A land of tales, myths, and legends, and with that, a rich history of storytelling, it is little wonder that Ireland has produced some of the finest actors the world has seen. Discover the most famous Irish actors to have graced our screens here, many of whom you know and have seen in some of your favourite films.
Note that this article talks about Irish male actors. For female actors, read my post about the most famous Irish actresses.
- Most famous Irish actors
- Top 10 Irish actors
- More famous Irish male actors
- Other actors from Ireland
- Related Posts
Most famous Irish actors
There has been a wealth of Irish actors in Hollywood, both in the past and present day. Some of the best male Irish actors have won many an award for their performances on screen. Young and old, Ireland continues to be the birthplace of some of the greatest Irish movie stars of all time. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Top 10 Irish actors
One of the top ten Irish actors is Hollywood star Liam Neeson OBE. Born in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, Liam Neeson’s fame began when he played the lead role in Schindler’s List in 1993.
Roles following this performance have included Master Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars Episode I, the lead role in Michael Collins, and has also starred in Gangs of New York directed by Martin Scorsese. And one of his most famous roles was that of CIA agent Bryan Mills in Taken in 2008 and its sequels.
Liam Neeson has also acted on Broadway. He has won several awards including 2 Irish Film and Television Awards and has been nominated for the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, and the Academy Awards.
Born in Drogheda, County Louth, Pierce Brosnan began his acting career on television, with his most famous TV role being that of Remington Steele, the title character of the series of the same name.
His most famous film role was that of James Bond, 007. Brosnan starred in four of the Bond films; Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough, and Die Another Day. There are not many Hollywood Irish actors that can say they have played the role of the most famous agent in the world! He also starred in Mrs Doubtfire alongside the late Robin Williams, The Thomas Crown Affair (remake), and the wonderful Mamma Mia with Meryl Streep.
Pierce Brosnan is a two-time winner of the Irish Film and Television Awards, has won other awards and been nominated for others, and has also acted on stage.
One of my all-time favourite Irish film actors is Brendan Gleeson. This Dublin-born actor is best known for his roles as Alastor Moody in the Harry Potter films, for playing the infamous Irish gangster The General, playing the lead role in The Guard, and also In Bruges with Colin Farrell (see below).
He is also well-known for his supporting roles in Paddington 2, Michael Collins, and Gangs of New York. He has received three Irish Film and Television Awards, two British Independent Film Awards, and an Emmy Award and has been nominated for BAFTAs and Golden Globe Awards. He is also the father to two other Irish actors, Domhnall Gleeson (featured below) and Brian Gleeson.
Fun fact: Brendan Gleeson is a fiddle and mandolin player with an interest in Irish folklore and speaks fluent Irish (ref).
One of the best-looking Irish actors is Colin Farrell, a Dublin-born actor who started his famous career with a role on the BBC television drama, Ballykissangel.
He made his film debut in 1999 and has starred as Alexander the Great in the biopic Alexander, In Bruges alongside Brendan Gleeson (above), Minority Report, Daredevil, Miami Vice, and Total Recall (remake), among others.
Colin Farrell is the winner of a Golden Globe for best actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for his role in In Bruges. He has also won an Irish Film and Television Award and has been nominated for and won several other awards. He has also starred in theatre.
Fun fact: Colin auditioned for the Irish boy and Boyzone, unsuccessfully.
Arguably one of the most famous Irish actors of all time is the Oscar-award-winning, Daniel Day-Lewis. Born in London to Irish-born British poet and Poet Laureate, Cecil Day-Lewis, he holds dual Irish and British nationality.
Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the most selective film actors, having only starred in six films since 1998. One of his most famous roles was as Christy Brown in My Left Foot for which he won his first Academy Oscar and British Academy Film Award for Best Actor.
He has also starred in The Last of the Mohicans, In the Name of the Father, Gangs of New York, There Will Be Blood, and Lincoln. He won two more Academy awards for his roles in There Will Be Blood and Lincoln, the only actor to win three Academy Awards for Best Actor. He has won numerous other awards including BAFTAs, Golden Globes, and Irish Film and Television awards.
Daniel Day-Lewis split his early career between both film and theatre performances, and he received a knighthood in 2014 for his services to drama.
One of the best Irish actors to grace our screens in both film and television is Cillian Murphy. Born in Cork, Cillian Murphy began his acting career in short and independent films before a notable performance in 28 Days Later in 2002.
Since then he has gone from strength to strength, starring in films such as Red eye, Intermission, The Dark Knight trilogy, The Wind That Shakes The Barley, and Dunkirk.
