Country and Irish: 5 Artists You Should Hear

This is a potentially confusing one. There are country and Americana singers who happen to be Irish, playing music similar to that coming out of modern Nashville. But there is also Irish Country Music, its own separate world playing more traditional  country and western sounds, ideal for country dancing. Replace those guitar instrumental sections with accordion (aka squeezebox) solos and you’ll get some idea. It’s a sub-genre I wasn’t aware of until driving across Northern Ireland to Harvest Country Music Festival in Enniskillen, but it’s HUGELY popular in Ireland and with Irish communities across the U.K.

So, in honour of St Patrick’s day (any excuse to highlight some tunes!) here’s a mix of both. Disclaimer, one’s not actually from Ireland.

Riah Butler

Formerly known as Mariah Butler when she rose to fame on an Irish TV song contest, I first heard Riah at that Irish festival. We were stopped in our tracks by her powerful voice delivering contemporary country. Since then a move to Nashville has seen her appear as an extra on TV show Nashville and, more importantly, win an American Country Star showcase meaning she could choose songs from full-time Nashville songwriters for her EP On Sundays. She chose well.

Nathan Carter

Nathan grew up in Liverpool but in an Irish family and is one of the biggest starts in the Irish Country Music scene. He even has his own TV show. I got my first inclination of just how big a deal he is on the poster for 2017 Harvest Country Music Festival where he topped the bill above Kip Moore and Dan and Shay.

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Nathan plays a covers of Celtic folk songs and country hits (like his award winning version of Wagon Wheel), and original material. You might not ‘get it’ from his videos – I didn’t at first – but nothing compares to the party atmosphere Nathan brings live. This is coming from a girl who was caught amid a pensioner dance-off on an air-field when Nathan started his Harvest Festival set.

Catherine McGrath

You’ve probably already heard of this Northern Irish singer-songwriter success story. At a Warner Brothers new artist showcase, her relatable self-penned song Thought It Was Gonna Be Me made her stand out for for me. Since then her EP Talk of the Town featuring catchy pop country has been at no.1 on the UK country album charts and in the top 20 of the general charts while Catherine’s been popping up allover, most recently as a special guest at C2C Festival.

Megan O’Neill

If you’ve been reading Brits in Boots for a while, you’ll know we’re Megan fans and so of course she was going to be included in our list of Irish talent. I’ve been following Megan around festivals for a few years now, drawn in by poignant songs and enchanting vocals. But it was really at a songwriting round at last year’s Long Road festival (alongside Danielle Bradbury) that I realised how personal and intimate her songwriting is, making it all the more special.

Derek Ryan

Derek wont sit alongside your usual country chart playlist but, as I left the eccentric Enniskillen B&B after Harvest Festival I was given a CD by an enthusiastic staff member. As it started up in the hire car, while we dithered about the best route to the Giant’s Causeway, I had no idea I was about to get the catchiest song of all time stuck in my head… for all time. As Derek’s own website declares, he is an Irish Country Music Super-star, and whether or not his traditional brand is to your taste, I defy you not to tap along to Hold Onto Your Hat. Turn it up…


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