Are you looking for famous Irish people in history?
Beyond St. Patrick, Guinness brewery founder Arthur Guinness, author James Joyce, and musicians Bono and Enya, there are many noteworthy personalities, both past and present, to consider while thinking of prominent Irish people.
Numerous artists, inventors, lawyers, statesmen, and even controversial sports people have been born and raised on the Emerald Isle. They have all shaped the country’s history and represented Ireland on the global stage in various ways.
Things you'll find in this article
- 28 Famous Irish People That You Should Know
- Famous Irish People in Science
- Famous Irish People in Politics
- Famous Irish Authors
- Famous Irish Actors and Comedian In Hollywood
- Famous Irish Actresses In Hollywood
- Best And Famous Irish Bands
- Popular Irish People In Sports
- Famous Irish People In History
28 Famous Irish People That You Should Know
Here are some of the most fascinating and famous Irish people, as well as what they were known for.
Famous Irish People in Science
1. Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell – Astrophysicist
(1943 – present)
While growing up in Belfast, Bell’s father worked at the Armagh Observatory as an architect. Her fascination with astronomy was sparked as a child by her time spent there.
Because of the encouragement of the observatory’s staff, she decided to pursue a degree in physics.
As an astrophysicist, Jocelyn Bell Burnell made history when she discovered the first radio pulsars. In the wake of the finding, numerous more scientific advances were made, including the production of a map to direct extraterrestrials to Earth.
2. John Tyndall – Scientist Who Discovered Infrared Radiation
(1820 – 1893)
John Tyndall conducted experiments that are still relevant to our understanding of the physical and chemical worlds as far back as 150 years ago.
The results of several of his tests became his most significant contribution to the area of magnetism.
Today, infrared radiation, which was previously referred to as radiant heat, is more well understood.
3. Ernest Walton – Nobel Prize-winning Scientist
(1903 – 1995) Irish Nobel laureate Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton was born in 1903 in County Waterford.
When Walton was a Cambridge scholar working with Sir John Cockcroft, they were given the challenge of splitting an atom’s nucleus using accelerated protons, a task that had never been done before.
The Cockcroft-Walton Circuit, which could deliver a massive charge of 7000 kilovolts, was the result of their collaboration.
They made their breakthrough on April 14, 1932, when they used this gadget to break apart the nucleus of a lithium atom.
Famous Irish People in Politics
4. Micheal Collins – Revolutionary Leader
(1890 – 1922)
Originally from Clonakilty, County Cork, Michael Collins is widely regarded as one of the most important figures in Irish history.
Following the Easter Rising of 1916, Michael Collins climbed through the ranks of the Irish Republican Army to become Director of Intelligence, Minister of Finance, Chairman of the Provisional Government, and Commander-in-Chief of the National Army, among other designations.
In August 1922, he was slain during the Irish Civil War, and his legacy and sacrifice are still remembered and honored to this day.
5. Éamon de Valera – Revolutionary and 3rd President of Ireland
(1882 – 1975)
Éamon de Valera is widely considered to be one of the most important figures in modern Irish history. In the course of Ireland’s struggle for independence, his long history as a revolutionary and statesman directed the country’s politics.
In part because of his dual American-Irish citizenship, De Valera was spared by the British during the Easter Rising of 1916.
After his release from prison in 1917, he was elected president of Sinn Féin, an Irish political party. When Éamon de Valera became Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland in 1937.
In 1939, he declared Ireland to be neutral in the Second World War. Taoiseach De Valera served two more terms (1951-54 and 1957-59). He eventually became the third president of the Republic of Ireland in 1959 and served until his retirement in 1973.
6. Constance Markievicz – Revolutionary Hero
(1868 – 1927)
London-born Constance Markievicz was raised in Sligo by wealthy Anglo-Irish parents. She became a revolutionary heroine during the insurrection of 1916.
The Irish Citizen Army took notice of her, and she soon became one of its most significant members.
