Bet you didn't know they were Irish

Bet you didn't know they were Irish

For such a small country, Ireland has produced an enormous amount of talented people who've become very well known not only within their fields, but throughout the world. It's not just writers and musicians either – although there are plenty of those, of course! We've got our fair share of expert scientists and politicians too, as well as several leaders in slightly more unusual professions.

Ernest Shackleton, the polar explorer who led three expeditions into the then unknown landscape of the Antarctic, was born in Co. Kildare. He lived in Kilkea, near the town of Athy, until the age of ten, when his family returned to Sydenham. His father was from Yorkshire and his mother was from an Irish family from Cork and Kerry. His father even studied at Dublin's Trinity College before setting up life in the UK.

Ireland has a long tradition of storytelling and the people are renowned for having a great sense of humour, and this has resulted in a generous crop of stand-up comedians hailing from the Emerald Isle. One name that you wouldn't expect to come from an Irish lineage is the prim and proper Jimmy Carr, whose parents come from Limerick.

Another showbusiness personality often mistaken for being English is TV presenter Terry Wogan. He was born and went to school in Limerick and has often made proud statements about his native city. He worked for both Bank of Ireland and the national broadcaster RTE before he joined the ranks of the BBC in London, where he found his fame.

Ireland's rugby team is known for being one of the best, and we've had a number of Olympic medallists over the years including world champion boxer Katie Taylor. We also lay claim to one of the greatest motorcyclists in history too – Joey Dunlop. He was born and bred in Ballymoney, Northern Ireland, and won a total of 26 TT races and five TT Formula One titles before his untimely death at the age of 48 in 2000.

In the business world, Ireland has been well represented by James Gamble, co-founder of the multinational consumer goods company Procter and Gamble. His family came to the US from Enniskillen in County Fermanagh and as well as being an astute businessman, he also devised the formula for ivory soap.

Literature

Ireland has probably produced more famous authors, poets and playwrights than any other country in the world. Just a few well known names include James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Maeve Binchy, Seamus Heaney, Samuel Beckett and J.M Synge. Here are a few equally if not more famous writers that you may not expect to have Irish backgrounds;

The Bronte Sisters: The Bronte family have have deep ties to the world of literature and the English countryside. The most successful of the Bronte children were Emily and Charlotte, who between them penned classics including Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. Their father Patrick Bronte was born and raised in Loughbrickland, County Down. He was even born on Saint Patrick's day, March 17th – you can't get more Irish than that!

CS Lewis: Clive Staples Lewis, better known by his pen name of CS Lewis, was born in Belfast, County Antrim, and lived there for the first few years of life before heading off to school in Watford at the age of ten. He went on to write that childhood favourite, the Chronicles of Narnia. He often expressed regret in his later life at having to leave Ireland, but did manage to return for his honeymoon.

F. Scott Fitzgerald: Although born in Minnesota, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, or F. Scott Fitzgerald as he became known, has Irish blood on both his mother and father's side. His mother's family had emigrated to the United States during the famine years, which he held a degree of embarrassment about. He penned five novels and several short story collections, the most well known being The Great Gatsby.

Science

Some very clever Irish men have found their feet in the world of science, particularly in chemistry and physics.

Ernest Walton: Ernest Walton was a Waterford native, and during his childhood lived in various parts of the country including Limerick, Monagham, Down, Tyrone and Dublin. He studied at Trinity College and then Cambridge University. There, he worked with fellow physicist John Cockcroft and the pair become the first people to artificially split an atom, resulting in a whole new branch of study that we now call nuclear physics.

Ernest Walton

Robert Boyle: Robert Boyle is widely credited as being the father of modern chemistry and is best known for Boyle's law, which relates to the relationship between the pressure and volume of gas. He is also known for making the scientific method a standard procedure for all experiments. He came from a rich Irish family and was born in Lismore Castle, County Waterford.

John Tyndall: The man who figured out the answer to the question 'why is the sky blue?' came from the small town of Leighlinbridge in county Carlow. A prominent nineteenth century physicist, he made a number of discoveries and inventions during his career including the Greenhouse Effect, the modern foghorn, and the respirator.

Architecture

Believe it or not, some of the most talked about man made structures on the planet were designed and built and by Irish architects. Here are just three examples:

George Drumgool Coleman: If you've ever visited Singapore you will no doubt have come across this man's name a few times, since he designed and constructed the majority of the city. Born in Drogheda, County Louth, he began working as an architect in India at the tender age of 19 before he met Stamford Raffles, Singapore's founder, and set to work laying out this elegant metropolis. There are still several streets and buildings named after him in the city.

Kevin Roche: Kevin Roche is a multi-award winning architect who has designed eight museums, six universities, and countless other stunning buildings. He's most famous for two iconic New York City landmarks however; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Central Park Zoo. Roche was born in Ireland's capital and educated in University College Dublin before moving to the States.

