Being a land of tales, myths and legends, and with a rich history of storytelling, it is little wonder that Ireland has produced some of the finest actors and actresses the world has seen. Discover the most famous Irish actresses 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 female actresses. For male actors, read my post about the most famous Irish actors.
- Most famous Irish actresses
- Top 10 Irish actresses
- More famous Irish female actresses
- Other actresses from Ireland
Most famous Irish actresses
There has been a wealth of Irish actresses in Hollywood, both in the past and present day. Some of the best female Irish actresses 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 look at some of them.
Top 10 Irish actresses
One of the most talented and beautiful Irish actresses is Saoirse Ronan. Born in New York to Irish parents and brought up between Dublin and Carlow, Saoirse Ronan gained her international fame after her role in Atonement.
From there she has starred in many roles including Hanna, Brooklyn, The Lovely Bones and Little Women. As well as on the big screen, Saoirse has acted on stage, in productions including The Crucible and The Tragedy of Macbeth.
She is a hugely talented star and has won a Golden Globe for her role in Lady Bird. She has also received four Academy Award nominations, five BAFTA nominations and is a nine-times winner of an Irish Film and Television Award.
One of the top Irish actresses of all time is Maureen O’Hara. Born in Dublin in 1920, this natural redhead was famed for portraying heroines in the 1940s to 1960s.
She appeared in many films including Miracle on 34th Street, Rio Grande and The Parent Trap. But she is probably most known for her role in The Quiet Man opposite John Wayne, scenes of which were filmed in Cong, County Galway.
She was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Irish Film and Television Awards and also received an Honorary Academy Award shortly before her death in 2015.
Another famous Irish actress whose career has spanned six decades is Brenda Fricker. This Dublin-born actress became an actress by chance and started her career in television, in series such as Coronation Street, Casualty and Angels.
She gained international fame for her portrayal as Daniel Day-Lewis’ mother in My Left Foot, for which she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She went on to have roles in films such as The Field with Richard Harris, Home Alone 2, and Veronica Guerin.
She received a Golden Globe nomination for My Left Foot and has received five Irish Film and Television Awards nominations.
Maria Doyle Kennedy
No list of Irish actresses would be complete without Maria Doyle Kennedy. Born in Dublin, she is both an actress and singer. She started her acting career with a role in The Commitments, first of the Barrytown trilogy adaptations of the Roddy Doyle books.
Since The Commitments she has acted in both film and television, with TV appearances in Father Ted, Queer as Folk opposite Aidan Gillen, The Tudors in which she played Catherine of Aragon, Downton Abbey and more recently Outlander alongside Caitriona Balfe (see below).
She has also starred in films such as The General (with Brendan Gleeson), Byzantium, and The Conjuring films. She has won three Irish Film and Television Awards out of the five nominations she has received.
Actress, producer and former fashion model, Caitríona Balfe was born in Dublin. She started as a model while studying drama at the Dublin Institute of Technology and modelled for brands such as Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana and Alexander McQueen.
She refocused her career on acting and began with a role in Super 8. This was followed by roles in The Beauty Inside TV series, films such as Los Angeles, Crush and Belfast. And most recently she is known for playing Claire Randall in the hit TV Series Outlander.
She has received BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations and has won an Irish Film and Television Award.
One of the best Irish film actresses of the Silver Screen was Maureen O’Sullivan. Born in Boyle, County Roscommon, she performed with some of the best actors including Laurence Olivier and Greta Garbo.
She starred in films such as Tarzan the Ape Man, Anna Karenina, Pride and Prejudice and Peggy Sue Got Married.
She has also acted in TV series and films and is Mia Farrow’s mother. She died in 1998 in Arizona.
Born in Cobh, County Cork, Fiona Shaw is an Irish film and theatre actress. Her theatre career has been extensively with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre in London.