She took part in the Irish Civil War and the Battle of St. Stephen’s Green in 1916 as a Republican.
She was just the second woman in Europe to hold a cabinet ministerial role when she was appointed Minister for Labour in Ireland’s first government.
7. Daniel O’Connell – The Liberator / Emancipator
(1775 – 1847)
Daniel O’Connell was born in County Kerry in 1775 and grew up with a deep cultural affinity. He became a lawyer and advocated for Catholic liberation by legal and nonviolent measures.
In his pursuit, he gained the backing of the Catholic Church and the people, propelling him into political leadership.
In 1829, the ruling British Protestants relaxed their restrictive rules that discriminated against Catholics.
O’Connell went on to become the first Catholic to hold a seat in the House of Commons in modern times. He also re-established the Irish Parliament, but he died before his campaign could make any substantial progress.
8. Mary Robinson – Ireland’s First Female President
(1944 – present)
As the seventh president (1990 – 1997) of the Republic of Ireland, Mary Theresa Wilford Robinson was the first woman to hold this role.
While in government, she was well praised for her efforts to modernize Ireland and reinvigorate the political process.
Robinson stepped down during her final year in office to devote herself to human rights work with the United Nations. Mary was a powerful woman who tirelessly fought for human rights around the world.
Famous Irish Authors
9. W.B. Yeats (1865 – 1939)
Birth Place: Sandymount, Ireland
Notable Works: (poems) an ode to his favorite place in Sligo called ‘Lake Isle of Innisfree’ and the romantic ‘He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’.
William Butler Yeats was a gifted poet and one of the most famous figures in the late-nineteenth-century Irish literary resurgence. He was also one of the founders of the Abbey, Ireland’s most prominent theatre, and the first Irishman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
He became a Senator in the independent Irish government after becoming a regular commentator on Irish politics.
Most of his poetry was inspired by his public service job, his childhood travels to County Sligo, and his failed love life. He proposed to Maud Gonne, the love of his life, four times over several years, but she declined each time.
10. Oscar Wilde (1845 – 1900)
Birth Place: Dublin, Ireland
Notable Works: The Importance of Being Ernest, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854, and his legacy is still felt throughout the city. The house where he was born is now the academic center of Trinity College Dublin, where he studied.
In Dublin, there are also various museums dedicated to Oscar Wilde. While Wilde is most known for his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, he is also a fantastic playwright.
The Importance of Being Earnest is one of his most well-known plays. Later, he moved to London, where his plays were well-received.
Because of the harsh rules of the time, Oscar Wilde was imprisoned and exiled. He was accused of being in a same-sex relationship, which was illegal at the time.
READ MORE: Interesting Facts About Oscar Wilde
11. Jonathan Swift (1667 – 1745)
Birth Place: Dublin, Ireland
Notable Works: Gulliver’s Travels
Jonathan Swift was a satirical writer, poet, and, strangely enough, cleric who served as Dean of Dublin’s Saint Patrick’s Cathedral during his lifetime. He was a prolific writer who completed several novels, essays, poems, and political papers.
He was born in Dublin to a family with multiple literary connections.
His journey, like Oscar Wilde’s, ends in misery, as he lost his ability to talk and became mentally disturbed following a probable stroke at the age of 75.
Following his death, the vast fortune he left behind was used to establish a psychiatric institution.
12. C.S. Lewis (1898 – 1963)
Birth Place: Belfast, Northern Ireland
Notable Works: The Chronicles of Narnia (a series of 7 books), The Screwtape Letters, The Four Loves Clive Staples
Lewis is frequently wrongly recognized as a British novelist. However, he was born and raised in Belfast before going to England at the age of eleven to attend boarding school.
He grew up surrounded by books and was a very imaginative boy, so it’s no surprise that he went on to write one of the best children’s books ever written.
When his childhood pet dog, Jacksie, died, he refused to go by any other name but Jack, a nickname he’d had since he was a boy.
