Green Sleeves: Fusion, Alternative & Experimental

Seven decades of LP covers in Ireland

This section offers an overview of a variety of underground or alternative musical styles that consciously set themselves apart from popular music. Notable are the albums produced by Horslips, which, across a decade long career, merged traditional with psychedelic rock and later new wave in striking visual formulations, that mirrored the evolving style of their music. U2, whose success belied their post-punk roots, spawned a series of emulators and critiques, both musically and visually. Also of significance here are small labels in the late 1970s and 1980s who, drawing on the inspiration of punk rock and new wave, adopted a DIY attitude and aesthetic.

The intro and overview page for the Green Sleeves exhibition is here.


Horslips provide a bridge between numerous styles of Irish music, drawing on traditional, folk, rock, progressive and new wave influences and are central to forging a distinct genre, that of Celtic Rock. As some of the band members came from advertising and design backgrounds, they designed their own albums covers. This allowed them to develop a diverse but cohesive visual identity across their career from the early 1970s to the early 1980s. The changing nature of that visual identity was not so much an evolution, since from their first album they achieved a uniquely high standard of design and finish. It was instead indicative of a creative unity within the group.


As with classical music there were numerous efforts to incorporate jazz, experimental, progressive, blues and electronic music elements into both traditional and popular Irish music. The selection of albums here represents this diverse and eclectic approach in visual and musical terms. Irish imagery is not entirely absent, but other visual formulations are more evident.


A punk rock scene developed in Ireland in tandem with those in the United Kingdom and the United States. Short, loud and abrasive songs combined with a lyrical content focused on immediate social and political concerns.

The visual imagery of punk had a pronounced emphasis on DIY graphics, striking – often fluorescent – colour combinations and aggressive and confrontational use of illustration and photography. As a predominantly international style localised aspects were less apparent providing a stark, and intentional, contrast with pre-existing forms of Irish music.

U2 & Boy

Boy, the debut album by U2, had a striking visual identity. Featuring type and imagery designed by Steve Averill with photography by Hugo McGuinness, it avoided the brash visuals of punk. Inevitably it was echoed, emulated and parodied.

After Punk

The aftermath of punk saw a flourishing of groups in a variety of styles – from guitar based new wave through to synth pop. It also saw the revitalisation and appropriation of earlier styles such as psychedelia and garage rock. As with punk these groups operated in a broadly international style which saw little or no reference to Irishness or Irish culture and tradition.

There was a clear shift from the DIY aesthetic of punk and early post-punk towards higher quality print and promotion. This is reflected across the 1980s.

Mid 80s

With the increasing international prominence of U2 a significant number of Irish based groups were signed up to UK and US labels and they too tended to avoid overtly Irish imagery in their visual identities.

However, U2 were responsible for establishing the Mother label in 1984 which sought to promote Irish groups more widely. Initially all releases used the same design – one which drew strongly upon a Celtic Christian decorative imagery.