On stage she has starred in productions such as As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew, Medea, Electra and Machinal. On screen, Fiona Shaw is best known for her role in the Harry Potter films as Petunia Dursley and as Carolyn Martens in Killing Eve. She has also starred in films such My Left Foot, Three Men and a Little Lady, Persuasion, Jane Eyre and The Avengers. She has also had roles in the TV Series True Blood and most recently Star Wars Andor.
She has been nominated for the Irish Film and Television Awards and the Emmy Awards and has won a BAFTA for her role in Killing Eve. She has also won two Olivier Awards for her stage acting.
An Irish actress that you might not have known to have Irish heritage was Angela Lansbury. Born in London to a Belfast actress and British timber merchant, Angela Lansbury had an extensive acting career spanning eight decades.
She began her acting career in films such as Gaslight, National Velvet and The Picture of Dorian Grey. She transitioned into theatre in the 1960s with roles in The King and I, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, among others.
She is most famous for her role as the fictional writer and sleuth Jessica Fletcher in the TV series Murder She Wrote. She has also starred in many family-friendly films such as Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and Beauty and the Beast (voice, animation film).
She has received many awards throughout her career including an Honorary Academy Award, a BAFTA, six Golden Globes, six Tony Awards and a Laurence Olivier Award. She died in 2022.
One of the top Northern Irish actresses is Michelle Fairley, born in Coleraine, Northern Ireland. She began her acting career in television with appearances on series such as The Bill, Holby City and Casualty.
She has also starred in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Others, and Philomena. But she is best known for her role in Game of Thrones in which she played Catelyn Stark. She has also had roles in the TV series 24: Live Another Day, Suits and Resurrection.
She won an Irish Film and Television Award for her role in Game of Thrones.
More famous Irish female actresses
Born in Dublin, Sinéad Cusack is an Irish actress who started acting in Irish theatre before moving to London to join the Royal Shakespeare Company. She has starred in productions of As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing, among others.
She has also starred on screen in films such as Hoffman, The Persuaders and V for Vendetta. She has also made appearances on television in series such as Home Again, Camelot and Marcella.
She has received two Tony Award nominations and five Olivier Award nominations and has won an Irish Film and Television Award.
Interesting fact: She is married to Jeremy Irons and is sister to Sorcha Cusack (featured below).
A young famous Irish actress to grace our screens is Wexford-born Charlie Murphy. After beginning her career with two small parts, she started to gain notoriety for her role in the RTE hit series Love/Hate.
She has since starred in TV series such as Misfits, Ripper Street, The Village, The Last Kingdom and more recently Peaky Blinders alongside Cillian Murphy. She also starred in Happy Valley, a fantastic BBC drama series. She has also had roles in films including Philomena, ’71, and The Corrupted.
She has also acted on stage with appearances in the likes of Pygmalion, Arlington and Disco Pigs. She is a four-time Irish Film and Television Award winner for her roles in Love/Hate, Happy Valley and Peaky Blinders.
One of the best up-and-coming young Irish actresses is Nicola Coughlan, born in County Galway. Her acting career began with an uncredited role in the film My Brother’s War. She went on to lend her voice in TV series such as The Fairytales and Simsala Grimm.
Her breakthrough came in the TV series Derry Girls, before taking on the role of Penelope Featherington in the Netflix hit series Bridgerton. She has also acted on stage in the UK.
She won the Rising Star award in 2021 at the Irish Film and Television Awards, during which she was also nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Bridgerton.
Born in Thurles County Tipperary, Kerry Condon might be a name you are not familiar with. She is both a screen and stage actress and was the youngest ever actress to play the role of Ophelia in a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet.
She has starred in other stage productions, television series and films. She is probably best known for her role as Octavia in the TV series Rome and as Stacey Ehrmantraut in Better Call Saul.
She has starred in films such as Intermission with Cillian Murphy, Ned Kelly, and The Banshees of Inisherin with Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell. She is also the voice of Tony Stark’s Friday in the Avengers films.
She has received one Irish Film and Television Award nomination.
Another Irish actress who starred alongside Charlie Murphy in Love/Hate is Ruth Negga, born in Ethiopia to an Irish mother and Ethiopian father. She grew up in Limerick before moving to London.