He maintained a strong sense of his Irish identity throughout his life, frequently searching out Irish locals when he lived in Britain. He even spent his honeymoon in Crawfordsburn, Northern Ireland.
READ MORE: Interesting Facts About C.S. Lewis
Famous Irish Actors and Comedian In Hollywood
13. Liam Neeson
Liam Neeson’s first ambition was to be a teacher. But thanks to a pretty unforgettable event on his first day as a practice teacher, he was pushed to turn to drama.
Now with the teaching ambition gone, Neeson became a stage actor in Belfast and, later on, Broadway.
His rise to fame, however, took place in 1992, when American film director Steven Spielberg offered the Irish stage actor the role of Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List. And the rest, they say, is history. Liam Neeson would star in the massively successful action film Taken in 2008.
Born in Ballymena in the County Antrim of Northern Ireland on June 7th, 1952, Liam Neeson is famous all over the world.
He has been nominated for several acting awards and was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000.
READ MORE: 15 Interesting Facts About Liam Neeson
14. Pierce Brosnan
Pierce Brosnan is best known in his role as James Bond in the Bond film series, starring in four films from mid-1990s until early 2000s. He also player the character in multiple video games.
Born in May 16, 1953 in Drogheda, County Louth, Ireland, Brosnan is not only a renowned actor; he is also a film producer, an environmental activist, and an Ambassador for UNICEF Ireland since 2001.
Brosnan was an artist before he became an actor. After leaving school, he pursued a career in art and worked as an illustrator.
Today he sells his paintings to raise money for charitable causes.
READ MORE: 14 Interesting Facts About Pierce Brosnan
15. Michael Fassbender
His mother, a native of Larne, County Antrim, is said to be a great-grand-niece of Michael Collins, an Irish leader during the War of Independence.
Nicknamed “Fassy,” the Irish-German actor is best known for his deep, calm voice mixed with emotionally intense performances and he played in some of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful movies in Hollywood.
At home in a story from any period, he played Rochester in the film rendition of Jane Eyre, Jobs in the biopic Steve Jobs, as a Royal Marines lieutenant in Quentin Tarantino’s war epic, Inglourious Basterds and as Edwin Epps, a heartless slaveholder in the award-winning period-drama film 12 Years A Slave.
However, we know him best as the Marvel supervillain Magneto in the X-Men film series.
16. Graham Norton – TV Host and Comedian
(1963 – present)
Norton, who is well-known for his flamboyant and innuendo-laden comedic style, has hosted his namesake BBC talk show since 2007. For his work as a host, he has received five BAFTA TV Award nominations.
In addition to his television appearances, he is a BBC Radio host and a commentator for the Eurovision Song Contest.
Famous Irish Actresses In Hollywood
17. Maureen O’Hara
Born Maureen FitzSimons on August 17, 1920 in Ranelagh, Dublin, Ireland, Maureen O’Hara started training with a theater company at age 10.
She would go on to become the most famous Irish actress in Hollywood throughout the 1940s to the 1960s. A natural redhead known for portraying passionate but sensible heroines, O’Hara was the only red-headed child in the brood of six.
She was also a professional singer, having inherited her mother’s singing voice. O’Hara was awarded the Career Achievement Award from the American Cinema Foundation in 1985.
She was also the first woman to win the John F. Kennedy Memorial Award for “Outstanding American of Irish Descent for Service to God and Country.”
In October 24, 2015, Maureen O’Hara died from natural causes in Boise, Idaho, USA, at the age of 95.
18. Saoirse Ronan
Deemed one of Hollywood’s most promising actresses at the young age of 13, Saoirse Ronan – pronounced “Sur-sha” – showcased such great talent far beyond her years.
While her first name is often mispronounced, Ronan is hands down one of the top talents Hollywood has seen in recent years.
