As we mark 50 years of membership of the European Union, there’s never been a better time to reflect on Ireland’s contributions to the EU and beyond from a music perspective. The Irish music industry is a cornerstone of Ireland’s internationally reputation for culture and creativity.

Ask any person on the street what is the first thing you think of when you hear the word ‘Ireland’, and you can be sure that the music will be the most common answer. Music is the beating heart of the Emerald Isle which has always been regarded as a musical nation.

It’s no surprise really that Ireland, a land synonymous with storytelling, has played such a crucial part in music that has captivated the world and influenced so many. It’s not just culturally rich, from a financial perspective, Ireland’s contribution to the music industry and indeed the country’s economy is immense and increasing.

Revenue from the Irish music industry is expected to reach €132 million by 2026, up from €126 million in 2021 and according to one report – ‘The Socio-Economic Contribution of Music to the Irish Economy’ which was commissioned by the Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO) and produced by Deloitte, it reported that the Irish music industry was worth €473m and is another example of how important the Irish music industry is.

Since Ireland became a member of the EU, it has prioritised the importance of culture with programmes like the ‘Creative Europe Programme’ which sees Ireland working with the EU to fund creative and cultural sectors including its music scene.

Ireland’s membership of the EU also benefits by being part of a non-profit association called EMEE made up of 29 national and regional music export offices from 25 countries across Europe. The initiative uses membership to curate a mixture of private and public funding which helps support musicians and music-based organisations from Ireland and other countries in the EU. It also encourages cross border circulation, cultural diversity and economic development for music professionals and artists they support.

The breadth, depth and history of Ireland’s successful music industry is an integral part of Ireland’s cultural identity. It can be felt whether walking down Grafton Street listening to buskers play, watching live music in one of Ireland’s warm and friendly pubs or listening to Irish artists thousands of miles away in the comfort of your own home.

It’s impossible to definitively include all Irish music successes that played an important role across a myriad of genres. One shining example is blues-rock guitar virtuoso Rory Gallagher whose spellbinding playing impressed his musical peers and influenced generations of musicians all over the world including Brian May, Johnny Marr and Slash.

Arguably Gallagher set the blueprint for success for Irish musicians who found fame all over the world. From acclaimed acts like Thin Lizzy, Van Morrison and U2, Irish artists have featured in European charts from the 1970s to the present and regarded as huge stars worldwide.

Revenue from their music and international tours generate significant export revenues for Ireland and also plays a significant part in the success of the tourist industry, with millions of EU visitors flocking to Ireland, intoxicated by music they immerse themselves in the unique Irish culture.

The power of the Irish music scene has significantly helped enhance the country’s international reputation. From traditional folk to more contemporary genres, Ireland has deservedly garnered an impressive reputation for being a hub for creative talent which has been further cemented with both Irish and international artists recording at Dublin recording studios like the revered Windmill Lane Studios that attracted acts like Kate Bush, U2, The Cranberries, The Rolling Stones and Lady Gaga and Westlife among many.

Whilst all genres attract millions of fans of Irish music all over the world, intriguingly there has been resurgence in Irish music and folklore that blends with the EU wide revival of traditional folk music and exchange that carries with it including, for instance, French groups that exclusively play Irish music. A new wave of Irish musicians like Lankum, The Mary Wallopers and Ye Vagabonds are reimagining the island’s music and creating music that is causing a real tide of interest. The future remains bright for Irish music, but Ireland’s storied history has also played a significant part in catapulting some of the world’s most iconic artists into the international music scene, making their unique mark in music history.

Ireland is one of the most culturally rich countries in the EU and arguably one of the best benefits of EU membership is the access to the myriad of programmes and funding available for every aspect of culture-based projects. In addition, freedom of movement within the EU has made it easy to travel and work throughout the EU, which for touring musicians is of upmost importance. Fifty years membership of the EU has helped carry Ireland from what may once have been considered a European cultural backwater to one of the most important contributors to diversity that sets an example for any other country following their example.

Emma Harrison
Emma Harrison is a music and travel journalist who writes for publications such as Clash Magazine, Record Collector, and Rock Cellar Magazine.

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