But it is probably his role as Tommy Shelby in the BBC crime drama, Peaky Blinders, that has propelled him to the forefront of top Irish actors. This role has won him two Irish Film and Television Awards for Best Actor in 2017 and 2018.
Born in Leeds to an Irish metal plater, footballer, and bookmaker, Peter O’Toole attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and had starring roles in many West End Theatre shows and plays before turning to film.
His most notable performance in Lawrence of Arabia earned him his first of seven Academy Award nominations for Best Actor, an award he never received. He was finally awarded the Academy Honorary Award for his career achievements in 2002.
He starred in many other films including Becket, Goodbye, Mr Chips, The Ruling Class, and My Favorite Year, among others. He also starred in TV series such as The Tudors (with Jonathan Rhys Meyers, below).
He was given several awards for his various performances including an Emmy, BAFTA, four Golden Globes, and two Irish Film and Television Awards. Peter O’Toole died in 2013 and his ashes were taken by his family to the West of Ireland.
Richard Harris was an Irish actor and singer from Limerick. He appeared on stage and in many films.
He starred in films such as Camelot playing King Arthur, The Field directed by Jim Sheridan, as Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator opposite Russell Crowe, and most recently was famed for playing Albus Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films.
He has won both a Golden Globe and Grammy Award and was twice nominated for an Academy Award. He also starred in television dramas and films. Richard Harris died in 2002.
One of the best Northern Irish actors is Kenneth Branagh, born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Both an actor and director, Kenneth Branagh trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
He started his career in television before moving to films, starring in productions such as Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Frankenstein, and Professor Gilderoy in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
He has directed many films including Henry V, Hamlet, As You Like It, Thor, and Artemis Fowl. His awards include an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, an Emmy Award, five BAFTAs, one Irish Film and Television Award, and a Golden Globe.
Michael Fassbender was born in Germany to an Irish mother and German father and holds Irish citizenship. At the age of two, his family moved to Killarney in County Kerry.
Michael Fassbender has acted in various stage productions during his early career as well as starring in TV productions such as the HBO series Band of Brothers. He made his acting debut in the Spartan film, 300 in 2006. He has since starred in films such as Hunger, and Inglourious Bastards directed by Quentin Tarantino, in several X-Men films, and 12 Years a Slave, among others.
Fassbender has won a Screen Actor’s Guild Award, five Irish Film and Television Awards, and two British Independent Film Awards for his roles in Shame and Hunger. He has also received Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations.
Michael Fassbender is also a racing driver, racing in the European Le Mans Series.
More famous Irish male actors
One of the best young Irish actors on our screens today is the son of Brendan Gleeson (above), Domhnall Gleeson. Born in Dublin, he is an actor and screenwriter in his own right despite starring in a number of film and theatre projects with his famous father.
He started gaining fame after starring as Bill Weasley in the Harry Potter films before going on to star in movies such as Anna Karenina, Frank, Unbroken, Star Wars Episodes VII and VIII, and the Peter Rabbit films.
He is a three-time winner of an Irish Film and Television award and has received nominations for other awards as well.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Born in Dublin, Jonathan Rhys Meyers was born Jonathan Michael Francis O’Keefe and was brought up in County Cork. He began his acting career in the 1990s and starred in Michael Collins which also starred Liam Neeson (above).
Other film roles have included Bend It Like Beckham, Vanity Fair, and Alexander alongside Colin Farrell. In 2007 he took up the lead role as Henry VIII in the TV series The Tudors for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Television Drama. He has also starred in the TV series Vikings.
As well as his Golden Globe award for his role in the TV series Elvis, he has won a Cannes Film Festival Award and an Irish Film and Television Award for his role in The Tudors.
One of the great Irish actors of today, in my opinion, is Liam Cunningham. Born in Dublin, this former electrician answered an ad for an acting school and decided to ‘give it a try’. His first film role was as a policeman in the movie Into The West, a great movie set in Ireland.
Other film roles include The Wind That Shakes The Barley (another great movie set in Ireland, Hunger alongside Daniel Day-Lewis (above), and The Escapist among others.
Liam Cunningham is probably best known for his role as Sir Davos Seaworth in the hit TV series Game of Thrones. He has starred in other TV series including Doctor Who. He has won three Irish Film and Television Awards for his roles in Game of Thrones, Hunger, and The Wind That Shakes The Barley.
Best known for his work on stage and on screen, Michael Gambon is one of the best older Irish actors of our time. Born in Dublin, he started his professional acting career training under Lawrence Olivier as one of the original members of the Royal National Theatre.
He has starred in film, television, and stage productions over a six-decade career. He replaced Richard Harris (above) as Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films. He has starred in many production works of Shakespeare, both on screen and stage, including Macbeth, Othello, and Hamlet.