She has starred in numerous highly-regarded Hollywood movies such as Lady Bird, Hanna, and Brooklyn, and received various accolades, including a Golden Globe Award and 4 Academy Awards nominations, 4 Screen Actors Guild Awards, and 5 British Academy Film Awards.
Born on April 12th, 1994 in New York City, USA, Ronan’s parents are both Irish from Dublin who had left their home country due to the 1980s recession.
She moved back to Ireland with her family when she was three and continues to live in her home in Greystones, County Wicklow.
READ MORE: Fun Facts About Saoirse Ronan
19. Ruth Negga
Considered by some to be a “reluctant” celebrity, Ethiopian-Irish actress Ruth Negga is also notoriously private.
She has no social media accounts and her world views, opinions, and most details of her personal life are unknown, unlike most celebrities around.
Born on January 7, 1982 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to an Irish mother and a Nigerian father, Negga moved to Limerick, Ireland, with her family when she was four.
Negga made her screen debut in the 2004 Irish film Capital Letters. Her breakthrough came when she landed her first high-profile role in the post-apocalyptic zombie film World War Z in 2013, co-starring Brad Pitt.
This was followed by the role of Tulip O’Hare in fantasy drama series Preacher in 2015 and Mildred Loving in the 2016 civil rights drama Loving.
The latter earned Negga various major nominations for best actress, including an Oscar. Negga now lives in the United States, but she still makes time to get back to Ireland as much as she can.
Best And Famous Irish Bands
From: Dublin Known for: “Love Me for a Reason”, “Isn’t it a Wonder”, ” No Matter What”, “I Love the Way You Love Me”, ”
Picture of You” Boyzone began in 1993 when manager Louis Walsh advertised for hopefuls to join an “Irish Take That” competition.
More than 300 people applied, and producers eventually narrowed the number down to the five members who became Boyzone. They quickly rose to prominence as one of the most successful boy bands in the world.
Before going on sabbatical in 2001, the group achieved 16 consecutive top 5 hit songs in the United Kingdom. Boyzone reunited in 2008 and scored two more top ten hits. One of the group’s two lead vocalists, Stephen Gately, died in 2009.
Boyzone regrouped in 2010 to release Brother, which debuted at number one in the United Kingdom. They followed it up in 2013 with BZ20, which reached number 6.
However, neither album produced any notable hit singles. The band announced in April 2018 that they would disband permanently following the release of one final studio album, a tribute to Stephen Gately, and a concert tour.
21. The Corrs
From: Co. Louth Known for: “Only When I Sleep”, “Runaway”, ” Breathless”, “Radio” The Corrs are one of the most well-known Irish bands of all time.
Combining traditional Irish musical themes with pop rock has never been simple, but a group of brothers and sisters from County Louth have done so with style and tremendous success.
The Corrs have issued seven studio albums and countless singles since their inception in 1990, totaling forty million globally.
Two of them, Talk On Corners and Forgiven Not Forgotten, have been number one and two in the UK charts at the same time, making them one of only a few acts to do so. They are without a doubt one of Ireland’s top pop bands.
22. The Cranberries
Known for : “Zombie”, ” Linger”, Dreams”, “Just My Imagination”, ” When You’re Gone” The Cranberries are an Irish rock band founded in 1990 and led by vocalist Dolores O’Riordan.
In the 1990s, the band was hugely successful around the world, selling over 40 million CDs. The track “Linger” from 1993 was the group’s first commercial success. The song and its music video were picked up by MTV, which helped it become a top ten pop smash in the United States.
With their following album, No Need To Argue, and the hit “Zombie,” which was inspired by Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising, the Cranberries shifted their sound to heavier rock.
From 2004 through 2008, the Cranberries were on sabbatical as members of the band concentrated on various projects.
Following the release of Dolores O’Riordan’s solo album No Baggage, they reunited for a North American and European tour in 2009.
