Forget U2, here's what to listen to this St Patrick's Day

To enrich your St Patrick’s Day, why not try out a mix of the old and the new – music from the Irish themselves and those inspired by Ireland

Cian Ó Cíobháin. Courtesy RTÉ
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St Patrick’s Day – the March 17 celebration of Ireland’s patron saint – has gone from being a low-key, one-day break from the traditional Lenten fast to a global celebration of all things Irish.

It’s an inclusive celebration, with people across the world – including the UAE – encouraged to dip into Irish culture for a day.

Music is often at the beating heart of Saint Patrick's Day. From hymns such as Hail Glorious Saint Patrick to what Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan called the "guts" music of the pub session, there's plenty to accompany Ireland's national day.

But there’s much more to enjoy than just U2 or The Corrs. There are household names in Ireland which haven’t enjoyed worldwide exposure, and modern Ireland – a small country going though big changes – is throwing up new acts all the time.

So, to enrich your St Patrick’s Day, here’s a mix of the old and the new – music from the Irish themselves and those inspired by Ireland.

What to listen to

Ireland is experiencing a groundswell of hip-hop. Belfast trio KNEECAP are stirring it up in the North, Dundalk brothers TPM rap about being broke in a Border town but Dublin's Kevin Smith aka Kojaque brings an artistic sensibility to his rhymes, presenting them with often captivating visuals.

Loah – real name Sallay Matu Garnett – is an Irish/Sierra Leonean singer and musician who has balanced her growing solo career with collaborations with other Irish artists such as Hozier, Bantum and Villagers.

For a more spit-and-sawdust experience, you could do worse than check out the Fontaines DC. The Dublin rockers have a new album – Dogrel – coming out on April 12, its title taken from what the band calls a "crude, traditionally Irish working-class form of verse".

From the streets of Dublin to the farmland of County Offaly – an honourable mention goes to part-time cattle farmer and business student Paddy Mahon, 22, who is reported to have sold livestock to finance his debut single Crossroads.

The saint himself can pop up in unusual places, such as in Scottish singer-songwriter James Yorkston's 2002 song "St Patrick" – a bittersweet and reflective piece on love and loss.

For something more traditional, Zoe Conway and John McIntyre's Faoiseamh a Gheobhadsa (I Will Find Solace) is a good place to start. The acclaimed folk duo won acclaim for their 2013 debut album Go Mairir I Bhfad (Long Life To You) in which 12 renowned composers created melodies for Zoe and John to perform.

Not that Irish-language acts are unafraid to break from the folk tradition. IMLÉ have devised their own intense style of atmospheric Irish-language pop.

Self-described Dublin folk "miscreants" Lankum are doing what MacGowan's Pogues did in 1980s London – taking Irish traditional music and galvanising it with an urban, punk energy.

That energy is also evident in Damien Dempsey – a proud Northside Dub and former amateur boxer is famed for his high-energy performances. Delivering a powerful mix of traditional ballads and tough social commentary, Dempsey is a must-see during one of his regular appearances in the UAE.

An expert weighs in 

It doesn't have to be Saint Patrick's Day for you to enjoy what Ireland's music scene has to offer. A great place to start is An Taobh Tuathail (The Flip Side). This radio show serves up an eclectic range of music five nights a week, broadcasting around the world from the west of Ireland.

It will soon be celebrating 20 years on air, and presenter Cian Ó Cíobháin spoke to The National about Ireland's changing musical tastes, who to look out for and – naturally – what to play for Saint Patrick's Day.

What are Irish listeners to ATT clamouring for these days?

They are a very open-minded bunch with very eclectic tastes – I know this from the wide range of tracks that they regularly recommend to me. Everything from techno to left field electronica to psychedelic pop nuggets.

How has streaming culture (SoundCloud, Spotify, etc) changed musical tastes in Ireland?

I think people are in a position to hear a wider palate of sounds and genres across eras than ever before. Think about it; up to around 2006, most people had to source music on CD or vinyl to hear it. Now, almost everything is at your disposal online in a matter of seconds. From DJing at weddings, I notice how younger dancers seem to know the older tunes, while the older dancers may not know the newer stuff.  I think younger people in Ireland would have been exposed to a wider range of styles and eras of music than previous generations.

Who are the names you think we should watch out for?

I dislike answering these questions as by their very nature, it's impossible to include everyone and I always leave key names out. So top of my head: ELLLL, Fontaines DC, R. Kitt, TR One, New Jackson, Deaf Joe, LesLord, Hiliary Woods, Maria Somerville, Elma Orkestra, Strength NIA, Gadget & The Cloud, Not Earth, The Jimmy Cake, Somadrone, Chequerboard, Augustus & John, I Am The Cosmos, Ships, Rusangano Family, Sunken Foal, Phare, Comrade Hat, anything on Rusted Rail or Moot Tapes, Static.

Is the Irish-language music scene as strong as it was? How has it changed over the past 20 years?

Hard to compare eras but there's a healthy scene at the moment revolving around the likes of KNEECAP, IMLÉ, Aeons, Thatchers Of The Acropolis/Bruadar, Síomha, Seo Linn as well as veterans like Kíla and Liam Ó Maonlaí.

What would be your best (and worst) tracks for St. Patrick’s Day?

Best: The Pogues – The Old Main Drag. Worst: Anything by The Coronas or Richie Kavanagh