By: Jason Cochran
Groups like the Dropkick Murphys and Black 47 are at the core of Irish influence in the music today. Their new styles and songs are created, with the style of traditional Irish music certainly not forgotten. Though these groups were not all trying to brand themselves with Irish influences, they have. Groups like the Dropkick Murphys even go as far as to try to avoid the “Irish sound” in their music. However, in the end the Irish tones persist. This is in part because their Irish upbringing is not something they can simply forget. Founded in Quincy Massachusetts, the Dropkick Murphys, whether they wanted it or not became a staple in the music industry as a popular Irish and Celtic rock band. The band was particularly impactful in their home grounds in south Boston. They were quite representative of the working class that lived there. With songs like “The State of Massachusetts” and “Workers Song” They created a strong relationship with the people of South Boston by displaying the hardships and social wrongs those blue-collar families had to endure. They even pay homage to their Boston fans with a mural of their logo painted in south Boston as the cover art for their third album. Their lyrics impacted people but not always in a positive way. In 2014 a 18 year-old was arrested and convicted on two counts of assault, one against a women who needed to be hospitalized. After being stopped by the police, the teen shouted out, “Dropkick Murphys!” Obviously, this fan’s actions horrified the band, they even sent the officers and victims merchandise and tickets to their show to show their support. Examples like this just go to show that the message the Dropkick Murphys sent out was both powerful and damaging at the same time.
Unlike the Dropkick Murphys, the Black 47 wanted to own their Irish heritage. Founded in 1989 in New York City, New York, the front man and founder Larry Kirwan is at the heart of Black 47. Larry was an Irish born singer/songwriter and playwright. They named their band Black 47 to commemorate the worst year in history for the Irish, 1847 the year of the great famine. With strong reggae and Celtic influences, Black 47 are known as the “premier Irish rock band.” With songs like “Maria’s Wedding” and “Funky Ceili” portraying the common stereotypes of the Irish, Larry did much to ride off the popularized image of Irish Americans as well as confirm the stereotypes in his own actions. Showcasing the tendency to drink to excess as well as the poor treatment of women, Kirwan made an impact on the reputation of the Irish for his listeners. They are responsible for bringing Irish music to the mainstream and creating an environment that allowed other groups like the aforementioned Dropkick Murphys to flourish. Their impact goes far beyond the music industry though. When they began, they knew the group was going to be politically driven.
Their music drew in support from both the left and the right, in part due to their socialist lyrics that showcased day to day life of Irish Americans working as policeman and firefighters. Their influence had great reach in part due to the songs that were dedicated to political topics but also because they would often make direct statements regarding the current elections, the war and Iraq and the aftermath of 9/11 just to name a few. This open political stance coming from a well-known and respected group representing Irish Americans had a great impact on its listeners. Eventually though, the group disbanded. Though, this was not under any negative circumstance. The band wanted to end their 25 year run on the highest not possible, making sure they were as good a show the day they quit as when they began. Therefore, the group finally disbanded in November of 2014. For better or for worse the Black 47 and the Dropkick Murphys both left their mark on the Irish American culture. Though they sometimes bolstered their pride for their heritage and sometimes inadvertently promoted violence, one thing is certain. These bands did so much more for Irish culture than just write music, they brought people together and redefined what it meant to be Irish in America.