15 Famous People You Never Knew Were Irish

POSTED BY Naseema Perveen, UPDATED ON November 15th, 2023
15 Famous People You Never Knew Were Irish

Ireland has produced some of the finest names in poetry, novel writing, politics, and acting over the years. How many prominent people of Irish descent do you know of? Here is a list of 15 famous people you never knew were Irish:


15. Oliver Goldsmith (Poet and Writer)

Oliver Goldsmith

Image Copyright: Northampton Museums & Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Best known for his novel The Vicar of Wakefield and two of the best plays, She Stoops to Conquer and The Good-Natur’d Man, Oliver Goldsmith was an Anglo-Irish poet and writer.

Other than his writings, when he was settled in London, he also worked as an usher at school and as well as an assistant to an apothecary.


14. Oscar Wilde (Poet and Writer)

Oscar Wilde

Famous for his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and his famous play Salome and The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde was a well-known poet and writer. He was born to an Anglo-Irish parents in November 1900.

Before he became one of the most popular playwrights in London during the early 1890s, he used to write in different forms. Oscar is also remembered for his early death and the unfortunate circumstances of his imprisonment. His work is available both in French and English.


13. William Butler Yeats (Writer)

William Butler Yeats Writer

Image Source: npg.org.uk

William Butler Yeats was the first-ever person an Irish descent to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1923. He contributed greatly to the Irish Literary Revival.

Along with his other works, William Butler Yeats is best known for The Winding Stairs and The Tower. He also served as an Irish Senator.


12. Charles Thomson (Political Leader)

Charles Thomson

During the American Revolution, Charles Thomson emerged as a patriot and strong leader. Throughout the 15 years of its existence, he served as a secretary of the Continental Congress of America.


11. Richard Martin (Activist and Politician)

Richard Martin

Born at the Ballynahinch Castle, County Galway, Richard Martin was one of the earliest animal rights activists and a politician. To prevent cruelty to animals, he founded the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).

RSPCA is now one of the largest and oldest animal welfare organizations in the world today.


10. Michael Collins (Politician and Military Commander)

Michael Collins

Born in the County of Cork, Michael Collins is counted among the greatest revolutionary leaders in world history. He was the Director of Intelligence for the IRA, Chairman of the Provisional Government, Minister of Finance, and the Commander in Chief of the National Army.

Collins was killed during the Irish Civil War in August 1922.


9. Daniel O’Connell (Activist)

activist Daniel O’Connell

Daniel was best known for his contribution to the rights of Catholics, he was born near Cahersiveen, County Kerry. He is usually referred to as The Emancipator and The Liberator.

He also campaigned for the rights of Catholics and made it to the Westminister Parliament. He also contributed to the abolishment of the Act of Union, which combined Ireland and Great Britain.


8. Robert Boyle (Chemist)

chemist Robert Boyle

Robert Boyle was a chemist, philosopher, inventor, and physicist. He has great contributions to modern science, and is rightfully known as the “Father of Modern Chemistry”.

He is best known for Boyle’s Law, which explains the relationship between the volume and the pressure of a gas.


7. John Tyndall (Physicist)

physicist John Tyndall

An Anglo-Irish descent, John Tyndall for the very first time explained the Greenhouse Effect. He was also the first-ever person to give a scientific reason for why is the sky blue, known as the Tyndall effect (named after him).

Other than that he also explained various other processes that occur in the lower and upper atmosphere. For his contribution to science, he was the first person to be referred to as a physicist.


6. John Philip Holland (Inventor)

inventor John Philip Holland

John Philip Holland is best known for the invention of the first-ever self-propelled submarine. He developed the submarine in 1877. Later in his life his submarines were used by various defense agencies, i.e. in 1900 it was used by the U.S. Navy, in 1901 it was used by the Royal Navy and the Japanese Imperial Navy used it in 1904.

After 1905, he was a well-known international figure for his decisive role in the triumph of Japan over Russia.


5. Louis Brennan (Inventor)

inventor Louis Brennan

Louis Brennan was a mechanical engineer who invented the steerable torpedo. He invented it in 1874 in Australia. The steerable torpedo was the first weapon that could be remotely directed to its target.

Other than that, he also invented the gyroscopic helicopter and gyroscopically-balanced monorail system.


4. George Clooney (Actor)

George Clooney Good Night, and Good Luck

Born on May 6, 1961, George Clooney is a very talented Irish-American actor and filmmaker. For his outstanding acting and production, he won three Golden Globe Awards as well as two Academy Awards. In 1978 he made his first television debut. He is best known for his role as Dr. Doug Ross in the ER medical drama which was broadcast from 1994 to 1999.

Other than his contribution to the entertainment industry he is also noted for his political activism. Since January 31, 2008, he has served as one of the United Nations Messengers of Peace. He has also contributed to humanitarian causes.


3. Heather Joan Graham (Actress)

Heather Joan Graham

Born on January 29, 1970, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Heather Graham is an American actress of Irish descent. She is best known for her role in License to Drive in 1988, which earned her fame. After that, she appeared in many films and various television series.

During her career, she starred in various movies ranging from studio films to major films including Say It isn’t so, Committee, Mary, and Anger Management.


2. Macaulay Culkin (Actor)

Macaulay Culkin

Image Source: Facebook/macaulayculkinofficial

The 34-year-old Macaulay was born in Manhattan, New York, United States. Having Irish descent he is an actor and a talented musician. He is best known for his role as Kevin McCallister in Home Alone.

He is listed among the “Greatest Kid-Stars” by VH1’s list and “50 Greatest Child Stars” by E!‘s list. He started his career at a very young age; when he was only four years old.


1. Bill Murray (Actor)

Bill Murray as Frank Milo

Born in Wilmette, Illinois United States, Bill Murray is an actor and comedian of Irish descent. He earned an Emmy Award for his contribution to Saturday Night Live, and later he starred in various popular comedy films.

Some of his most-known movies include Meatballs, Caddyshack, and Ghostbusters.  For his contribution to the entertainment industry, he also won an Academy Award.


Honorable Mentions

Our list of famous people who are Irish cannot be completed without mentioning these names:

  • Bono (Singer)
  • Liam Neeson (Actor)
  • Bill Clinton (Former US President)

Did you like our list of famous people you never knew were Irish? Let us know in the comments below!

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