Here’s our top 10 favourite Irish folklore and dark history inspired songs, according to ANN MASSEY!
There are few places like Ireland with such a dark and rich folklore that inspire musicians worldwide. From werewolves to the devil himself and the ghosts in-between, songs have been written in homage to Ireland and the supernatural and darkness within!
Werewolves of Ossory – Barry Barnes
Inspired by my own book, Dark Emerald Tales, English musician and songwriter Barry Barnes became intrigued by the Vatican documented twentieth century account of werewolves in early medieval Ireland. A priest stopped to rest on official Papal business in Kilkenny and found himself confronted by a werewolf in the woods. He had been cursed along with his village for refusing to convert to Christianity some years previously by a despotic Abbot. You can read the rest of the story here.
“Son I’ve got to save a soul tonight,
yes I’m afraid but I’ve just got to put this right
for even a man who says his prayers by night,
can become a wolf when the wolfbain blooms and the moon is full and bright.
You were asleep and at peace my faithful squire,
a branch snapped and I moved in close to your fire,
a hulking shape appeared from the still of the night,
through his dripping jowls he begged me, ‘Father do not take flight’
I can’t find you or your clan,
I want to help you if I can,
are you a beast or will you be a man someday?…“
Black Rose (Róisín Dubh) – Thin Lizzy
Phil Lynott was known for his fascination with Irish mythology and folklore. The album of the same name has an album cover created by famous Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick, renowned for his Celtic mythical imagery, but you probably know him for his image of Che Guevara that has been epitomised on posters and t shirts since the late sixties. Black Rose draws on aspects of Irish folklore and folk music to create this piece, although the original Róisin Dubh dates back to the sixteenth century. It also references the epic poets and writers of Ireland, who themselves penned verse inspired by Irish folklore and stories from generations.
“Tell me the legends of long ago
When the kings and queens would dance in the realm of the Black Rose
Play me the melodies I want to know
So I can teach my children, oh
Pray tell me the story of young Cuchulainn
How his eyes were dark his expression sullen
And how he’d fight and always won
And how they cried when he was fallen…”
The Coffin Ships – Primordial
Primordial are a Celtic black metal band from county Dublin who have been playing to audiences embracing the mix of Celtic music with the heavier overtones of black metal. While their albums are a bigger picture of biblical proportion and relevance, The Coffin Ships is smack dab in the middle of Irish dark history. A coffin ship was one that carried the tormented Irish souls from the shores of Eire across the Atlantic in a bid to escape the enveloping famine, disease and death. Sadly, once on board, these poor folks discovered that conditions were so bad, death was as likely to cloak them here as it would at home at the hands of Fear Gortach, the Hungry Man, a folklore story of a walking skeleton who would drain your life force in times of famine or be eternal tormented souls under the Hungry Grass. Read more here. https://www.spookyisles.com/hungry-grass/
“…With knot and muscle and heart and brain
They are lost to Ireland, they are lost in vain
So you pause, and you can, almost hear
The sounds, they echo down through the ages
The creak, of the burial cart
Hear the humiliation and sorrow
Mouth fixed with indignation
So one is driven to enslave?
Oh god that friends should be so dear
And human flesh so cheap
Our young hearts are born…”
She Moved Through the Fair/Ann Cran Ull – Rory Gallagher
Rory Gallagher is probably Ireland’s most underrated musician/songwriter with regards to the general public yet has been held in high esteem for decades by the world’s most acknowledged musicians from Jimi Hendrix to Slash, even more so since his untimely death in 1995. Rory often took inspiration from the blues legends of America, however in this case he chose a traditional Irish tune and a ghostly one at that! It appears to all intents and purposes to be a typical Irish ballad of love, but of course it’s Ireland – there is also tragedy. This song goes a step further, as what seems to be a tale of love and hope, soon twists into a ghostly tale of Wuthering Heights proportions dealing with tragic death and a reunion in the hereafter. The tune has also been covered by Sinead O’Connor and the air was used for Simple Minds’ Belfast Child.
“…When dew falls on meadow and moths fill the night
When glow of the greesagh on hearth throws half-light
I’ll slip from the casement and we’ll run away
And it will not be long love till our wedding day
According to promise at midnight he rose
But all that he found was the downloaded clothes
The sheets they lay empty ’twas plain for to see
And out of the window with another went she…”
Morrigan’s Domain – Waylander
Founded in Northern Ireland, Waylander have earned the moniker of a Celtic Pagan Metal band, throwing in a tin whistle player for good measure! Taken from their 2001 album The Light, the Dark and the Endless Knot, Morrigan’s Domain tells of The Morrigan, Goddess of War, Death and Fertility. Discover the might of this ancient power and other Dark Goddesses of Ireland here.
“Black I’d the Morrigan on this plain
Dark is her aspect, no remorse or shame
Washer at the ford for those who can see
The crone and the hag, goddess trinity.
