Ireland at the Oscars: the history of Academy Award winning Irish movies

With high hopes for this Ireland’s film industry at this year’s Oscars on 26 April, we take a look back through the history of Academy Award winning Irish movies.

26 April will mark the 93rd Academy Awards, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to honour the best in film from 2020 and early 2021. With that in mind, we are taking a look through the history of Academy Award winning Irish movies.

Hopes are high for Ireland’s film industry at this year’s awards ceremony, with Irish film Wolfwalkers marking Kilkenny Studio Cartoon Saloon’s fifth Oscar nomination.

So, as we look forward to this year’s Oscars, we take a look back at Ireland’s history with the Academy Awards, from Best Picture nominations to award-winning Irish actors and actresses.

Best Picture – Ireland’s best films

My Left Foot is one of the Academy Award winning Irish movies.
Credit: imdb.com

While Ireland has had no Best Picture winners in the history of Academy Award winning Irish movies, some Irish-made films have scooped nominations.

The first Irish film to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture was My Left Foot (1989), directed by Dublin-born playwright, screenwriter, director, and producer Jim Sheridan at the 1990 award ceremony.

Sheridan scooped his next Best Picture nomination in 1994 for his film In the Name of the Father (1993).

It was almost two decades later before Ireland received its next Best Picture nomination for Element Picture’s Room (2015) at the 2016 ceremony. Three years later, Element Picture’s received their next nomination for The Favourite (2018).

Best Director – two Irish nominees in one year

In The Name of the Father was directed by Jim Sheridan.
Credit: imdb.com

While Ireland currently has no Oscar winners in the Best Director category, it boasts an impressive number of nominees for the prestigious award.

In 1928 at the very first Academy Awards, Dún Laoghaire director Herbert Brenon was nominated for his work on the American silent drama Sorrell and Son (1927). It would be over 60 years later before an Irish-born director would receive the nomination of Best Director.

At the 1990 awards, two Irish directors made the category, with Belfast-born actor and filmmaker Kenneth Branagh receiving a nomination for his work on Henry V (1989) alongside Jim Sheridan for My Left Foot (1989).

Sheridan went on to receive another nomination for Best Director in 1994 for In the Name of the Father (1993). Other Irish nominees for the award have included Sligo-born Neil Jordan for The Crying Game (1992) at the 1993 awards and Dublin-born Lenny Abrahamson in 2016 for Room (2015).

Best Actor – lots of Irish nominees

Schindler's List is one of the Academy Award winning Irish movies.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

So far, there have been no Irish actors to win the Best Actor Award at the Oscars. However, that does not mean their talents have gone unrecognised.

Irish nominees in the category included Barry Fitzgerald in 1945 for Going My Way (1944), making him the only actor ever to be nominated for two categories for the same role in the same film in the same year.

Other Irish nominations for Best Actor included Dan O’Herlihy for Robinson Crusoe (1954) in 1955, Richard Harris for This Sporting Life (1963) in 1964 and The Field (1990) in 1991, Kenneth Branagh for Henry V (1989) in 1990, Stephen Rea for The Crying Game (1992) in 1993, Liam Neeson for Schindler’s List (1993) in 1994, and Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs (2015) in 2016.

Best Actress – Saoirse Ronan’s category

Saoirse Ronan has received numerous nominations for best actress.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Similarly, there are so far no Irish actresses who have taken home the award for Best Actress at the Oscars. However, one Irish actress has certainly made her impression.

Saoirse Ronan, at the age of just 27, has received three nominations for Best Actress. Once for Brooklyn (2015) in 2016, again in 2018 for Ladybird (2017), and most recently in 2020 for Little Women (2019).

Another Irish actress who made history at the awards was Ruth Negga, who became the first black Irish woman to be nominated in any category when she received a nomination for Best Actress for her role in Loving (2016) at the 2017 awards.

Best Supporting Actor – one Irish winner

Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

While he missed out on the award for Best Actor at the 1945 ceremony, Barry Fitzgerald did not leave empty-handed as he snagged the award for Best Supporting Actor for the very same role.

Other Irish actors to be nominated for the award include Kenneth Brannagh in 2012 for My Week with Marilyn (2011) and Michael Fassbender in 2014 for 12 Years a Slave (2013).

Best Supporting Actress – one Irish winner

My Left Foot is one of the Academy Award winning Irish movies.
Credit: Flickr / Alan Light

The only Irish actress to win the award for Best Supporting Actress in the history of Academy Award winning Irish movies is Dublin-born Brenda Fricker at the 1990 ceremony for her role in My Left Foot (1989).

Other Irish nominees for the award include Geraldine Fitzgerald in 1940 for Wuthering Heights (1939), Sara Allgood in 1942 for How Green Was My Valley (1941), and Saoirse Ronan for Atonement (2007) in 2008.

Best Original Screenplay – one Irish winner

Best Original Screenplay for Neil Jordan.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

The only screenwriter to win the award for Best Original Screenplay is Neil Jordan for The Crying Game (1992) in 1993.

Nominees have included the father-daughters team of Jim, Kirsten, and Naomi Sheridan in 2004 for In America (1993), Terry George in 2005 for Hotel Rwanda (2004), and Martin McDonagh in 2010 for In Bruges (2009).

Best Adapted Screenplay – one Irish winner

Pygmalion is one of the Academy Award winning Irish movies.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw is the only Irish winner in the Best Adapted Screenplay category for the 1938 adaptation of his play of the same name, Pygmalion, at the 1939 award ceremony.

