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The Greatest Irish Actors of All Time

The Greatest Irish Actors of All Time

The topic of the best Irish actors tends to fire up a fair bit of debate online, and rightly so.

Ireland has produced endless acting heavyweights over the years, like Maureen O’Hara, and our little island continues to produce ‘ones-to-watch’ each year.

In the guide below, you’ll discover some of the best Irish actors to grace cinema and TV screens. Dive on in!

The best Irish actors and actresses of all time

Irish actresses

Now, a quick disclaimer – this isn’t an organised list of the best Irish actors of all time. ‘Best’ is subjective, after all.

The guide below presents the most famous Irish actresses and actors… ever… hopefully!

1. Maureen O’Hara

Maureen O'Hara

Maureen O’Hara, born on August 17, 1920 in Ranelagh, Dublin, is one of the most iconic Irish actresses, known for her fiery red hair and strong character portrayals.

Her most notable films include the classic “The Quiet Man” (1952), “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947), and “How Green Was My Valley” (1941).

O’Hara’s talent extended beyond acting, as she was also a talented singer and fashion entrepreneur.

Dubbed the “Queen of Technicolor”, she left an indelible mark on Hollywood before passing away in 2015.

2. Richard Harris

Richard Harris, born on October 1, 1930 in Limerick, is one of the more celebrated Irish actors, known for his gravelly voice and intense performances.

His standout roles include “This Sporting Life” (1963), for which he received an Academy Award nomination, and “Camelot” (1967).

To a new generation, he’s fondly remembered as Albus Dumbledore in the first two “Harry Potter” films.

Off-screen, Harris was known for his bohemian lifestyle. He passed away in 2002, leaving a significant legacy in film and theatre.

3. Brenda Fricker

Brenda Fricker

Brenda Fricker, born on February 17, 1945 in Dublin, is one of the more accomplished Irish actresses, known for her poignant performances.

She received international recognition and an Academy Award for her role in “My Left Foot” (1989). Other notable films include “The Field” (1990) and “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” (1992).

Fricker, who started her career in Irish theatre and television, was the first Irish actress to win an Oscar, establishing her as a significant figure in the acting industry.

4. Daniel Day-Lewis

Daniel Day-Lewis, born on April 29, 1957 in London to a British father and Irish mother, is a highly acclaimed actor known for his intense method acting.

His most notable films include “My Left Foot” (1989), “There Will Be Blood” (2007), and “Lincoln” (2012), all of which earned him Best Actor Oscars, making him the only man to win three in this category.

Although he holds dual British and Irish citizenship, Day-Lewis often identifies more with his Irish roots. He announced his retirement from acting in 2017.

5. David Kelly

David Kelly

One of the best Irish actors to ever hit our screens, in our opinion, David Kelly, born on July 11, 1929 in Dublin. He was a versatile actor with a career spanning over six decades.

Known for his lean frame and high-pitched voice, he is most recognised for his roles in “Waking Ned Devine” (1998) and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005).

Kelly was also a staple in British and Irish TV shows, appearing in series like “Fawlty Towers” and “Strumpet City”.

He was awarded a lifetime achievement honour at the Irish Film & Television Awards in 2005, before passing away in 2012.

6. Maureen O’Sullivan

Maureen O’Sullivan, born on May 17, 1911 in County Roscommon, was an esteemed Irish actress best known for her role as Jane in the “Tarzan” series of the 1930s and 40s.

She starred alongside Johnny Weissmuller in six films, becoming one of Hollywood’s favourite leading ladies.

Other notable films include “The Thin Man” (1934) and “Pride and Prejudice” (1940). O’Sullivan is also the mother of actress Mia Farrow.

Her charm and talent left a lasting impression on Hollywood before her death in 1998.

7. Brendan Gleeson

Brendan Gleeson

Arguably one of the most famous Irish actors, Brendan Gleeson, born on March 29, 1955 in Dublin, is known for his powerful performances.

He’s recognised for roles in films such as “In Bruges” (2008), “Calvary” (2014), and the “Harry Potter” series, where he portrayed Alastor ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody.

A former teacher, Gleeson began acting in his mid-30s and has since established a prolific career.

Notable for his imposing presence and distinctive Irish brogue, he continues to deliver memorable performances in film and television.

8. Fiona Shaw

Fiona Shaw, born on July 10, 1958 in County Cork, is a distinguished Irish actress renowned for her work in theatre, film, and television.

Notable films include “My Left Foot” (1989), and the “Harry Potter” series, where she played Petunia Dursley.

She has also received acclaim for her role in the TV series “Killing Eve”. A highly respected stage actress, Shaw has received multiple Olivier Awards.

Her wide range of roles, from classical theatre to contemporary television, demonstrate her versatile acting prowess.

9. Colm Meaney

Colm Meaney

Colm Meaney, born on May 30, 1953 in Dublin, is one of the more successful Irish actors, known for his work in both film and television.