Goddess of war, denizen of death
Seeker of souls,
She awaits your last breath…
Nightmare visions, choked with the bodies of the slain
Rivers run red, ravens alight on mounds of lifeless forms
Feasting horribly on carrion and broken bones,
Once proud men, someone’s sons and brothers all…“
Dearg Doom – Horslips
Following the trend of a ‘concept’ album, started by Woodie Guthrie in the forties, Celtic rock band Horslips came up with The Táin, based on early Irish folklore tale, The Cattle Raid of Cooley. Dearg Doom (Red Destroyer), is by far their most famous piece that takes from the more traditional ‘O Neill’s Cavalry March.’ It tells of the mighty Cú Chulainn, hero of Ulster who defended the Province from Queen Medb of Connacht in a mighty battle over of all things, a bull! To be fair it was a prize bull.
“…You speak in whispers of the devils I have slain,
By the fire of my silver Devil’s Blade,
And still you dare to flaunt yourself at me.
I don’t want you; I don’t need you,
I don’t love you, can’t you see
I’m Dearg Doom…“
The Sea Queen of Connaught – Cruachan
Folk Metal band Cruachan was started by a chap who based his original black metal band sound around the books of Tolkien, before realising that a folk-metal fusion was the way forward, with Horslips being a huge influence. The Sea Queen of Connacht is taken from one of their more recent albums and tells the story of Ireland’s Pirate Queen, Grace O’Malley. Known as Granuaile, this fiery Celtic Warrior terrorised British ships, faced off against Elizabeth I and had the Gallowglass Warriors of Scotland under her command. Read more on Grace O’Malley here.
“I tell a tale of a pirate queen
Grace O’Malley was her name
Through her deeds and actions on the seas
She found fortune, respect and fame
Born to a seafaring family and educated well
Salt water in her veins, at sea she would raise hell!
She preyed on trading ships, that entered her domain
And before the Nine Years war, became a British bane!..”
Newgrange – Clannad
Clannad are a family band from County Donegal, made famous for their contributions to the soundtracks of such television works as Harry’s Game and Robin of Sherwood. With a musical style that can be considered eclectic, there is no doubting the best description is haunting. Newgrange is taken from the album Magical Ring which also includes Theme from Harry’s Game and refers to the mystical Neolithic structure of pagan, historical and architectural importance in the heart of Brú na Bóinne. Every year a lottery is held for a golden ticket into the heart of the inner sanctum of the Newgrange passage tomb to witness the Winter Solstice. Read more on Newgrange here.
“There is a place on the east
Mysterious ring, a magical ring of stones
The druids have lived there once they said,
Forgotten is the race that no-one knows.
Rum de rum ‘rud a derimo
Rum de rum ‘rud a derimo
The circled tomb of a different age
Secret lines carved on ancient stone.
Heroic kings laid down to rest
Forgotten is the race that no-one knows.
Wait for the sun on a winter’s day
And a beam of light shines across the floor.
Mysterious ring, a magical ring.
But forgotten is the race that no-one knows.“
The Legend of Finn MacCumhail – Dropkick Murphys
Dropkick Murphys are named after an actual doctor in their home state of Massachusetts who was as famed as a wrestler as he was the found of a rehab centre. Renowned world-wide, they perform to sell out venues across the globe and are special favourites in Ireland. They may be labelled as a punk rock band, however their Celtic sound is recognisable everywhere. Finn MacCumhail is the legendary giant who built a path of boulders across the sea from Country Antrim to Scotland. Discover how he defeated the Scottish ogre Benandonnar here.
“This mighty soldier on the eve of the war he’d wage
told his troops of lessons learned from battles fought,
“may your heart grow bolder like an iron clad brigade”,
said this leader to his outnumbered lot.
Known as a hero to all that he knew,
long live the legend of Finn MacCumhail
The brave Celtic leader of the chosen few, long live the legend of Finn MacCumhail“
Hellfire Club – Complete
German rock band ‘Complete’ have been playing live gigs in their homeland and built up quite an international following. Songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Wolfram Hohmann, has had a long-time love affair with Ireland, her music and folklore. Hellfire Club was written in homage to the deviants that frequented the site of dark magic, and to Dark Emerald Tales and Irish Paranormal Investigations with an introductory narrative from me. The Hellfire Club was built on the site of Montpelier Hill in South Dublin, itself a location steeped in mystery and paganism. For generations, the Devil was worshipped here by the most debauched and power crazed men of Dublin high society. Murder, sacrifice, rape and the selling of souls to Lucifer were just some of the pastimes to be ‘enjoyed’ as a member of this elite gathering. So leave your morals, innocence and inhibitions at the door and enter the Hellfire Club! Incidentally, see how long it takes you to spot Complete’s tribute to Horslips! Read more on the Hellfire Club here.
“They drank scaltheen and toast’ the devil
A chair was left for him to join
Just one stormy night a stranger
Knocked the door and joined the lot
He drank with them and joined the laughter
Played cards with these infamous guys
Till one of them just dropped a card
And realized his cloven hoof
At Montpelier hill, outside of Dublin
They fucked the morals and they fucked the law
Drank, made jokes, had fun with girls
And called themselves the hellfire club…”