She began her on screen acting career in an Irish film Capital Letters. She has since starred in TV Series such as Love is the Drug, Love/Hate, and Criminal Justice. And her film career includes Fury, World War Z, Warcraft the Beginning and Loving. She has also acted on stage including as Ophelia in Hamlet, and as Lady Macbeth on Broadway.
She has received a Tony Award nomination for her role as Lady Macbeth and has also received an Academy Award nomination as well as BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations. She is a two-time winner of an Irish Film and Television Award.
Born in Dublin, Sarah Bolger is an Irish actress who has starred in both television and films. She began acting in films and starred in In America, a Jim Sheridan film in which her sister also starred.
She also starred in The Tudors opposite Jonathan Rhys Meyers, playing the role of Mary Tudor. She has also starred in Once Upon A Time and Mayans MC. Her film career includes roles in The Spiderwick Chronicles, The Moth Diaries and Emelie in which she had the lead role.
She won an Irish Film and Television Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in Television for The Tudors, as well as four other nominations.
Katie McGrath is an Irish actress who was born in County Wicklow. She has starred in both film and television and is best known for her portrayal as Morgana Pendragon in the BBC series Merlin.
She has also starred in TV series such as Dracula, The Tudors and Labyrinth. Her film career includes roles in films such as King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Jurassic World and Buttons.
Irish actress and model Alison Doody was born in Dublin, she began a modelling career which eventually lead to her coming to the attention of the casting director of a James Bond film.
Her feature film debut was as a Bond girl in A View to a Kill. Appearing at the age of 19, she remains the youngest Bond girl to date. She is also known for her role in the film Indian Jones and the Last Crusade. She has acted in numerous other films and also starred in television.
Sorcha Cusack, born in Dublin, is the sister of Sinéad Cusack (above). She is an Irish television and film actress and has made many appearances on TV including in the series Jane Eyre, Casualty, Coronation Street and Silent Witness.
She has also starred in films such as Snatch and has also acted on stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company, in the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and the National Theatre in London. She has appeared in both the West End and on Broadway.
Irish actress Victoria Smurfit was born in Dublin and is part of the Smurfit family. She gained fame for her role in the TV series Ballykissangel, which is where Colin Farrell also gained his attention.
Other TV series have included Trial and Retribution, Dracula and Marcella. She has starred in films such as About A Boy, Bulletproof Monk and Deadly Cuts. She has received two nominations for Irish Film and Television Awards, winning one for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for the film The Lears.
Other actresses from Ireland
Evanna Lynch is a young Irish actress originally from County Louth. She is famous for playing Luna Lovegood in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix as well as The Half-Blood Prince and the Deathly Hallows Parts I and II.
She has gone on to star in both film and television series such as Silent Witness (TV) and G.B.F. (film). She has also acted on stage and is a keen activist and charity worker. She has been nominated for an Irish Film and Television Award.
Another of the famous Irish actresses that comes from Northern Ireland is Bronagh Gallagher. Born in Derry, she is a singer and actress whose big break came when she featured in The Commitments alongside Maria Doyle Kennedy.
She followed this with appearances in Pulp Fiction and Star Wars Episode I. Other films she has appeared in include You, Me & Marley, Tristan & Isolde and Sherlock Holmes. She has also starred in TV Series and on stage.
She is a five-time nominee for the Irish Film and television Awards.
Dublin-born Dervla Kirwan is an Irish television, film and stage actress. She began her acting career on television before moving onto Film and stage. She has appeared in TV Series such as Goodnight Sweetheart, Ballykissangel, The Silence, Silent Witness and The Stranger.
She had roles in the films With or Without You, Ondine and The Keeper, among others. She has appeared on stage many times in productions such as Hush, The Aristocrats, The Weir and King Lear.
She has won two Irish Film and Television Awards and been nominated a further two times.
These are just some of the most famous Irish actresses 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 Golden Globes, BAFTA’s and more.
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