The history of the Emerald Isle is one of struggle and rebellion, with its story sang from county to county in these ten best Irish rebel songs, ranked.
The history of a nation can be told in many ways; from the pen of its poets and writers, to the brush of its painters and the tongue of its storytellers. However, perhaps above all the history can be told from the melody of its ballads, and the history of Ireland can certainly be traced in this way.
Irish history is in many ways a struggle against British rule in the country, and born out of this struggle are a number of songs that tell its story, recount its tales and honour its fighters.
Here are the ten best Irish rebel songs, ranked.
10. Joe McDonnell – a fitting tribute for his sacrifice
Joe McDonnell was a member of the Provisional IRA and was one of the ten men who died on hunger strike in 1981. McDonnell went without food for 61 days and passed away on 8 July 1981, and this song is a fitting tribute to the personal sacrifice that he made. You can listen to the sing here:
9. Back Home in Derry – written by Bobby Sands
Back Home in Derry is an extremely moving song that was initially penned by Bobby Sands whilst he was imprisoned in the Maze and has been adopted by many artists, most notably Irish legend Christy Moore.
The song tells the story of Irish rebels who were convicted to exile in Australia after the 1803 rebellion led by Robert Emmet; as the men sail to their captor, they long for a return to their homeland of Derry. Listen here:
8. A Nation Once Again – one of the best Irish rebel songs
Undoubtedly one of the best Irish rebel songs is A Nation Once Again, it was written by Young Ireland founder Thomas Davis in the 1840’s and is now one of the standout songs of popular band The Wolfe Tones.
As with many Irish rebel songs, the ballad is a cry for Irish national independence and a call for the Emerald Isle to take its rightful place amongst the nations of the world. You can listen to the song below:
7. The Men Behind the Wire – remembering those interned without trial
The Men Behind the Wire is a song that was written by Paddy McGuigan after the commencement of Operation Demetrius in the North of Ireland, which implemented the policy of internment in the North and took the lives of many innocent people.
The song rose to the Irish charts instantly and remained for months, and it refers to British Army raids and the people that were interned without trial in Long Kesh, Magilligan and the Maidstone ship. Have a listen:
6. James Connolly – commemorating a giant of Irish history
James Connolly is one of Ireland’s greatest sons. He fought in the 1916 Easter Rising as one of the signatories of the Proclamation and was later shot and killed in Kilmainham Gaol, tied to a seat and already wounded.
A poem by Liam McGowan is read aloud before the song, and it eerily depicts the scene of Connolly’s execution through the eyes of the British soldier who was “picked to kill a man like that, James Connolly”. You can listen to the Irish rebel song below:
5. Sean South of Garryowen – a favourite on the night out
Another by the Wolfe Tones, Sean South breaks into the top five best Irish rebel songs and it is easy to see why. It is an extremely catchy tune that is a favourite on nights out, and is based on IRA man Sean South, who was part of a raid on RUC barracks in Brookeborough, County Fermanagh. Have a listen here:
4. Óró Sé Do Bheatha Bhaile – sang beautifully in the Irish tongue
The only song in the list of best Irish rebel sang in the Irish language, Óró Sé Do Bheatha Bhaile is well-deserving of its spot. Sang by The Dubliners, it is a traditional Irish song and was given new verses by Padraig Pearse. Listen to the beautiful song below:
3. Grace – a must for any Irish rebel tunes night
How could this not be on this list? Another of those songs that are instantly recognisable, Grace is a moving ballad based on Grace Evelyn Gifford Plunkett marrying her fiancé Joseph Plunkett in Kilmainham Gaol hours before his execution. Listen to ‘Grace’ here:
2. The Foggy Dew – fighting under Irish skies
Could have went either way for the runners-up medal, but The Foggy Dew takes the spot. It is both a haunting and uplifting tune, which calls for Irishmen to fight for Ireland’s cause in 1916 rather than for the British Empire. Sang by the legend that is Luke Kelly, it is also beautifully played by Sinead O’Connor. Have a listen:
1. Come Out Ye Black and Tans – a song that everyone can sing along to
Any choice here would probably cause some controversy, but we’ve went for Come Out Ye Black and Tans as number one of the best Irish rebel songs, a tune that anyone can sing along to.
And for many reasons; its catchy beat, its lyrics, the quality of the song, and partly as well because it rose to number one in the Irish charts at the start of 2020 in response to Fine Gael’s plans to commemorate the RIC. You have to respect that. Listen below: