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History of Celtic Rock Music

History of Celtic Rock Music

Celtic rock is a music sub-genre that falls under a folk-rock. It is a form of Celtic fusion that mixes Celtic music themes and interpretation with rock music. This music genre has been extremely popular since the 1970s, and it is quite noticeable that Celtic rock has been a vital foundation of the successful mainstream Celtic bands and artists. Not only that, but the genre also helped to communicate pan-Celtic culture and national identities. In this article, we are going to know more about Celtic rock and its origins in different places.

What is Celtic Rock?

Celtic rock is kind of a combination of Scottish Gaelic, Irish, Breton, and Welsch musical form that is mixed with rock music. In order to achieve the Celtic rock sound, you need to play traditional music such as reels, ballads, and jigs with rock music. Aside from that, it would be best if you also used some conventional Celtic instruments like the tin whistle, fiddle, Celtic harp, concertina, accordion, bodhran, uilleann pipes, and the bagpipes to traditional rock formats. The use of the term Celtic in general and as a musical genre is somehow unclear. This is because the name Celtic rock does not mean that there is a unified Celtic musical culture between Celtic nations.

Origin of Celtic Rock in Ireland 

Initially, it was in Ireland where the Celtic rock was first clearly evident. This is because musicians there attempted to use electronic and traditional music to their songs. And towards the end of the 1960s, Ireland’s music scene witnessed the flourishing folk music tradition along with a growing pop and blues scene, hence marked the start for Irish rock. Probably the most successful artist from the Irish Celtic rock music scene was the band named Thin Lizzy. They were formed in 1969, and their first two albums were evidently influenced by Irish music. In fact, their first single entitled Whisky in the Jar was a rock version of a traditional Irish song.

On the other hand, the Irish band called Horslips was the first group to have been tagged as Celtic rock. This is because they produced songs that included Irish and Celtic music and instrumentation.

Celtic Music in Scotland 

During the 1960s, there are already essential links between Irish and Scottish music. This is because Irish bands such as The Chieftains were touring with the native artists in Scotland. The adoption of folk-rock became evident in the Scottish music scene when the groups such as JSD Band and Spencer’s Feat produced folk-rock songs. And in 1974, the group named Five Hand Reel became one of the most successful groups in the Celtic rock music scene in Scotland. One of the most iconic and commercially successful Celtic rock acts in Scotland would probably be the band called Big Country. They also incorporated the traditional Scottish music into their songs. Aside from their songs, Scottish rock folk bands are also known for their folk rock outfits and their bagpipes.

Influence of Celtic Rock Music

Unlike the England folk rock music, which after its initial mainstream recognition has decreased into being a sub-cultural soundtrack, several Celtic nations and communities remained to take the lead of the musical production. The first wave of Celtic rock in Ireland provided a basis for several Irish bands such as U2 and Pogues to receive international success. Pogues made the tradition of Celtic music in a new context while U2 made it for a distinctive but mainstream vibe.

On the other hand, Scotland saw a little delay while Celtic rock culture developed. Bands such as Runrig were able to achieve international success under this genre of music. While artists Brian McCombe of The Brian McCombe band became known as one o the outstanding voices in Celtic rock.

Most Popular Celtic Rock Bands and Artists

Celtic rock is a music genre that combines traditional Celtic music with rock and roll, punk, and other styles. Though the Celtic rock genre mostly sprung up from Scottish and Irish soil, Celtic rock artists have appeared all around the globe. The Celtic rock movement began in the 1960s and has since produced some iconic rock bands and artists worldwide. Whether you’re a fan of traditional Irish or Scottish music, punk, rock, or any other genre, there’s something for everyone in the world of Celtic rock.


Wolfstone is one of the most popular Celtic rock bands in the world. Formed in 1989 in Inverness, Scotland, the Scottish musical group’s repertoire consists of both original songs and traditional folk pieces with rock and roll sensibilities. They have released seven studio albums – the latest one was in 2007, Terra Firma. They are known for their powerful live performances and their innovative approach to traditional Celtic music. The band split in 1997 after many issues with its record label but reformed in 1998 to fulfill its recording contract.


Regarded as the “Founding Fathers of Celtic Rock,” Horslips are considered to be one of the pioneers of the Celtic rock genre and were one of the first bands to blend traditional Irish music with rock and roll. Formed in Dublin in 1970, the band inspired many local and international acts. The band’s name originated from a spoonerism of the “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” which became “The Four Poxmen of the Horslypse.” Though they experienced limited commercial success when they were starting, they enjoyed a revival of interest in their music in the late 90s, when they came to be regarded as one of the defining bands of the Celtic rock genre.

Thin Lizzy

Thin Lizzy was one of the most notable bands to spring out of the Celtic music scene. This Irish rock band was formed in Dublin in 1969 and was best known for their hit songs “Whiskey in the Jar,” “The Boys Are Back in Town,” and “Jailbreak” – all of which are major international hits played regularly on classic rock and hard rock radio stations. They also influenced a number of other Celtic rock artists, but many more created their own authentic sound.