Other nominations have included Bill Naughton for Alfie (1966), Shane Connaughton and Jim Sheridan for My Left Foot (1989), Terry George and Jim Sheridan for In the Name of the Father (1993), Kenneth Branagh for Hamlet (1996), and Emma Donoghue for Room (2015).

Best Animated Feature – this year’s nomination

This year's Irish nomination is Wolfwalkers.
Credit: Facebook / @cartoonsaloonireland

With Wolfwalkers (2021) making the fifth nomination for Kilkenny-based Cartoon Saloon in the history of Academy Award winning Irish movies, Irish film fans wait in anticipation and hope for the first Irish winner in this category.

Other Irish nominations for the award have included The Secret of Kells (2009), Song of the Sea (2014), and The Breadwinner (2017), all by Cartoon Saloon.

Best Documentary Short – one Irish winner

A Note of Triumph is one of the Academy Award winning Irish movies.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

The category for Best Documentary Short currently has one Irish winner in the form of A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin (2005) by Irish-American producer and screenwriter Corinne Marrinan at the 2006 awards.

Nominations have included Tom Hayes and Jim O’Connor for Cradle of Genius (1961), Patrick Carey for Yeats Country (1965), Patrick and Vivien Carey for Oisin (1970), and Louis Marcus for Children at Work (1973).

Best Live Action Short – two Irish winners

Stutterer won an award for Best Live Action Short.
Credit: imdb.com

The category for Best Live Action Short has an impressive two Irish winners in the history of Academy Award winning Irish movies in the form of Northern Irish short film The Shore (2011) by father-daughter team Oorlagh and Terry George, and Stutterer (2015) by Dublin-born Benjamin Cleary.

Nominations in the category throughout the 20th-century include Louis Marcus for Conquest of Light (1975), Kenneth Branagh for Swan Song (1992), and Tim Loane and Pearse Moore for Dance Lexie Dance (1997).

Moving into the 21st-century, Gary McKendry was nominated for Everything in This Country Must (2004), Steph Green for New Boy (2008), and husband-wife team James Flynn and Juanita Wilson for The Door (2009).

In the past decade, Michael Creagh for The Crush (2010), Peter McDonald and Eimear O’Kane for Pentecost (2011), Ronan Blaney and Michael Lennox for Boogaloo and Graham (2014), and most recently Vincent Lambe and Darren Mahon for Detainment (2018).

Best Animated Short – no Irish winners

Give Up Yer Aul Sins is one of the Academy Award winning Irish movies.
Credit: imdb.com

While there have been no Irish winners in the category of Best Animated Short in the history of Academy Award winning Irish movies, there have been several nominees.

Nominees have included Seamus Byrne and Ruairí Robinson for Fifty Percent Grey (2001), Cathal Gaffney and Darragh O’Connell for Give Up Yer Aul Sins (2001), Darragh O’Connell and Nicky Phelan for Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty (2009) and Louise Bagnall for Late Afternoon (2018).

Best Original Song – one Irish winner

Once is one of the Academy Award winning Irish movies.
Credit: imdb.com

The only Irish winner in the category of Best Original Song has been Glen Hansard for ‘Falling Slowly’ in Once (2007) at the 2008 awards.

Nominees include Enya with Nicky and Roma Ryan for ‘May it Be’ in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), U2 for ‘The Hands That Built America’ in Gangs of New York (2002), and U2 again for ‘Ordinary Love’ in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013).

Best Sound Mixing – no Irish winners

Peter J Devlin has received five nominations for sound mixing.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

There are currently no Irish winners in the Best Sound Mixing category. However, Belfast-born sound engineer Peter J. Devlin has received an impressive five nominations in this category for his work.

He received nominations for his work on Pearl Harbour (2001), Transformers (2007), Star Trek (2009), Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011), and Black Panther (2018).

Best Production Design – third time lucky

Out of Africa set design by Josie McAvin.
Credit: imdb.com

After being nominated for Best Production Design twice in the 1960s for Tom Jones (1963) and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), Irish set decorator Josie MacAvin finally won an Oscar in 1986 for Out of Africa (1985).

Best Cinematography – no Irish winners

Atonement is one of the Academy Award winning Irish movies.
Credit: imdb.com

In the history of Academy Award winning Irish movies, there have been no Irish winners in the category of Best Cinematography. However, there have been three nominees.

Armagh-born cinematographer Seamus McGarvey received two separate nominations for Atonement (2007) and Anna Karenina (2012), and Dublin-born Robbie Ryan was nominated for The Favourite (2018).

Best Makeup and Hairstyling – two Irish winners

Michele Burke is an award winning makeup artist.
Credit: Instagram / @micheleburke_mua

Kildare native Michèle Burke has won an impressive two Oscars for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Once for Quest for Fire (1982) and again for Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).

Burke has also been nominated four more times for The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986), Cyrano de Bergerac (1990), Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999) and The Cell (2000).

Best Costume Design – no Irish winners

Victoria & Abdul is one of the Academy Award winning Irish movies.
Credit: imdb.com

There have so far been no winners in the category of Best Costume Design in the history of Academy Award winning Irish movies. However, Dublin-born costume designer Consolata Boyle has received three nominations.

First for her work on The Queen (2006), second for Florence Foster Jenkins (2016), and most recently for Victoria and Abdul (2017).

An honorary Oscar – for one of Ireland’s greatest

Maureen O'Hara received an honourary award.
Credit: pixabay.com / Flybynight

At the 2014 Annual Governors Ball, one of Ireland’s greatest actresses, Maureen O’Hara, received an honorary Oscar from the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

This made her the second actress of all time to receive the award without being nominated previously in any competitive category.

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