“Music can change the world because it can change people.” - Bono

Ireland is famous for its traditional music, but not just that! Its countryside also draws in plenty of tourists. There are also several large immigrant groups of over 10,000 including groups from Poland, the UK, Lithuania, Romania, Latvia, Brazil, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, India, and the United States. Let’s just say that it isn’t just the Irish that love Ireland.

Ireland’s popularity around the world has been helped by those from the country, too. Ireland has a rich and fascinating culture which extends into the arts, particularly music, film, television, and stage acting.

As a result, there are many Irish people who've become famous not just in Ireland but all over the world, often to such an extent that they're household names in countries where English isn't even the most common language.

Generally, the best known Irish people are in the entertainment industry. There's many an Irish actor, actress, singer, or musician whose talent and skill have made them hugely popular.

But do you know some of Ireland’s most famous celebrities?

More often than not, when people hear Irish singers or actors, they may assume that they're either British or American. This is particularly common with actors since many of them work in the UK or the US and tend to play characters from these places. As they all speak English, those who don't speak the language or aren't familiar with the difference between British and Irish accents mightn't notice the difference.

Singers, for example, tend to flatten their accent when they sing and many actors play roles in which they have to change their accent.

Over the years, you've probably listened to tonnes of music from Irish singers and watched films and TV shows with plenty of Irish stars in them.

From Cork to Belfast, here are some of the most famous Irish people from the last century.

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Bono, Lead Singer of U2

Let’s start with one of the most famous people on the planet: Bono. The lead singer of the famous Irish group U2, Bono is an international star famous for his music.

Who are the most famous Irish singers?
Bono is arguably the most famous Irish singer of all time. (Source: toddpoirier)

That said, U2 isn’t your traditional Irish music but rather politically-charged rock with love stories woven in. The group was founded in Dublin in 1976 and has been hugely successful inside and outside of Ireland.

Some of their biggest songs include:

  • With or Without You
  • Sunday Bloody Sunday
  • Beautiful Day
  • One
  • New Year’s Day

And many others!

Learn more about Ireland.

Liam Neeson, Actor

Even if you don’t know this actor’s name, you’ll have seen his face. He’s famous for playing Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars for one.

That wasn’t his only role, though. He’s also been in Batman, Schindler’s List, Rob Roy, Love Actually, Starship, Taken, Clash of the Titans, and Gangs of New York.

He’s very popular around Ireland and his voice is also used for the ads for the 2023 Rugby World Cup in Ireland.

Born in Northern Ireland in 1952, the actor lived through The Troubles. After studying science and working in the Guinness brewery, Liam Neeson started acting classes and never looked back.

He’s a naturalised American citizen but retains dual-nationality.

Learn about the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Pierce Brosnan, the Irish James Bond

Few nationalities can claim a James Bond for their own. In fact, Pierce Brosnan, who played the English spy, is Irish. He was born in Drogheda and grew up in County Meath near to Navan in Ireland.

Where is Pierce Brosnan from?
Pierce Brosnan definitely had a different upbringing to James Bond! (Source: WikimediaImages)

After his dad left, his mother moved to London. He remained in Ireland and started studying Commercial Illustration. During his study, he joined a theatre in London after seeing a fire-eating workshop. Scouted by a circus agent, he was enrolled in classes at London’s Drama Centre.

His face would become world-famous when he landed the role of James Bond. He played the English secret agent in 4 films before passing the torch onto Daniel Craig.

Colin Farrell, Actor

Colin Farrell is another Irish film star. He was born in the Castleknock area of Dublin in 1976. He loved football but started his artistic career auditioning for boy bands. His auditions were unsuccessful so he travelled to Australia for a year with a friend. While working in various jobs, he discovered a love of theatre.

On his return to Ireland, he decided to become an actor in small films and television.

Today, Colin Farrell is a huge movie star. It’s famous for films such as Phone Game, Minority Report, Miami Vice, Alexander, etc.

Brendan Gleeson or Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody

That’s right! Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody in Harry Potter is Irish. Born in 1955 in Dublin, Brendan Gleeson became interested in acting from a young age. After leaving school, he joined the Dublin Shakespeare Festival and then the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Which Harry Potter actors are Irish?
Not all the staff at Hogwarts are English. (Source: pen_ash)

After several years on stage, he made his way to the big screen. He landed his first big role alongside Mel Gibson. He played William Wallace’s right-hand man in Braveheart.

Thanks to this success, Brendan Gleeson was included in filming for Mission Impossible 2, Gangs of New York, The Village, and Kingdom of Heaven.

He also played the unsettling teacher “Mad-Eye” Maugrey, an important character in three of the Harry Potter films.

He was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy in 2009 for his role in the film In Bruges alongside his compatriot Colin Farrell.

Discover Ireland's history.

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Actor and Model

Actor, singer, and model, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers has more than one string to his bow. Born in 1977 in Dublin a musical family, he was almost predestined to head into the arts. He left school to hang around pool halls where he’d be found by a casting director who pushed him to become an actor.

He acted in film such as Match Point, August Rush, From Paris with Love, Velvet Goldmine, A Grand Affair, Mission Impossible III, and even played Elvis in a mini-series about the king of rock. He was recently seen in the series Vikings.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers has lived through some troubling events including his parents’ divorce and the death of his mother. He’s also struggled with alcoholism.

Jack Gleeson, Actor in Games of Thrones

No relation to Brendan Gleeson, Jack Gleeson was born in 1992 in Cork, Ireland. He started acting classes at the age of 7 and started playing small roles in films like Batman Begins and Shrooms.

Jack Gleeson was also in the Irish series Killinaskully. A bit later, he would be chosen to play a role in the Game of Thrones series. He started playing Joffrey Baratheon in 2011. The character was hated but his acting was loved, making him a global star.

Jack Gleeson struggled with fame and at the end of the show, he said that he’d return to his studies. He attended philosophy and theology classes at Trinity College Dublin.

The actor wanted to stay out of the limelight but continues to act in amateur productions for his own enjoyment.

Jamie Dornan, Holywood Star

That isn't a typo; one of Ireland’s newer stars was born in Holywood, Northern Ireland. This means that he’s Irish, not American.

Where is Hollywood in Ireland?
There's also a Hollywood (with two Ls) in County Wicklow. (Source: _Artemis_)

His career started as a model. Jamie Dornan was in TV shows such as Once Upon a Time and The Fall before landing the role as Christian Grey in the 2015 film Fifty Shades of Grey.

Discover Ireland's best towns.

Dolores O’Riordan, Lead Singer of The Cranberries.

Not all famous Irish people are actors. Dolores O’Riordan is proof of that. Born in Ballybricken, Ireland, in 1971, the singer also wrote songs for The Cranberries. She had a difficult life but was also hugely successful with her music.

She joined The Cranberries in 1989 after the lead singer left the group. She quickly integrated into the band. She wrote the band’s popular songs including “Linger”, one of their first hits. It was the song “Zombie” that would make the band internationally famous.

The band went on hiatus between 2003 and 2009 so that the members could focus on solo careers. The band reformed in 2009 and were together until 2018, the year Dolores died.

The Corrs, an Irish Band

While this isn’t a single person, you can’t separate The Corrs. Andrew, Caroline, Sharon, and Jim are siblings. They formed an Irish-pop group that helped popularise the Irish sound around the world.

Their biggest songs include Breathless, Runaway, and Only When I Sleep.

While there are plenty of famous people from Ireland, these are some of the best known. There are also plenty of famous Irish figures and stars throughout history we didn't get a chance to mention!

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Joseph

Joseph is a French and Spanish to English translator, language enthusiast, and blogger.