Michael Gambon was knighted for his services to drama in 1998 and has won four BAFTAs, three Olivier Awards, and an Irish Film and Television Academy Lifetime Achievement Award. He retired from the stage in 2015 due to memory loss but continues to act on screen.
One of the best well-known Irish actors, Gabriel Byrne, is also a director, producer, and screenwriter. His screen debut came in an Irish drama series The Riordans and its spin-off series.
He has acted both on screen and stage and some of the films he is best known for include The Usual Suspects, Excalibur, Stigmata, The Man in the Iron Mask, and End of Days. He has also starred in TV series such as Vikings, Marco Polo, and The War of the Worlds, and he has acted on stage including on Broadway.
He has won a Golden Globe award for the TV series In Treatment, two Irish Film and Television Awards, and has received two Tony nominations for his work on Broadway, as well as Emmy nominations for his television work.
An Irish actor who may be slightly less-well-known than others on this list but is still famous is Stephen Rea. This Belfast-born Irish actor has appeared on both screen and stage.
He came to international attention when he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in The Crying Game. He has also starred in films such as V for Vendetta, Michael Collins alongside Liam Neeson, and Underworld Awakening.
He has starred in many television series and stage productions and has won a BAFTA and two Irish Film and Television awards.
A famous Irish actor who hails from County Antrim is James Nesbitt. Starting his career acting on stage, his breakthrough on screen came when he played Adam Williams in the television series Cold Feet.
He has since gone on to star in films such as Waking Ned (a fantastic, funny film set in Ireland), and Bloody Sunday and his most famous role to date has been as Bofur in the Hobbit trilogy.
He also starred in the hit TV series The Missing. He won an Irish Film and Television Award for his role in the TV series Murphy’s Law and a British Comedy Award for his role in Cold feet. He has also been a BAFTA nominee.
Another graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and born in Belfast, Ciaran Hinds is known for roles both on stage and screen.
He has starred in films such as Road to Perdition, Veronica Guerin, Munich, The Sum of All Fears, There Will Be Blood with Daniel Day-Lewis, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy among many others.
On television, he played Julius Caesar in the series Rome (a personal favourite of my husband and me), and Mance Rayder in Game of Thrones. He is a three-time winner of an Irish Film and Television award and has received Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations.
Chris O’Dowd is an Irish actor born in Boyle, County Roscommon. He gained attention as one of the lead characters in the Channel 4 comedy series The IT Crowd.
After the show ended Chris moved into film acting, starring in films such as Gulliver’s Travels, Bridesmaids, and Thor the Darkworld. He also created and starred in the TV series Moone Boy.
He won a Primetime Emmy Award for his performance in State of the Union and he has been nominated for Tony Award for his Broadway performance in Of Mice and Men.
Dublin-born Aidan Gillen began his acting career on TV, most notably in the TV series Queer as Folk. He also starred in the RTE Series Love/Hate, a series myself and my husband binged on.
He is also known for starring as Littlefinger in the series Game of Thrones, the role he is probably best known for.
He has also starred in films such as The Dark Knight Rises, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Those Who Wish Me Dead. Most recently he starred in Peaky Blinders alongside Cillian Murphy.
He has won two Irish Film and Television Awards and has been nominated for a BAFTA.
Other actors from Ireland
Another Irish actor born in Dublin is Colm Meaney. He is best known for playing Miles O’Brien in the TV Series Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He has also starred in films such as Layer Cake, the Roddy Doyle Barrytown Trilogy film adaptations, and Get Him to the Greek. He has won two Irish Film and Television Awards and has been nominated for a Golden Globe.
One of the handsome Irish actors of late is Aidan Turner, born in Dublin. He began his on-screen career in TV playing the leading roles in The Poldark Novels and Being Human before being cast as Kili in The Hobbit trilogy by Peter Jackson. He has since starred in other films and TV series. He has also acted on stage in productions that include Romeo and Juliet.
Born in County Down, Northern Ireland, Jamie Dornan is an Irish actor, model, and musician. He began modelling before turning his hand to acting. He has starred in both television and film, with his most famous role being that of Christian Grey of the Fifty Shades franchise. He has won two Irish Film and Television awards and has been nominated for a BAFTA and Golden Globe.
These are just some of the most famous Irish actors who have been born in Ireland or to Irish parents. Many of the films they have starred in have been box-office successes and there are plenty of awards among them including Oscars, BAFTA’s and more.
Cath is an Irish expat now living in Portugal. She regularly returns to Ireland to explore more of the wonderful island with her family.