Geldolf, perhaps just as well known for his charitable work and Band Aid as he is for his music.

Your questions answered about the most famous Irish musicians

Read our article on the most famous Irish musicians and still have some questions? Then you are in the right place! Below, we have put together the most frequently asked questions on this topic.

Who is the most famous Irish band?

It’s a subjective term, but for the sake of our list, we’re going to say U2.

Who is the most successful Irish musician?

If we’re going to talk simply about sales, Enya takes claim to the title of the best-selling Irish solo artist of all time.

What is the biggest-selling Irish single of all time?

Boyzone has the best-selling Irish single of all time, in the form of ‘No Matter What’.

We hope you have enjoyed exploring the most famous Irish musicians with us, and hope you discovered some new favourites along the way!


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