The 50 Most Famous Irish People Who Ever Lived

For an island as small as Ireland, it is remarkable how many famous Irish people there are. Here is our list of the top 50 most famous Irish people who ever lived (in 2024).

The Emerald Isle has produced many famous Irish people who have all made their mark on the world in one way or another.

From famous actors to presidents and political leaders to sports stars, there is no shortage of famous Irish people who have come to be recognised for their efforts and the impact that they have made.

In this article, we’ll share our rundown of the most famous Irish people of all time, both living and deceased, with at least one notable figure from each county in Ireland.

Whether you love or loathe them, you can’t deny that they have become well-known across the world!

IB4UD’s top facts about famous Irish people

  • Liam Neeson was an amateur boxer before becoming a professional actor.
  • The lead singer of U2, Paul David Hewson (or Bono), got his nickname from the Latin phrase ‘bono vox’, which translates as ‘good voice’.
  • Before becoming an actor, Cillian Murphy was a member of an Irish rock band called The Sons of Mr Greengenes.
  • Irish actor Michael Fassbender initially studied to become a chef before pursuing a career in acting.
  • Saoirse Ronan is the second youngest person in history to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, earning the recognition at the age of 13 for her role in Atonement.
  • Did you know Oscar Wilde once said to a customs agent upon arriving in New York for a lecture tour, “I have nothing to declare but my genius?”
  • An interesting fact about Michael Collins, the Irish revolutionary leader, is that he established Ireland’s first indigenous film industry while serving as Minister for Finance.

The 50 most famous Irish people of all time

50. Liam Neeson – a Hollywood actor from Antrim

Liam Neeson is a well-known actor from Ballymena, County Antrim, who is certainly among the most famous Irish people of all time.
Credit: Flickr / Karen 司徒嘉蘭, CC BY 2.0 DEED

Liam Neeson is one of our most famous Irish actors, having starred in films such as Love Actually and Taken

Born in Ballymena, he has gone on to star alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest names, including Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins. He is easily one of the most famous people from Northern Ireland.

He is easily one of the most famous people from Northern Ireland.

49. Ian Paisley – a political figure from Armagh

Ian Paisley was a controversial politician during the Northern Ireland Troubles and one of the most well-known Irish people. He is best known as the founder of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

48. Saoirse Ronan – an award-winning actress from Carlow

Credit: Ipernity/ Siebbi, CC BY 3.0 DEED

Saoirse Ronan is an award-winning actress who got her big break in Atonement (2007) alongside Kiera Knightley. 

She has since gone on to star in critically acclaimed films such as Brooklyn (2015) and Ladybird (2017), making her one of the most famous Irish people on the circuit these days.

47. Graham Norton – a TV personality from Cork

Graham Norton is an Irish comedian, actor, and television personality. He is also known for his role in the popular Irish sitcom Father Ted, one of the best Irish TV shows of all time.

46. Saoirse-Monica Jackson – an actress from Derry

Credit: Instagram / @saoirsemonicajackson

Saoirse-Monica Jackson is the lead actress from the beloved sitcom Derry Girls (2018-2022).

The popular Channel 4 show propelled her and her four co-stars to worldwide fame.

45. Jamie Dornan – an actor from Down

Jamie Dornan is one of the most famous Irish actors.
Credit: imdb.com

Jamie Dornan is an actor from Holywood (not to be confused with Hollywood, California) in Northern Ireland. You may have seen him in the Fifty Shades movie trilogy.

44. Adrian Dunbar – an actor from Fermanagh

Credit: imdb.com

Adrian Dunbar is an Irish celebrity known for his remarkable contributions to the TV and movie industry. Born in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, Dunbar has left an indelible mark on both stage and screen. 

He is best known for portraying Superintendent Ted Hastings in the critically acclaimed BBC television series Line of Duty (2012-2021).

Dunbar’s performances, often characterised by his commanding stage presence and distinctive voice, have garnered widespread recognition and admiration.

43. Nicola Coughlan – an actress from Galway

Nicola Coughlan is known for her role as Clare in Derry Girls.
Credit: Instagram / @nicolacoughlan

Nicola Coughlan, our second ‘Derry Girl,’ actually hails from Galway. Watch out for her in a new lead role in the US show Bridgerton (2020-2024).

Check out this article on the top 10 facts about Nicola Coughlan that you never knew.

41. D.J. Carey – a hurler from Kilkenny

D.J. Carey is an Irish hurler who played as a left-wing forward for the Kilkenny senior team.

40. Robert Sheehan – an actor from Laois

Credit: Flickr / Gage Skidmore

Robert Sheehan is a BAFTA-nominated actor best known for his roles as Nathan Young in Misfits (2009-2013) and Darren in Love/Hate (2010-2014).

READ ALSO: IB4UD’s Top 10 Irish TV shows, ranked in order

39. John McGahern – a novelist from Leitrim

John McGahern was an Irish novelist and a recipient of the Lannan Literary Award for Fiction. 

He is best known for his novel Amongst Women, published in 1990.

38. Michael Gomez – a boxer from Longford

Michael Gomez is a former professional boxer. Born to an Irish Traveller family, he held the WBU super featherweight title from 2004 to 2005.

37. Mary Robinson – Ireland’s first female president from Mayo

Mary Robinson was the first female president of Ireland. She held this role from 1990 to 1997.

RELATED: Presidents of Ireland all heads of state listed in order

36. Ardal O’Hanlon – a comedian from Monaghan

One of the most famous people from Ireland has got to be Ardal O’Hanlon. 

An actor best known as Dougal McGuire from the sitcom Father Ted (1995-1998), he also starred in the comedy sitcom My Hero, which ran from 2000 to 2006.

35. W.B. Yeats – a literary legend from Sligo

W.B. Yeats is a renowned poet who is regarded among the most famous Irish people of all time.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

W.B. Yeats was an Irish poet and one of the most renowned 20th-century writers. Born on 13 June 1865 in Sandymount, County Dublin, Yeats is considered one of the greatest poets of the time. 

He was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923. 

His works, including The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair (1929), remain influential to this day. In addition to his influential literary career, he served two terms as Senator for the Free Irish State.

34. Niall Horan – a singer from Westmeath

Niall Horan is from Mullingar

Niall Horan is a singer previously part of pop band One Direction. Born in Mullingar, he has also managed to achieve a successful solo career.

33. Bram Stoker – the Dracula author from Dublin

Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Bram Stoker was a writer from Dublin who is most famous for being the author of the mega-famous horror novel Dracula (1897).

32. Dara O’Briain – a comedian from Wicklow

Credit: Flickr / Arif Gardner

Dara O’Briain is a comedian and television presenter. He is known for his position on the satirical panel show Mock the Week (2005-2022).

31. Enya – a singing sensation from Donegal

Credit: enya.com

Enya was born on 17 May 1961 in Gweedore, County Donegal. She became a singing sensation and went on to win seven World Music Awards and four Grammys. 

Her song ‘May It Be’, which she wrote for the first film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003), was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.

30. James Joyce – an influential writer from Dublin

James Joyce was born on 2 February 1882 in Dublin and went on to become one of the most important and influential writers not only in Ireland but the world as a whole.

His works, including Ulysses (1922) and Finnegans Wake (1939), revolutionised modernist literature and continue to be studied and celebrated worldwide.

READ MORE: Top 10 facts about James Joyce you didn’t know, revealed

29. Katie Taylor – an inspiring female boxer from Wicklow

Katie Taylor is, without a doubt, the most famous female boxer in the world and probably the best female boxer in the world at the moment, too. 

Katie was born in Bray, County Wicklow, on 2nd July 1986 and began boxing at the age of 11. She went on to win gold in the Olympics before entering the realm of professional boxing, which she is now taking by storm.

28. Maureen O’Hara – a star of the silver screen from Dublin

Perhaps the most famous Irishwoman to ever grace the silver screen, Maureen O’Hara was born in Dublin on 12 August 1920. 

Maureen went on to become a famous singer and actress in America and became renowned for her performance in fierce and passionate roles in Western and adventure movies.

CHECK OUT: Top 10 best Maureen O’Hara movies of all time

27. Michael Collins – a revolutionary leader from Cork

Michael Collins was born near Clonakilty, County Cork, in 1890. He has become arguably the most influential figure in Irish history, and he took part in the 1916 rising. 

Following that, he ascended to the ranks of Director of Intelligence for the IRA, Minister for Finance, Chairman of the Provisional Government, and Commander-in-Chief of the National Army. 

He was killed in August 1922 during the Irish Civil War, and his legacy is still felt and honoured to this day.

Collins is one of the most famous people buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. His grave is probably the most celebrated in the entire cemetery, according to the tour guides here.

26. Pierce Brosnan – an iconic actor from Meath

Pierce Brosnan is one of the most famous Irish actors.
Credit: Flickr / sebaso

Pierce Brosnan was born on 16 May 1953 in Drogheda, County Louth. He rose to fame as the fifth actor to play secret agent James Bond in the Bond film series, starring in four films from 1995 to 2002. 

He also starred in other hit movies such as Mamma Mia! (2008) and The Thomas Crown Affair (1999). You can also spot him in cult classics like Mrs. Doubtfire (1993).

READ ALSO: Top 10 highest-grossing Irish actors of all time

25. Samuel Beckett – a playwright and novelist from Dublin

Credit: npg.org.uk

Samuel Beckett was born in 1906 in Foxrock, County Dublin, and went on to become a Nobel Prize-winning playwright, novelist, and poet. 

Best known for his play Waiting for Godot (1953), Beckett’s minimalist and existentialist works have left a lasting impact on literature and theatre.  

24. Michael Fassbender – an award-winning actor from Kerry

Michael Fassbender is an award-winning actor and one of the most famous Irish people of all time.
Credit: Flickr / Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

Another well-known Irish person is Michael Fassbender. He was born on 2 April 1977 in Heidelberg, Germany, to a Northern Irish mother and grew up in Killarney, County Kerry

He is known for his roles in movies like Inglourious Basterds (2009), Shame (2011), and 12 Years a Slave (2013). Fassbender has received numerous awards and nominations, including Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations for outstanding performances.

23. Dolores O’Riordan – a legendary musician from Limerick

Credit: Flickr / Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries

Dolores O’Riordan, born 6 September 1971 in Ballybricken, County Limerick, was the lead vocalist for the rock band The Cranberries. 

Known for her distinctive voice, she gained international fame with hits like ‘Zombie’ and ‘Linger’. O’Riordan’s music continues to inspire fans around the world.

READ ALSO: The 10 best Irish bands of all time, ranked

22. Christy Moore – a folk music icon from Kildare

One of the most well-known Irish singers.

Christy Moore is an Irish folk singer and guitarist. Moore was born on 7 May 1945 in Newbridge, County Kildare and is known for his powerful and socially conscious lyrics. 

He has been a leading figure in Irish folk music for decades. His influence on the genre is immeasurable and his musical talent seems to be endless.

21. Shane MacGowan – a singer and songwriter from Tipperary

Credit: Flickr/ Neil Dorgan

Shane MacGowan, born 25 December 1957 in Pembury, Kent, to Irish parents, is best known as the lead singer and songwriter for The Pogues. 

He has penned some of the most iconic songs in Irish music, including ‘Fairytale of New York’. His contributions to music and Irish culture are legendary.

RELATED: The 10 best Irish songs of all time, Ranked

20. Oscar Wilde – a literary genius from Dublin

If you haven't heard of Oscar Wilde, you most have been living under a rock. The writer is one of the most renowned literary figures of all time.
Credit: Pixabay / janeb13

Oscar Wilde, born 16 October 1854 in Dublin, is one of Ireland’s most famous and enduring literary figures. Wilde came from a well-to-do family and read Greats at Trinity College Dublin in the 19th-century. 

Afterwards, he went on to become a literary great and rose to fame as a London author and playwright. He wrote many celebrated works such as The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895).

Wilde’s social commentary and vibrant characters left a mark on literature. However, his career was cut short by scandal and imprisonment. 

In 1895, he was imprisoned for “gross indecency” owing to his homosexual relationships, which were illegal at the time. Despite this, Wilde’s legacy as a playwright, poet, and author remains strong, and he is honoured today, especially in the LGBT community.

READ MORE: Top 10 facts about Oscar Wilde

19. Brendan Behan – a playwright from Dublin

Credit: commonswikimedia.org

Brendan Behan, born in Dublin in 1923, was a renowned playwright, poet, and novelist. Known for his wit and outspoken personality, Behan wrote acclaimed works such as The Quare Fellow (1954) and Borstal Boy (1958), leaving a lasting impact on Irish literature.

18. Seamus Heaney – a legendary poet from Derry

Seamus Heaney, born in County Derry in 1939, was an esteemed poet and Nobel Prize winner. He had a rich body of work, including collections like Death of a Naturalist (1966) and Field Work (1979), which explored themes of identity, nature, and Irish history.

17. Bobby Sands – a hunger striker from Belfast

Bobby Sands, born in Belfast in 1954, was a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) and a key figure in the 1981 Hunger Strike. 

Imprisoned for his activities, Sands and nine other prisoners protested for political status by refusing food. Sands’ death after 66 days of fasting drew international attention to The Troubles in the north of Ireland.

16. Luke Kelly – a folk music icon from Dublin

Luke Kelly, born in Dublin in 1940, was a founding member of the legendary folk group The Dubliners. Renowned for his rich, powerful voice and passionate performances, Kelly brought Irish folk music to international audiences. 

His renditions of songs like ‘Raglan Road’ and ‘The Black Velvet Band’ remain timeless classics, cementing his legacy as one of Ireland’s greatest folk musicians.

RELATED: The 10 best Irish songs of all time, ranked

15. Charles Stewart Parnell – a political leader from Wicklow

Credit: snl.no

Charles Stewart Parnell, born in Avondale, County Wicklow, in 1846, was a key figure in the Irish Parliamentary Party. 

Known as the ‘Uncrowned King of Ireland’, Parnell’s efforts in advocating for Home Rule left an indelible mark on Irish politics.

14. Colin Farrell – an actor from Dublin

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Colin Farrell is one of Ireland’s most famous actors, having appeared in numerous Hollywood films.

Born in Castleknock, County Dublin, Farrell’s notable works include Phone Booth (2002), In Bruges (2008), and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016-2022).

13. Sinéad O’Connor – a singer from Dublin

Sinead O'Connor is remembered for her beautiful voice and haunting lyrics, which made her one of the most famous Irish people of all time.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Sinéad O’Connor was a famous singer from County Dublin. She rose to fame with her powerful voice and hit single, ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’.

12. Brendan O’Carroll – a comedian and actor from Dublin

Brendan O’Carroll, born in Finglas, County Dublin, is a comedian, writer, and actor best known for creating and starring in the popular sitcom Mrs Brown’s Boys (2011-2024).

11. Paul Mescal – an actor from Kildare

Credit: Instagram/ @paulmescalpics

Paul Mescal, born in Maynooth, County Kildare, shot to fame with his role as Connell Waldron in the critically acclaimed TV series Normal People (2020). His performance earned him a BAFTA award and international recognition.

10. George Best – a football legend from Belfast

George Best is widely regarded as one of the greatest footballers of all time. Born in Belfast in 1946, Best’s career took off when he joined Manchester United at the age of 15, stunning fans with his extraordinary dribbling skills. 

Despite his addiction to alcohol, which ultimately affected his career and cut his life short, Best’s legacy as a football icon endures. He remains a legendary figure, especially in Northern Ireland.

9. Wolfe Tone – a revolutionary from Dublin

Wolfe Tone, born Theobald Wolfe Tone in Dublin in 1763, was a leading figure in the Irish Rebellion of 1798

As a founding member of the United Irishmen, Tone aimed to establish an independent Irish republic free from British rule and to unite Irish people of different faiths under a common identity. Many see Tone as the forefather of Irish Republicanism.

8. Robbie Keane – a football legend from Dublin

Robbie Keane is the Republic of Ireland national football team’s record goal scorer. His incredible career saw him play for top professional clubs like Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Celtic, and LA Galaxy. 

Keane’s talent on the pitch and goal contributions to Ireland, especially his goal against Germany in the 2002 World Cup Finals, has made him a beloved figure in Irish sports.

7. Van Morrison – a singer-songwriter from Belfast

Van Morrison is a singer-songwriter from Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Credit: Wikimedia / Jarle Vines – CC-BY-SA-3.0

Van Morrison, born George Ivan Morrison, is an iconic singer-songwriter from Belfast. Known for his soulful voice and eclectic musical style, Morrison has left an indelible mark on the music industry. 

Albums like Moondance (1970) and Astral Weeks (1968) are esteemed among the best albums of all time.

Although Morrison is seen as an outspoken and divisive figure, his poetic lyrics and innovative sounds have earned him a place among the greatest musicians of all time.

6. Phil Lynott – a rock star from Dublin

Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Phil Lynott, born in West Bromwich, England, and raised in Dublin, was the charismatic frontman of the rock band Thin Lizzy. 

Known for his distinctive voice and bass playing, Lynott penned hits like ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’ and ‘Whiskey in the Jar’. His legacy as a rock icon endures, and he remains an influential figure in music.

5. Roy Keane – a footballer and pundit from Cork

Roy Keane, from Mayfield, County Cork, is a legendary and sometimes controversial character in the world of football. 

Known for his successful spell as captain and midfielder of Manchester United, Keane had a successful career as a player. He is now a pundit on Sky Sports and the BBC.

4. Conor McGregor – a controversial fighter from Dublin

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Perhaps he is one of the most controversial figures on our list, but whether you love him or love to hate him, you can’t deny that Conor McGregor has become famous across the world. 

Conor McGregor was born on 14 July 1988 in Dublin and has become one of the most famous fighters in professional mixed martial arts.

LEARN MORE about McGregor: Top 10 facts about Conor McGregor you never knew

3. Rory McIlroy – a golfer from Down

Credit: @rorymcilroy / Instagram

Rory McIlroy is one of the most successful golfers in the world. Born in Holywood, County Down, in 1989, he is known for his powerful drives and exceptional skill on the course.

McIlroy has won multiple major championships, including the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, making him the most successful Irish golfer ever.

READ ALSO: Top 10 best Irish golfers of all time, ranked

2. Bono – a global rockstar from Dublin

Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

When it comes to famous Irish people, Bono hardly needs an introduction. Still, just in case you’ve been living under a rock, he is a musician, philanthropist, and member of U2, one of Ireland’s most successful rock bands worldwide. 

Bono was born in Dublin on 10 May 1962 and joined the band U2 when he was in secondary school. After recording their sixth album, The Joshua Tree (1987), they achieved mainstream success and became international stars. 

Bono has since used his celebrity status to aid philanthropic causes, such as addressing issues related to world poverty and AIDS.

1. Cillian Murphy – an actor from Cork

Cillian Murphy is a hugely successful actor, who is regarded as one of the most successful Irish people of all time.
Credit: Imdb.com

Cillian Murphy, born in Douglas, County Cork, has earned acclaim for his versatile acting skills. 

Best known for his role as Thomas Shelby in the hit TV series Peaky Blinders (2013-2022), Murphy has also starred in films like Inception (2010), 28 Days Later (2002), and Dunkirk (2017).

Murphy’s recent performance in Oppenheimer (2023) earned him the Best Actor Academy Award , further solidifying his status as one of Ireland’s most respected actors on both the stage and screen.

Famous Irish people just outside the top 50

John Tyndall – a physicist from Carlow

John Tyndall (1820 – 1893), or the man who gave the first scientific explanation for why the sky is blue and discovered the greenhouse warming effect of gases, was born in County Carlow.

Gerry Adams – a politician from Belfast

Gerry Adams, born in Belfast in 1948, is a prominent figure in Irish politics. As the leader of Sinn Féin from 1983 to 2018, Adams played a crucial role in both the Republican Movement and the Northern Ireland peace process. Adams remains a divisive figure, with opinions varying widely depending on who you ask about him, but there’s no denying he played a key role in transforming both Sinn Féin and the political landscape on the island of Ireland.

Hozier – a musician from Wicklow

Andrew Hozier-Byrne, better known as Hozier, is a singer-songwriter from Bray, County Wicklow. 

He gained international fame with his debut single ‘Take Me to Church’ and has continued to impress with his soulful music and powerful lyrics.

Shane Lowry – a golfer from Offaly

Shane Lowry is an Irish golfer. He was the winner of the 2019 Open Championship and the 2009 Irish Open.

Chris O’Dowd – an actor and comedian from Roscommon

Chris O’Dowd is an actor and comedian. He is known for his comedy acts and his roles in films such as Bridesmaids (2009), in which he starred alongside Kristen Wiig.

RELATED: 10 Irish actors you never knew were Irish.

Brian O’Byrne – an acclaimed actor from Cavan

Brian O’Byrne is an Irish actor born in Mullagh. He won a BAFTA TV award for his role in the drama series Little Boy Blue (2017).

Sharon Shannon – a folk musician from Clare

Sharon Shannon is a Celtic folk musician, known for her fiddle technique and her work with the button accordion.

Your questions answered about famous Irish people

We’ve got you covered if you still have some questions about famous Irish people! In the section below, we’ve put together some of our readers’ most popular questions that have been asked online.

Who is the most famous Irish person today?

After gaining international fame as part of the rock group U2, Bono may be considered the most famous Irish person today. Alternatively, Irish-American actress Saoirse Ronan is steadily rising in prominence in Hollywood.

Who is the richest Irish person?

Shapoor Mistry, who controls the Shapoorji Pallonji Group, is currently the richest person in Ireland.

Who are the top ten most famous Irish people?

It is difficult to narrow down the most famous people of all time to just a list of ten.

Still, such a list today might include people such as Bono, Liam Neeson, Conor McGregor, Maureen O’Hara, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Enya, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Farrell, and W.B. Yeats.

Who is the best Irish actor?

This is hard to say, but some of the best Irish actors are Pierce Brosnan, Cillian Murphy, Maureen O’Hara, Saoirse Ronan, Brendan Gleeson, and Chris O’Dowd.

Who is the most famous person in Ireland?

Bono, the lead singer of U2, is a global rockstar and is our contention for the most famous person in Ireland.

Which Irish county has the most famous people?

Between poets, engineers, comedians, writers, sportspeople, actors, and inventors, County Dublin and County Meath can claim the largest number of famous Irish people.

Do many Irish celebrities live in Ireland?

Many A-list Irish celebrities like Cillian Murphy and Brendan Gleeson still live on our amazing island. There are also many non-Irish celebrities who fell in love with Ireland and chose to have homes on the Emerald Isle.

Who is the best Irish actor?

Hard to say, but some of the best are Pierce Brosnan, Cillian Murphy, Maureen O’Hara, Saoirse Ronan, Brendan Gleeson, and Chris O’Dowd.

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