The Best Irish Actors and Actresses in Cinema

Maureen O'Hara

We like to think us Irish are a creative bunch here at Claddagh Design and our reach spans further across the world than most other nations of similar size. If we’re not writing some of the world’s most important novels and plays or wowing huge crowds with our chart topping music, we’re making waves in the world of theatre, TV and film. The Irish film industry, although small, regularly cranks out show-stopping pieces of work with top class direction, scriptwriting and cinematography - not to mention the heartfelt acting performances. As well as making waves at home, Irish actors and actresses also enjoy immense popularity overseas, both in the UK and Hollywood. From million dollar blockbusters to small independent short films, there’s usually an Irish person to be found somewhere in the cast list.

Here are 15 Irish actors and actresses that you should take note of, if you haven’t already.

Jamie Dornan:

Born in Holywood (the one in Northern Ireland, not California!) and raised in Belfast, Jamie Dornan’s fame skyrocketed earlier this year when he starred as the enigmatic Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie. He has much more acting experience than that however; he also currently portrays serial killer Paul Spector in the compelling TV drama The Fall. Set in Belfast and also starring Gillian Anderson, which you should definitely check it out if you haven’t already.

Saoirse Ronan:

Regularly praised as Ireland’s most talented female actress, Saoirse Ronan has achieved a hell of a lot for a 21-year old. She has starred in - among others - Atonement, The Lovely Bones and the Grand Budapest Hotel, and already has two BAFTA awards and an Oscar nomination under her belt. Born in New York, she was raised in county Carlow since the age of three and holds both Irish and American citizenship.

Jack Reynor:

If Saoirse Ronan is Ireland’s newest female star, Jack Raynor is her male counterpart. Having starred in the acclaimed Irish film What Richard Did (directed by Lenny Abrahamson) he went on the win the leading role in the first Transformers: Age of Ultron film last year, starring alongside Mark Wahlberg. He is due to star in the next two films of the trilogy as well, so you’ll be seeing plenty more of him in the coming years.

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Evanna Lynch:

Better known as Luna Lovegood to fans of Harry Potter, Evanna Lynch is another young rising star in the Irish film industry. A huge fan of the books, she made her acting debut in the 5th movie installment, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and played the character in all of the subsequent films. According to J.K Rowling her portrayal of the role was so good that while writing Luna’s character in the last novels, Rowling pictured Evanna constantly. She has worked in the Irish media industry since then as an actress, model and writer.

Liam Neeson:

Liam Neeson is a household name in Ireland and abroad, with an extensive filmography spanning over 30 years. Some of his best known films include the Taken and Star Wars franchises, Michael Collins, and Schindler’s List - to name just a few of the 87 (and counting) films he has appeared in. Born in Ballymena, county Antrim, his love of acting first began at the age of 11 when he took the leading role in the school play in order to get closer to his school crush! After spending his college days and early twenties working various odd jobs, he eventually forged a successful career for himself first in theatre, then in film.

Brenda Fricker:

The first Irish woman to win an Oscar, Brenda Fricker starred in over 30 films between 1964 and her retirement last year. She was set to follow her parents’ footsteps into the world of journalism before developing a career in acting ‘by chance’. She won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1980 for her role in My Left Foot, and also won acclaim for her roles in The Field and TV series Casualty. She was born in Dublin and still lives in the Liberties area of the city.

Chris O’Dowd:

Probably Ireland’s most popular actor of the moment, Roscommon-born Chris O’Dowd is best known for his role as Roy in the TV series The IT Crowd, and as invisible friend Sean in Moone Boy, a TV series about a young boy in 1990s Ireland that he also writes, produces and directs. He’s a regular in Hollywood movies too, with his best known being Kirsten Wiig’s love interest in Bridesmaids, although he has also won much praise for his serious roles, including Calvary and the recent Broadway production Of Mice and Men.

Deirdre O’Kane:

Originally from Dundalk, county Louth, Deirdre O’Kane is a well known stand-up comedienne in Ireland and Europe but has also made a name for herself as an actress. She currently stars as Debra Moone, the mother in Chris O’Dowd’s Moone Boy, with her film credits including Intermission and Noble. She has also gained considerable acclaim as a theatre actress, and has played every major theatre in Ireland. Her expert comic timing makes her a scene stealer in all of her comedic roles, but she’s equally as compelling in serious roles too.

