THE PLAYLIST | Shipped Out To Stardom: Irish Americans

The welcoming flame once burned brightly on the Statue of Liberty, today it slowly loses its glow and darkness descends. The word freedom is locked within a cage of shrouded racism, the lessons of the past fading. We live in an era where immigration is questioned with contempt as countries are reluctant to help others. Imaginary borders have become even more important, even in those countries where migrants laid the foundations. The investment that immigration brings to a country is slowly being diminished, not in a monetary sense, but in terms of art, literature and music.

Looking from the perspective of Ireland, many examples spring to the surface. Decades, and even centuries, before bands such as U2 and Thin Lizzy put Ireland on the map of rock, the seeds had already been sown, mostly via Ellis Island. Below, you’ll hear what immigration brings to a country. The country being the United States. The artists being descended from famine refugees, or ancestors who sought hope overseas. This is where their journeys led, though surely they never could have imagined their future impact on American popular culture.


#1. Bruce Springsteen – ‘Born To Run’

Springsteen’s great-great grandmother, Ann Garrity, was from Mullingar. It’s said that she left for America in 1852, settling in Freehold, New Jersey, where Springsteen was born 97 years later. In 2010, The Boss discussed this as he received the Ellis Island Award.


#2. Jimi Hendrix – ‘All Along The Watchtower’

The late guitar gods paternal, great-great-grandmother Zenora was a full-blooded Cherokee from Georgia who married an Irishman named Moore. The name of Robert Moore comes up quite a bit, but the guys in the know were able to prove that Jimi Hendrix had a mixed genealogy – African-American, Irish and Cherokee.

#3. Jim Morrison (The Doors) – ‘LA Woman’

Jim Morrison was well aware of his heritage, and when Van Morrison’s band Them played the Whiskey A Go Go back the two became friends, with Jim even saying they were related. Still, he had a lasting effect on Van, his influence coming to the surface two years later in the game changing Astral Weeks.

#4. Chris Cornell (Soundgarden) – ‘Black Hole Sun’

The late, great Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman was born to an Irish Catholic father called Edward Boyle. Cornell’s birth name is actually Christopher John Boyle – a bit of a giveaway.

#5. Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) – ‘Come As You Are’

The grunge king had his roots in Tyrone, his family apparently leaving Ireland in 1875. Researchers found them to have been shoemakers, originally named Cobane, from the village of Inishatieve, near Pomeroy. Apparently Cobain himself was well aware of his Irish heritage. He thought, however, that his family came from Cork as he felt a natural connection when Nirvana played there back in the day.

#6. Jeff Buckley – ‘Hallelujah’

Tim Buckley’s father was the son of Irish immigrants from Cork. Jeff’s grandfather Tim Sr. was the son of a hedge master. The influence of Ireland comes through best in his father Tim Jr’s. music. In particular, on the track ‘Song To The Siren’, where Buckley has a twang of Irish tenor.

#7. Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins) – ‘1979’

Billy Corgan’s real name is William Patrick Corgan Jr. The Smashing Pumpkins frontman’s Irish connection coming from his father’s side of the family, though there is also Belgian lineage on his mother’s side.

#8. Laura Branigan – ‘Gloria’

Every single part of the late Laura Branigan’s family hails from Ireland on both side, because of a long line of Irish in America marrying each other. Her paternal grandparents were William O’Hare and Mary Conway.

#9. Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top) – ‘Doubleback’

Born to an Irish mother, Lorraine Duffy. His grandfather Peter Duffy was second generation Irish born in Washington D.C. to immigrants. When Gibbons was five years old, his mother took him and his sister to see Elvis Presley, which ignited his love of music. Guess who’s next on the list?

#10. Elvis Presley – ‘Burning Love’

The King himself was part Irish. His Mother, Gladys Love Presley, was of Scots-Irish descent (Note, Scots-Irish has nothing to do with Scotland, it’s simply the term given to people from the north of the Island). But, more recently it’s been proven that his great-great-great grandfather William Presley was from Stranakelly, near Shillelagh, Co Wicklow. Presley, a farmer, claimed he had been savagely assaulted by a group of men in Hacketstown, in neighbouring Co Carlow. This altercation appears in documents from 1775 (auctioned recently) and was the cause of Presley fleeing to America for, erm… a quieter life.


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