Runrig is a Celtic rock band formed on the Isle of Skye, Scotland, in 1973. They are known for their powerful live performances and their fusion of traditional Celtic music with rock, folk, and other styles. They were initially a three-piece dance band called the “Run Rig Dance Band.” They were often described as a blend of rock and folk music, as their lyrics often focused on Scotland’s history, locations, politics, and people.

Enter the Haggis

A Toronto-based Celtic rock band, Enter the Haggis, was formed in 1996. The Canadian band’s music features elements of traditional Scottish and Irish music, as well as influences from rock, folk, and other genres. The band has found itself at a center of a grassroots success story that teetered on the brink of becoming a mainstream success. The band made waves in the genre and landed high chart positions on the Billboard and iTunes World Music charts.

The Dubliners

The Dubliners are an Irish folk band that formed in Dublin, Ireland, in 1962. They are widely regarded as one of the most influential groups in the history of Celtic music and have been credited with popularizing traditional Irish music worldwide. They celebrated 50 years together in 2012 and have been active until 2013. The group retired after the death of its founding member Barney McKenna.

The Pogues

Founded in London in 1982, The Pogues reached international prominence during the 80s up to the early 90s. They are usually thought of as Celtic punk more than anything else, but they can bring a folk-rock twist that makes them known as a Celtic rock act. Their frontline, Shane MacGowan, left the band in 1991 due to drinking problems, but the band continued with two more vocalists before breaking up in 1996.

Seven Nations

Seven Nations is a Celtic rock band formed in New York City in 1993. The name was derived from the Seven Celtic nations, including Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, the Isle of Man, Cornwall, and Galicia. Originally, they were named Clan Na Gael, but they changed their name in 1996 because a folk music group in Nevada was already operating under the same name. Seven Nation tours extensively and has played in diverse venues – from small bars to concert halls. They have sold more than 125,000 albums without signing to a major music label.

Flogging Molly

Flogging Molly has been flying the flag for Celtic rock in the United States since 1997. Formed in Los Angeles, the band’s music is heavily influenced by bands like The Dubliners, The Pogues, and Johnny Cash and ranges from boisterous punk rock to more somber songs. They released six major studio albums and have done extensive touring.

Dropkick Murphys

Dropkick Murphys is an American Celtic punk band formed in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1996. Singer and bassist Ken Casey has been the band’s only constant member. First playing together in the basement of a barbershop, the band made a name for itself due to its relentless touring and its annual St. Patrick’s Day weekend shows in Boston. Their songs and lyrics often deal with Celtic influences and the working-class environment in which the band members grew up. The band often cites AC/DC as their influence for maintaining a specific style.

JSD Band

Rooted in Edinburgh, Scotland, the JSD Band was an influential Scottish Celtic and folk rock band active during the early 70s and then briefly from the late 90s. The band released five full-length albums and various singles and special releases – many of which are still sought after by collectors worldwide. The band’s name was derived from the first letter of the first name of its three founding members: Jim Divers, Sean O’Rourke, and Des Coffield.

The Corrs

A popular Irish family band, The Corrs consists of siblings known for playing traditional Irish instruments and their harmonious vocals. Founded in 1990, the band combines pop rock with traditional Irish themes with their music. The band experienced mainstream success as they released seven studio albums and many singles, which have reached Platinum in many countries. The Corrs are best known for their hit songs like “Breathless,” “Runaway,” “What Can I Do,” and “Only When I Sleep.” Up until now, they’re one of the most famous Irish bands worldwide.

Gaelic Storm

A highly-acclaimed Celtic band, Gaelic Storm was founded in Santa Monica, California in 1996. The band’s musical output ranges from Scottish and traditional Irish music and original tunes in Celtic and Celtic rock genres. The band saw its big break in 1997 when they appeared in the film Titanic and recorded songs on the movie’s soundtrack album. Gaelic Storm’s live shows are known for their energy and intensity and for their energetic rendering of traditional Irish and Scottish music. The band has released several albums and toured extensively, and they have built a dedicated following of fans around the world.

The Saw Doctors

Irish rock band, The Saw Doctors was formed in Galway in 1986. The Saw Doctors have released several albums and are best known for their hit songs, such as “I Useta Lover,” “N17,” and “Hay Wrap.” They have built a dedicated following of fans around the world. They had 18 Top 30 singles in Ireland, including three number ones. Their song “I Useta Lover” topped the Irish charts for nine consecutive weeks in 1990, and held the record for the country’s biggest-selling single of all time.

The Waterboys

Scottish folk-rock band, The Waterboys, was formed in Edinburgh in 1983. They have explored many different styles, but their music mainly features a mix of folk music and rock and roll and stays rooted in the traditions of Celtic music. They are known for their hit songs like “Glastonbury Song,” “The Whole of the Moon,” and “Fisherman’s Blues.” The band dissolved in 1993 when founder Mike Scott decided to pursue a solo career. They reformed in 2000 and continued to release albums and tours worldwide.

Five Hand Reel

Five Hand Reel is an English Celtic rock band that formed in 1974 from the remnants of UK electric folk band Spencer’s Feat. Their music combined traditional Scottish and Irish folk music with electric rock arrangements. After enlisting two Scottish musicians, the band renamed themselves the Five Hand Reel.”

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