If you’ve ever been to a St Patrick’s Day parade, you’ll know the Irish know how to party. It stands to reason, then, that they know a thing or two about drinking songs as well. Whether we’re talking age-old folk songs or modern-day anthems, no drinker will be able to resist the urge to slam down their beer and join the chorus when they hear the opening bars to these ten best Irish drinking songs of all time.
10. Fairytale Of New York – The Pogues
Although generally considered a Christmas song, Fairytale Of New York still makes for a supremely festive, year-round drinking song. Legend has it the song was created after Elvis Costello dared Shane MacGowan to write a Christmas song. The hard-drinking MacGowan might never have made it to Santa’s good list, but to the surprise of Costello, he delivered the goods with this searing account of a doomed New York love affair. Structured around a back and forth duet, it makes for a very fun singalong regardless of whether it’s Christmas, Easter, or Friday.
9. I Tell Me Ma – Van Morrison and The Chieftains
With a few notable exceptions, the most popular Irish drinking songs have their origins in centuries-old folk songs. I Tell Me Ma is just such a song, having originally started out as a children’s song in the 19th century. Various artists have covered it over the year, including Sham Rock, Sinead O Connor, and The Dubliners. Few, though, have managed to do it quite so beautifully as Van Morrison and The Chieftains.
8. Jug of Punch – The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem
An Irish punch (at least when Paddy Clancy of the Clancy Brothers is in charge of the measures) is “Irish whiskey, hot water, a squeeze of lemon, some sugar, some cloves…no you don’t really need the cloves! You don’t really need the hot water either.” So basically whisky with just a pinch of sugar to help the medicine go down. Jug of Punch is proof of what happens when you drink too much of it – a quiet, civilized start that rapidly descends into all-out debauchery.
7. Seven Drunken Nights – Ronnie Drew
Ronnie Drew may have made a lot of excellent songs with The Dubliners (a fair few of which make for excellent drinking tunes) but his solo work was none too shoddy either. On Seven Drunken Nights, he tells the story of a gullible drunk who returns home over seven nights of the week to be confronted with new evidence of his wife’s infidelities, along with new (and increasingly implausible) excuses. With a voice that Nathan Joseph, the founder of Transatlantic Records, described as being “like the sound of coke being crushed under a door,” Drew breathes new life into the folk song, adding pace and wit and just enough emphasis on the dirty jokes to create a masterpiece.
6. Streams of Whiskey – The Pogues
Our second entry from The Pogues comes in the shape of Streams of Whiskey, a raucous, uplifting tune that celebrates the life-affirming qualities of the demon drink. Written about a dream encounter with Irish writer Brendan Behan who made it his life’s mission to go “where streams of whiskey are flowing,” the song is best listened to with a dram.
5. Beer, Beer, Beer – The Clancy Brothers
It might not be the subtlest song title around, but who wants subtle when you’re downing a few scoops? Beer, Beer, Beer is an old folk song written as a tribute to the fictional inventor of beer, Charlie Mops, a man whose name very conveniently rhymes with the two main ingredients in beer, barley and hops. No one’s quite sure where or when the song originated (some people claim it was created in British music halls during the 1800s, others claim it developed in Irish pubs) but it doesn’t really matter either way. If you want a jaunty tune to sing along to, it’s perfect… but never quite so perfect as when it’s being sung by The Clancy Brothers.
4. Whiskey in the Jar – Thin Lizzy
No Irish band worth their salt hasn’t covered Whiskey in the Jar at some point or another, but few have done it quite so successfully as Thin Lizzy. After its release in 1972, it went straight to the top of the Irish charts and stayed there for the next three months. Strangely enough, it was only ever meant to be a B Side – according to songfacts.com, the band recorded “Black Boys On The Corner” as the A-side and, stuck for anything to put on the reverse, quickly dug out Whiskey in the Jar. After listening to both sides, the record company decided to reverse the order, subsequently given the band their biggest hit until that point.
3. Fields of Athenry – Paddy Reilly
Not every drinking song needs to be bawdy and raucous. As Thrillist writes, when it comes to that point in the evening when exuberance turns to introspection, the somber beauty of Paddy Reilly’s Fields of Athenry is perfect. Despite its depressing theme (the lyrics tell the story of an Irish prisoner during the Irish Famine who’s been arrested for stealing food for his family), its raw beauty shines through.
2. Finnegan’s Wake – Dropkick Murphys
According to meanwhileinireland.com, Finnegan’s Wake was first published in 1864, but only achieved mass popularity when Irish band The Dubliners covered it some 100 years later. Written about a whiskey lover called Tim Finnegan who ends up waking up during his own funeral and joining in the booze-laden festivities, it’s a fast-paced, fun little ditty that’s guaranteed to get your toes tapping. If you want to see just how well punk and Irish folk go together, check out the Dropkick Murphys’ cover.
1. The Wild Rover – The Dubliners
What better way to round off our list than with The Wild Rover, a traditional folk song from the 19h century that’s not lost a jot of its appeal with age. Although it’s been covered more times and by more bands than you can count, The Dubliners’ rowdy version is widely considered to be the best (with The Pogues coming a close second). The moment the band starts singing ‘No, Nay, Never….No, Nay, Never, No More,” you can guarantee the entire pub will be crashing down their drinks and joining in.