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List of famous Irish people

Irish people are well-known for their eloquence. Ireland has spawn a large number of world-class poets, novelists, playwrights and actors. Many prominent politicians in the English-speaking world might well have inherited their oratory skills from their Irish ancestors, including (at least) fifteen U.S. presidents, four prime ministers of Australia, one British prime minister, one Canadian prime minister and two French presidents.

Writers, Playwrights & Poets

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) : Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, best known for his novel Gulliver's Travels.

Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1774) : Anglo-Irish writer and poet, best remembered for his novel The Vicar of Wakefield, and his plays The Good-Natur'd Man and She Stoops to Conquer.

Bram Stoker (1847-1912) : novelist and short story writer, best known as the author of the Gothic novel Dracula.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) : writer and poet, known for his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and his plays Salome and The Importance of Being Earnest.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) : playwright and co-founder of the London School of Economics. He is the only person to have been awarded both a Nobel Prize in Literature (1925) and an Oscar (1938), the latter for the adaptation of his play Pygmalion to the cinema.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) : poet and playwright considered as one of the driving forces behind the Irish Literary Revival. He was the first Irishman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (1923). His greatest works include The Tower and The Winding Stair and Other Poems. He also served two terms as an Irish Senator.

James Joyce (1882-1941): novelist and poet, considered to be one of the most influential writers in the modernist avant-garde of the early 20th century. His best-known works include Ulysses, Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Finnegans Wake.

Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) : avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director, and poet, who lived in Paris for most of his adult life and wrote in both English and French. His style is associated with the Theatre of the Absurd movement. His notable works include Murphy, Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, Waiting for Godot, Watt, Endgame, Krapp's Last Tape, How It Is. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969.

Seamus Heaney (born 1939) : foremost 20th-century poet and playwright. He was both the Harvard and the Oxford Professor of Poetry and won numerous litterary awards, including the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature. He is best known for his collection of poems such as Opened Ground: Poems, District and Circle, The Spirit Level, and his translation of Beowulf.

  • Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967) : one of the foremost poets of the 20th century. His most famous works include the novel Tarry Flynn and the poems Raglan Road and The Great Hunger.
  • Brian O'Nolan (1911-1966) : novelist, playwright and satirist regarded as a key figure in postmodern literature. His better known English language novels are At Swim-Two-Birds and The Third Policeman.
  • Brendan Behan (1923-1964) : poet, short story writer, novelist, and playwright who wrote in both English and Irish. His notable works include the plays The Quare Fellow and The Hostage and his autobiograhy Borstal Boy.

Politicians & Activists

Charles Thomson (1729-1824) : was a Patriot leader during the American Revolution. He was the secretary of the Continental Congress of America throughout its 15 years of existence. He was born in Maghera, County Londonderry.

Richard Martin (1754-1834), was a politician and one of the earliest animal rights activists. In 1824 he founded the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), now the oldest and largest animal welfare organisation in the world. He was born at Ballynahinch Castle, County Galway.

Daniel O'Connell (1775-1847) : often referred to as The Liberator, or The Emancipator, he campaigned for the right for Catholics to sit in the Westminster Parliament, and to repeal of the Act of Union which combined Great Britain and Ireland. He was born near Cahersiveen, County Kerry.

Michael Collins (1890-1922) : revolutionary leader who served as Director of Intelligence for the IRA, Minister for Finance, Chairman of the Provisional Government and Commander-in-chief of the National Army. He was shot and killed in August 1922, during the Irish Civil War. Collins was born near Clonakilty, County Cork.

US Presidents of Irish Descent

Presidents with too elusive or distant Irish ancestry were excluded from the list.

Irish ancestry

  • James Buchanan (1791-1868) : all ancestors hailed from County Donegal.
  • John F. Kennedy (1917-1963): all his ancestors were Irish, chiefly from Counties Waterford, Cork and Limerick.
  • Ronald Reagan (1911-2004): his father's ancestors were all Irish, from County Tipperary.

Ulster Scots ancestry

  • Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) : both parents born in County Antrim.
  • James Knox Polk (1795-1849) : distant paternal ancestors from County Donegal.
  • Andrew Johnson (1808-1875) : grandfather born in County Antrim.
  • Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) : one of his great-grand-fathers was born in County Tyrone.
  • Chester A. Arthur (1829-1886) : father born in County Antrim.
  • Grover Cleveland (1837-1908) : ancestors from County Antrim on his mother's side.
  • William McKinley (1843-1901) : grandfather born in County Antrim.
  • Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) : some of his maternal ancestors hailed from County Antrim.
  • Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) : grandfather born in County Tyrone.
  • Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) : paternal ancestors originated from Ulster.
  • Richard Nixon (1913-1994) : ancestors from County Antrim on his mother's side.
  • Bill Clinton (born 1946) : paternal ancestors originated from County Fermanagh.

Other Politicians of Irish Descent

  • Ambrosio O'Higgins, Marquis of Osorno (1720–1801) : served as captain general of Chile, then Viceroy of Peru. The O'Higgins family descended from the Gaelic Baron of Ballynary and the O'Conor clan from Connacht.
  • John Hancock (1737-1793) : president of the Second Continental Congress and famous signatory of the United States Declaration of Independence. His family hailed from County Down.
  • Bernardo O'Higgins (1778–1842) : Chilean independence leader and first President of Chile, and his father, Viceroy of Peru Ambrosio O'Higgins, Marquis of Osorno. He was the son of Ambrosio O'Higgins.
  • Patrice MacMahon (1808-1893) : 1st Duke of Magenta, Marshal of France and first president of the Third Republic, from 1875 to 1879. His paternal ancestors came from County Clare.
  • James Scullin (1876-1953) : Prime Minister of Australia from 1929 to 1932.
  • Joseph Lyons (1879-1939) : Prime Minister of Australia from 1932 to 1939.
  • John Curtin (1885-1945) : Prime Minister of Australia from 1941 to 1945.
  • Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) : leader of the Free French Forces during WWII, founder of the French Fifth Republic and President of France from 1959 to 1969. His mother was of partial Irish descent. De Gaulle himself was a passionate Celticist advocating the union of the Welsh, Scots, Irish and Bretons into one people.

  • James Callaghan (1912-2005) : Labour Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1976 to 1979. He is the only person to have served in all four of the Great Offices of State: Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer (1964–67), Home Secretary (1967–70), and Foreign Secretary (1974–76). His father was of Irish descent.
  • Chaim Herzog (1918-1997) : 6th President of Israel. He was born in Belfast as the son of the Chief Rabbi of Ireland.
  • Brian Mulroney (born 1939) : 18th Prime Minister of Canada
  • Paul Keating (born 1944), Prime Minister of Australia from 1991 to 1996.

Actors & Film Directors

  • Barry Fitzgerald (1888-1961)
  • Maureen O'Sullivan (1911-1998)
  • Richard Harris (1930-2002)
  • Peter O'Toole (b. 1932)
  • Gabriel Byrne (b. 1950)
  • Colm Meaney (b. 1953)
  • Pierce Brosnan (b. 1953)
  • Daniel Day Lewis (b. 1957) - Irish by citizenship but British-born
  • Kenneth Branagh (b. 1960)
  • Colin Farrell (b. 1976)
  • Cillian Murphy (b. 1976)

Hollywood Actors of Irish Descent

  • Harrison Ford (b. 1942)
  • Bill Murray (b. 1950)
  • Alec Baldwin (b. 1958)
  • George Clooney (b. 1961)
  • Mel Gibson (b. 1956)
  • Heather Graham (b. 1970)
  • Ben Affleck (b. 1972)
  • Macaulay Culkin (b. 1980)

Singers, Musicians & Bands

  • Horslips

  • U2
  • Thin Lizzy
  • Boomtown Rats
  • The Corrs
  • Clannad
  • Boyzone
  • Ronan Keating
  • Van Morrison
  • The Cranberries
  • Gilbert O'Sullivan
  • Westlife
  • Enya

Singers & Musicians of Irish Descent

  • Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison of the Beatles
  • Liam Gallagher and Noel Gallagher of Oasis
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • Johnny Rotten (lead singer of the Sex Pistols)

Scientists & Inventors

  • Robert Boyle (1627-1691), was an Anglo-Irish natural philosopher, chemist, physicist, and inventor. He has been dubbed the "father of modern chemistry", and is also one of the pioneers of the modern experimental scientific method. He is best remembered for Boyle's law, which states that the absolute pressure and volume of a given mass of confined gas are inversely proportional, if the temperature remains unchanged within a closed system.
  • John Tyndall (1820-1893), an Anglo-Irish physicist, was the first to prove the Greenhouse Effect, the first to discover why the sky is blue (Tyndall effect), as well as a number of other discoveries about processes in the atmosphere. He was also the first scientist to be referred specifically as a physicist.
  • Col. Edward Joshua Cooper (1827-1902) created the Markree Observatory in 1830, on the grounds of his ancestral home, Markree Castle. It was possibly the most advanced private observatory of its time, and featured the world's first cast-iron telescope and the largest refractor lens (34 cm / 13.5"). In 1848, Copper's assistant, Andrew Graham, discovered the asteroid 9 Metis - the only asteroid ever discovered from Ireland.
  • John Philip Holland (1840-1914), born in Liscannor, County Clare, invented the first functional self-propelled submarine in 1877. He later developed the first submarines used by the U.S. Navy (1900), the Royal Navy (1901), and the Japanese Imperial Navy (1904). The latter played a decisive role in the victory of Japan over Russia in 1905, for which Holland was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun by Emperor Meiji.
  • William Edward Wilson (1851–1908) was an astronomer from County Westmeath who took some of the earliest photographs of the stars, the moon, the sun and a solar eclipse. In 1889, he became the first person to measure the temperature of the sun, reaching an estimation of 6590°C, remarkably close to the modern value of 6075°C.
  • Louis Brennan (1852-1932), born in Castlebar, County Mayo, was a mechanical engineer who emigrated to Australia, where he invented the steerable torpedo in 1874. It was the first weapon in history that could be remotely directed to its target. He later invented the gyroscopically-balanced monorail system and the gyroscopic helicopter, which performed the world's first unmanned (but controlled) helicopter flight.
  • Ernest Walton (1903-1995), born in Dungarvan, County Waterford, is the only Irish Nobel laureate in sciences. Working at Cambridge University, in the early 1930s he became the first person in history to artificially split the atom, thus ushering the world into the nuclear age.

Other notable Irish individuals

  • James Hoban (1758-1831), born in Desart, County Kilkenny, studied architectyre in Dublin, then immigrated to America, where he was chosen to design the White House in Washington, D.C.
  • Patrick Brontë (1777-1861), born in Rathfriland, County Down, was an Anglican clergyman and writer mostly known for being the father of the (English-born) writers Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and Branwell Brontë.
  • James Gamble (1803–1891), soapmaker, industrialist and co-founder of the Procter & Gamble Company. He was born in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh.
  • Constance Markievicz (née Gore-Booth, 1868-1927) was the first woman elected to the British House of Commons (in December 1918). She was also one of the first women in the world to hold a cabinet position (Minister for Labour of the Irish Republic, 1919–1922).

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