He is most recognised for his roles in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” as Chief Miles O’Brien.

Notable film roles include “The Commitments” (1991) and “The Snapper” (1993).

Meaney, a staple of Irish and American screen, is renowned for his distinctive Dublin accent and charm and continues to have a successful acting career.

10. Geraldine Fitzgerald

Geraldine Fitzgerald, born on November 24, 1913 in Greystones, County Wicklow, was a talented Irish actress with a career that spanned several decades.

She gained prominence in Hollywood during the 1930s and 1940s, starring in films such as “Dark Victory” (1939) and “Wuthering Heights” (1939).

Fitzgerald’s performances showcased her versatility and emotional depth. She later transitioned to television and stage, earning critical acclaim for her work in both mediums.

Her contributions to the entertainment industry have left a lasting legacy. Fitzgerald passed away in 2005 at the age of 91.

11. Pierce Brosnan

Pierce Brosnan

One of the best Irish actors if you go off awards, Pierce Brosnan, born on May 16, 1953 in Drogheda, County Louth.

He gained international fame for his portrayal of the iconic British spy, James Bond, in films such as “GoldenEye” (1995), “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997), and “Die Another Day” (2002).

Prior to his Bond role, Brosnan had notable performances in television series like “Remington Steele”.

His suave demeanour, charm, and action-packed performances have solidified his status as one of the most memorable actors to portray 007.

Beyond Bond, he has continued to work on a wide range of film projects, showcasing his versatility as an actor.

12. Peggy Cummins

Peggy Cummins, born on December 18, 1925 in Prestatyn, Wales, was an actress of Irish descent.

Although born in Wales, Cummins is often associated with Irish cinema due to her roles in Irish films such as “The Late George Apley” (1947) and “Gun Crazy” (1950).

Her standout performance in “Gun Crazy” gained critical acclaim, solidifying her as a talented actress.

Cummins’ career spanned over two decades, and she left a lasting impact on the film industry with her memorable performances. She passed away in 2017 at the age of 92.

13. James Nesbitt

James Nesbitt

Another of the more famous Irish actors, James Nesbitt, born on January 15, 1965 in Ballymena, is a highly regarded actor known for his versatile performances.

He gained recognition for his role as Adam Williams in the television series “Cold Feet”. Nesbitt’s notable film credits include “Bloody Sunday” (2002), “Match Point” (2005), and “The Hobbit” trilogy.

He has received critical acclaim and numerous awards for his work in both film and television.

Nesbitt is known for his charismatic screen presence and ability to portray complex characters with depth and authenticity.

14. Barry Fitzgerald

Barry Fitzgerald, born William Joseph Shields on March 10, 1888, in Dublin, was a revered actor and film director.

He achieved international acclaim for his roles in films like “The Plough and the Stars” (1936) and “Going My Way” (1944), for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Fitzgerald’s talent, charm, and distinctive Irish accent made him a beloved figure in Hollywood.

He continued to work in film and theater until his passing in 1961, leaving a lasting legacy in the entertainment industry.

15. Colin Farrell

Colin Farrell

Another of the more famous Irish actors is Colin Farrell, born on May 31, 1976, in Castleknock, Dublin.

He gained international recognition for his roles in films such as “Tigerland” (2000), “In Bruges” (2008), and “The Lobster” (2015).

Farrell’s versatile acting skills have allowed him to tackle a wide range of characters, from intense dramas to action-packed thrillers.

He has established himself as one of Ireland’s most accomplished actors in Hollywood.

16. Fionnula Flanagan

Fionnula Flanagan, born on December 10, 1941, in Dublin, is a highly esteemed Irish actress known for her captivating performances on stage, film, and television.

She has appeared in numerous notable films, including “The Others” (2001), “Transamerica” (2005), and “Waking Ned Devine” (1998).

Flanagan’s talent and versatility have earned her critical acclaim, and she has received several award nominations for her work.

With her distinctive voice and commanding presence, Flanagan continues to be a respected figure in the world of acting.

17. Liam Neeson

Liam Neeson

Liam Neeson, born on June 7, 1952, in Ballymena, is an internationally acclaimed Irish actor known for his commanding presence and versatility.

He rose to prominence with his role in Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” (1993) and has since starred in numerous successful films, including the “Taken” series, “Michael Collins” (1996), and “The Grey” (2011).

Neeson’s deep voice and intense performances have made him a sought-after actor in both dramatic and action roles.

He has garnered critical acclaim and a dedicated fan base throughout his career.

18. Sarah Bolger

One of the most famous Irish actors to emerge in recent years, Sarah Bolger, born on February 28, 1991, in Dublin, is a talented Irish actress known for her impressive range and captivating performances.

She gained recognition for her roles in films such as “In America” (2002) and “The Spiderwick Chronicles” (2008).