Domhnall Gleeson:

If this young redheaded actor’s name doesn’t ring any bells, his father’s will; son of Brendan Gleeson, Dublin born Domhnall has followed his father’s footsteps and is on a steady track to stardom. Currently best known as Bill Weasley in the Harry Potter films (which his father also appears in), that’s set to change when he hits screens in Star Wars: The Force Awakens later this year. You’ll also recognise him in Frank and Calvary, where he stars alongside his father once again.

Aidan Turner:

Although active in the film industry since 2007, Aidan Turner has gained considerable fame in the last year or two for two roles; one as the dwarf Kili in The Hobbit trilogy, and the other as Ross Poldark in the TV series Poldark. Born in Dublin, he studied at the Gaiety School of Acting and started out in theatrical roles before moving on to TV and film. He can also be spotted in The Tudors, The Clinic and Being Human.

Maureen O’Hara:

No list of noteworthy Irish actors and actresses would be complete without mentioning Maureen O’Hara. One of the last surviving actresses from the golden age of Hollywood, she is now aged 94 and still lives in the area where she was born and raised; Ranelagh on Dublin’s southside. Her most well known role is as Mary Kate Danaher in The Quiet Man, although she has collected well over 50 screen credits during her career. Still active in the industry (although not as an actress), she received an Honorary Oscar last year for her achievements despite never having been nominated for an award previously.

James Nesbitt:

Another Ballymena native, James Nesbitt is a regular in films set in Northern Ireland, as well as some more well known Hollywood movies (The Hobbit trilogy, to name just one!). Originally intending to become a teacher like his father, he later changed paths to acting during his college years, spending 7 years performing in theatres before his breakthrough role in the TV series Cold Feet came along. Other favourite roles include Ivan Cooper in Bloody Sunday, a groundbreaking film about the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and as Pig Finn in the classic comedy Waking Ned. As well as acting, Nesbitt is also a passionate charity campaigner, working with UNICEF and Wave, a charity helping those affected by the Troubles.

Michael Fassbender:

Born in Germany and raised in Kerry, Michael Fassbender is fast becoming one of the most respected actors in Hollywood. Active since the mid-1990s, he found fame in the last ten years or so with roles such as Bobby Sands in Hunger, Lieutenant Archie Hicox in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, Edwin Epps in 12 Years a Slave and Magneto in the X-Men movies. He earned multiple award nominations for 12 Years a Slave and Shame. Later this year he will star in a biopic about Steve Jobs, where he will play the leading role of the founder of Apple.

Fionnuala Flanagan:

Another veteran Irish actress is Fionnuala Flanagan, who has been working consistently in film, television and theatre since 1965. A Dublin native, she learned her craft at the Abbey Theatre before moving to Los Angeles in 1968 to pursue her dream of an acting career. She is a regular on American TV series with such names as Star Trek, Lost, Murder She Wrote and Brotherhood under her belt. She has also appeared in several well known films including The Others, Waking Ned, The Guard and Song of the Sea. As well being an award winning activist she is also a political activist, particularly around Irish republicanism and related topics.

Colm Meaney:

Another Dublin actor, Colm Meaney has been in the business since 1978 and has made a name for himself in both TV and film. After leaving secondary school he studied at the Abbey Theatre and was a member of the Irish National Theatre for 8 years. In the US he is probably best known as Miles O’Brien of Star Trek, but in Ireland he is and always will be the father from the screen adaptations of Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown trilogy; namely The Snapper, The Van and The Committments. You can also spot him in a plethora of Hollywood films including Get Him to the Greek, Law Abiding Citizen, Die Hard 2 and Con Air.

Sarah Bolger:

Last but not least is Sarah Bolger, a 24-year old Dubliner who first found dame as a 12-year old in the critically acclaimed film In America, which she starred in along with her younger sister. Since then she has risen steadily up the ranks to become a well respected young actress, taking on roles in The Spiderwick Chronicles, The Tudors, and later this year, The Lazarus Effect.

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