James Hoban: James Hoban was an architect born and bread in Callan, County Kilkenny. He studied and worked here until he was in his twenties, when he emigrated to Philadelphia to ply his trade. He quickly made a name for himself and ended up designing one of the most recognisable modern buildings in the world; the White House!

Movies

Apart from some high-profile leading men like Colin Farrell, Pierce Brosnan and Cillian Murphy, there are are a whole army of Hollywood stars that also have Irish roots.

Bill Murray: His surname may give away a clue or two - Bill comes from a typical Irish-American family from one of the most notoriously Irish cities in the US; Chicago, Illinois. His paternal grandfather emigrated from Cork, while his maternal side has links to County Galway. Murray once said that he was very disappointed with the Irish people that nobody has come out to claim him as one of their own!

Mel Gibson

Mel Gibson: Mel Gibson is rightly considered Australian by anyone in know, but before Australia, his ancestors were Irish; his grandparents were Irish immigrants who set out for a new life down under and his mother was born and grew up in Ardagh, County Longford. Mel even has an Irish middle name (Colmcille) and has Irish and American – but not Australian – citizenship.

Zooey Deschanel: Zooey is a California girl through and through, but although her father's side of the family is French, she does in fact have Irish roots too. Her mother's maiden name was the very Celtic sounding 'Weir', and her and her sister had a traditional Catholic upbringing.

Kenneth Branagh: Many people don't realise that this Shakespearean actor was actually born and raised in Northern Ireland, in Belfast city. The family relocated to England in at the beginning of the Troubles, where he decided to acquire and English accent to avoid bullying. It's also where he first fell in love with acting.

Olivia Wilde: Olivia was born in the US but has dual citizenship between there and Ireland. Her Irish parents, Leslie and Andrew Cockburn, are well known journalists across the pond. She took the stage name of Wilde to pay homage to the many writers in her family and of course to the man himself, Oscar Wilde.

Politics

There have been so many Irish-American US Presidents over the course of history that it may as well be a requirement for the job! Even Barack Obama has an (admittedly very tenuous) link to ancestors in County Offaly, and famously quipped that he had 'come to find his lost apostrophe' when he visited Ireland in 2011. There are a total of 21 other men worthy of the Irish-American title, including; Andrew Jackson, James Knox Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr., Bill Clinton, and George Bush Jr.; that's almost half of all US Presidents!

There have also been several Australian Prime Ministers with Irish ancestry; James Scullin from 1829 – 1932, Joseph Lyons from 1932 – 1939, John Curtin from 1941 – 1945 and Paul Keating from 1991 – 1996. When you add it all up, Irish men have been in charge of Australia for almost twenty years.

Charles De Gaulle: The enigmatic Frenchman who led the Free French Forces during the Second World War and served as President of France from 1959 – 1969 was not entirely French, it seems. His mother has a direct generational link to the McCartan family of County Down. After retiring from political life, the first thing he did was fulfill a lifelong dream of taking a trip to Ireland to discover his roots here.

Chaim Herzog: Yes, even Israel can claim a link to the Emerald Isle. Chaim Herzog, who served as the country's sixth President between 1983 and 1993, was born at Cliftonpark Avenue in Belfast. He was the son of the Chief Rabbi of Ireland, and his father spoke fluent Irish. He studied in Dublin before joining the British Army during the Second World War, and later returned to Palestine where he began a political and military career.

Music

Irish musicians are some of the most famous in the whole world – U2, Van Morrisson, The Undertones and Snow Patrol are just a few examples. Here are some other a-list artists that you may not immediately think of as Irish.

Bruce Springsteen: Although born and raised in New Jersey, Springsteen has a very international ancestry and Ireland is one of the countries where his roots lie. His father was half Dutch, half Irish, with his grandmother emigrating from Mullingar, County Westmeath, to Freehold, New Jersey in 1852. Springsteen's wife is also of Irish descent, and can trace her ancestors back to Belfast.

Gallagher Brothers: The name is a dead giveaway, but Noel and Liam Gallagher, of Oasis fame, are the sons of Irish parents from Mayo and Meath. They still have relatives over here including first cousins who they visited regularly in their youth. Liam has said that while growing up in Manchester, they were always 'a proud Irish family'.

The Beatles: Three quarters of the world's biggest ever music group claim Irish lineage. Paul McCartney's parents came from immigrant Irish families, who settled first in Scotland and then Liverpool. George Harrison's story is similar; he can trace his family tree all the way back to the 13th century when his Norman ancestors settled in County Wexford, staying for 300 years. John Lennon's grandfather was born in Dublin and married an Irish woman before settling in Liverpool.

Now we know where his musical talents came from – Ireland!

Back to blog