Bolger has also made notable appearances in television series such as “The Tudors” and “Into the Badlands”.

With her natural talent, expressive performances, and versatility, Bolger continues to make her mark in the world of acting, both in film and television.

19. Saoirse Ronan

Saoirse Ronan

Saoirse Ronan, born on April 12, 1994, in New York City to Irish parents, is an immensely talented actress of Irish and American descent.

She gained critical acclaim for her performances in films like “Atonement” (2007), “Brooklyn” (2015), and “Lady Bird” (2017).

Ronan’s natural talent, maturity, and ability to portray complex and nuanced characters have made her one of the most sought-after young actresses in Hollywood.

She has been nominated for multiple Academy Awards and continues to impress audiences and critics with her exceptional acting skills.

20. Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender, born on April 2, 1977, in Heidelberg, Germany, to a German father and Irish mother, is a highly acclaimed Irish actor known for his intense and transformative performances.

Although born in Germany, Fassbender was raised in Ireland and considers himself Irish.

He gained recognition for his roles in films such as “Hunger” (2008), “Shame” (2011), and “12 Years a Slave” (2013).

Fassbender’s powerful presence, versatility, and dedication to his craft have made him one of the best Irish actors of his generation.

21. Evanna Lynch

Evanna Lynch

Evanna Lynch, born on August 16, 1991, in Termonfeckin, County Louth, is an Irish actress and activist.

She gained worldwide recognition for her portrayal of Luna Lovegood in the “Harry Potter” film series.

Lynch’s captivating performance and ability to bring Luna’s whimsical and unique personality to life endeared her to fans.

Beyond acting, she is a passionate advocate for animal rights and mental health awareness.

22. Peter O’Toole

Peter O’Toole, born on August 2, 1932, in Connemara, County Galway, is one of the more famous Irish actors, known for his charismatic screen presence and remarkable talent.

He rose to international prominence with his iconic performance in “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), which earned him the first of his eight Academy Award nominations.

O’Toole’s illustrious career includes memorable roles in films like “The Lion in Winter” (1968) and “My Favorite Year” (1982).

He was known for his commanding stage presence and immense skill as an actor. O’Toole left an indelible mark on the world of cinema and is regarded as one of the greatest actors of his generation.

He passed away in 2013, leaving behind a legacy of extraordinary performances.

23. Bronagh Gallagher

Bronagh Gallagher

Bronagh Gallagher, born on April 26, 1972, in Derry, is a talented actress, singer, and songwriter.

She gained recognition for her role as Bernie in the film “The Commitments” (1991), where her powerful singing voice stood out.

Gallagher has appeared in various film and television projects, including “Pulp Fiction” (1994) and “The Island of Dr. Moreau” (1996).

In addition to acting, she has released her own music albums and continues to showcase her versatility as a performer.

Gallagher’s vibrant personality and multi-faceted talent have made her a popular figure in Irish entertainment.

24. Ruth Negga

Ruth Negga, born on January 7, 1982, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to an Irish mother and Ethiopian father, is an exceptional actress known for her captivating performances.

She gained widespread acclaim for her role in the film “Loving” (2016), for which she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.

Negga has also appeared in films such as “Preacher” (2016-2019) and “Ad Astra” (2019).

With her incredible range, depth, and ability to embody complex characters, Negga has established herself as a highly respected and talented actress in both film and television.

25. Gabriel Byrne

Gabriel Byrne

Gabriel Byrne, born on May 12, 1950, in Dublin, is a distinguished Irish actor, producer, and director.

Known for his brooding intensity and commanding presence, Byrne has delivered powerful performances in films such as “The Usual Suspects” (1995), “Miller’s Crossing” (1990), and “In the Name of the Father” (1993).

He has been nominated for multiple awards, including Golden Globe and Emmy Awards. In addition to his acting career, Byrne has also ventured into producing and directing.

With his talent and versatility, he has left an indelible mark on the film industry.

What famous Irish actors have we missed?

best Irish actors

I’ve no doubt that we’ve unintentionally left out some famous Irish actors from the guide above.

If you have an Irish actress or actor that you’d like to recommend, let me know in the comments below!

FAQs about popular Irish actors

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Who are some lesser-known Irish Hollywood actors?’ to ‘What Irish movie stars are up-and-coming?’.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

Who is the most famous Irish actor?

There are numerous Irish actors that contend for the ‘most famous’ title. Richard Harris, for example, had a hugely successful career spanning multiple decades while Maureen O’Hara achieved world-wide fame for her iconic on-screen appearances. 

Has an Irish actor ever won an Oscar?

Between 1939 and 2021, an impressive 18 famous Irish actors were nominated for an Oscar, with three taking home the prestigious award (Daniel Day-Lewis with 3 awards and Barry Fitzgerald and Brenda Fricker with 1 each).

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