Roses, the group’s next album, was released in 2012. It charted at #51 in the United States. Dolores O’Riordan, the band’s lead vocalist, died abruptly in January 2018 at the age of 46.
She was in London to work on new records. The band intends to finish a final album with O’Riordan’s vocals already recorded.
From: Dublin Known for : “All I Want”, “High Hopes”, “Love Like This” Since 2005, Dublin-based indie-rock band Kodaline has been gently boiling on the undercurrent of mainstream fame.
They gained a lot of attention in 2012 after releasing The Kodaline – EP and their debut album In a Perfect World, with singles like “All I Want” (which was featured in the 2012 Google Year in Review along with a variety of soundtracks), “High Hopes,” and “Love Like This” attracting a lot of attention.
Kodaline’s sound is varied, diaphanous, and beautiful; they can do it all, from motivational to nostalgic to quietly optimistic to conveying a simple picture of love.
Coming Up For Air, released in 2015, further broadening their horizons. Politics Of Living, their third studio album, was released on September 28, 2018. To know more of the best and famous Irish bands, click here.
Popular Irish People In Sports
24. Conor McGregor – Controversial Fighter
(1988 – present)
People either adore or loathe McGregor, who is a polarizing figure. He is, without a doubt, one of the most famous Irishmen in the world.
Born on July 14, 1988, in Dublin, Ireland, he has since gone on to become one of the most well-known competitors in professional mixed martial arts.
He is one of the most popular Irish sporting celebrities, owing to his prowess in mixed martial arts, the controversies he got into, and for being bold and outspoken.
25. Katie Taylor – Inspiring Female Boxer
(1986 – present)
Katie was born on July 2, 1986, in Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland, and began boxing at the age of 11 when she was introduced to the sport.
Katie went on to win a gold medal in the Olympics before transitioning into the realm of professional boxing, where she is currently reigning supreme.
In addition to being the most famous female boxer in the world, Katie Taylor is arguably the best female boxer competing right now.
Famous Irish People In History
26. Grace O’Malley – Ireland’s Pirate Queen
(c. 1530 – c. 1603) Also known as Gráinne N Mhaille, O’Malley was a 16th-century woman from County Mayo. She was one of the most well-known and fearsome pirates ever.
Grace was known for her fearless leadership on the high seas and her political acumen on the ground.
Grace O’Malley also led her clan’s fleet of ships in conflicts against pirates from Spain, Turkey, and England with daring and determination. Smart partnerships were made and quickly dissolved so that she could maintain her family’s independence in their native homeland.
27. St Patrick – Patron Saint of Ireland
(c.401 – c.500)
Nobody can deny that St. Patrick is the most well-known Irishman, regardless of religious affiliation.
The fact that he was enslaved in Ireland and then became a Christian missionary, even though he was Welsh greatly changed the course of Irish history.
Several myths abound about him, including how he exterminated all the snakes in Ireland and baptized many people at a well near where St Patrick’s Cathedral now stands in Dublin.
It’s also worth noting that St. Patrick’s Day is named after him, and he is also the patron saint of Ireland.
28. Ernest Shackleton – Explorer
(1874 – 1922)
During the early 20th century, Kildare native Ernest Shackleton left Ireland for a much harsher environment to embark on an extremely perilous Antarctic expedition.
As part of a series of disastrous journeys that saw him fall ill, get shipwrecked, and write his experiences, he traveled to the island four times.
With his incredible tales of survival against the odds, even if he was not the first one, he became a recognizable name and one of the most famous Irishman.
Hi, I’m Christine – a full-time traveler and career woman. Although I’m from the Philippines, my location independent career took me to over 40 countries for the past 8 years. I also lived in 3 continents – from the Caribbean, South East Asia to Africa. But despite living in several countries, my love for Ireland remains the same. A country that had been a part of my life since I was 14 because of my love for Irish music and bands. Ireland Travel Guides was born because of this passion and hopefully, in some little ways, this website will be able to help you on your next trip to Ireland.