10 best Irish actors of all time, Ranked

Ireland’s contribution to the world of acting is sizeable – with many of the best Irish actors making names for themselves internationally. Read on to discover the top ten.

10 best Irish actors of all time, Ranked

It’s not unusual to see Irish names on the annual lists of Academy Awards nominees, but have you ever stayed awake at night wondering who the top ten Irish actors of all time are? Fear not, we have a definitive list right here.

You can list any one of your all-time favourite movies or TV shows, and there will be an Irishman or woman starring in some shape or form. From Harris to Ronan, and Neeson to Gleeson, here are the ten best Irish actors of all time.

10. Richard Harris – one of the greats

Richard Harris – one of the greats
Richard Harris as Dumbledore. Credit: @CinemaStimulus / Twitter

Harris is known to a younger generation of fans as the original Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films – but he was one of the country’s top Irish actors long before he ever entered the Great Hall.

Harris was perhaps best known for his take on King Arthur in both the screen and stage adaptation of Camelot, but his full CV is an article in itself.

9. Pierce Brosnan – an Irish 007

Pierce Brosnan – an Irish 007
Credit: LBJ Library / Flickr

An Irish James Bond? Simply iconic. Although a naturalised US citizen, Mr Brosnan was born and raised in Ireland, meaning we can comfortably claim his as one of our own.

This famous Irish actor is 007 to most, but he’ll always be the annoying boyfriend in Mrs Doubtfire to us.

8. Domhnall Gleeson – a legacy of actors

Domhnall Gleeson – a legacy of actors
Credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

It’s rare to see two members of the same family on the one list (ooh spoiler alert) but this famous Irish actor has earned his right to the number 8 spot on the list of the best Irish actors.

He melted hearts in About Time and Brooklyn, but showed his outrageous sense of humour in HBO series Run. A versatile performer who never shies away from a challenge.

7. Maureen O’Hara – Golden Age of Hollywood

Maureen O’Hara – Golden Age of Hollywood
Maureen O’Hara as Lady Margaret Denby. Credit: Insomnia Cured Here / Flickr

This red-haired Ranelagh native was Hollywood royalty, but she started her career in our very own Abbey Theatre. Next time you watch The Quiet Man or Miracle on 34th Street, remember Maureen was a diehard Shamrock Rovers fan.

6. Colm Meaney – one of the best Irish actors of all time

Colm Meaney – one of the best Irish actors of all time
Credit: Crosa / Flickr

While this top Irish actor is perhaps best known for his role in Star Trek, he’s beloved to us for his hilariously quotable moments in Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown Trilogy.

Fun fact – in 2008, An Post put his face on a postage stamp. If that doesn’t spell royalty, we don’t know what does.

5. Colin Farrell – a personal life as thrilling as his career

Colin Farrell – a personal life as thrilling as his career
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Colin Farrell is a household name, and surely one of the best Irish actors to ever come from our little island nation.

He’s worked with Hollywood giants like Steven Spielberg and Woody Allen, and has been nominated for two Golden Globes. More importantly though, remember that time he shifted Britney Spears?

4. Liam Neeson – we’re very Taken with him

Liam Neeson – we’re very Taken with him
Liam Neeson as Brian Mills. Credit: BagoGames / Flickr

Liam Neeson is one famous Irish actor that we spend a really strange amount of time thinking about. It’s understandable really, when you consider how many day to day situations you can use his iconic Taken monologue in – altogether now lads:

“But what I do have are a very particular set of skills…”

3. Cillian Murphy – too cool for school

Cillian Murphy is one of the best Irish actors of all time.
Cillian Murphy as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders. Credit: Terry Kearney / Flickr

These days, this top Irish actor is best known for his role in Peaky Blinders – but that’s far from his first forage into the acting world.

Cillian Murphy has been acting in indie movies since the 90s, after turning down a mainstream record deal (yeah, he’s so cool it’s painful). For anyone taken in by those piercing blue eyes, Murphy is happily married since 2004. Boo.

2. Saoirse Ronan – taking Hollywood by storm

Saoirse Ronan – taking Hollywood by storm
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Oh Saoirse, a famous Irish actor beloved worldwide. This young gun began making splashes as a child actor, starring in high profile film productions such as Atonement (for which she got a casual Oscar nomination) and The Lovely Bones.

Her biggest three roles in recent times have been in Brooklyn, Lady Bird, and Little Women – which all saw her being nominated for Best Actress in the Academy Awards.

Many industry big wigs have Saoirse tipped to be the next Meryl Streep in terms of career longevity – and in our humble opinion, they’re absolutely right. Her star is showing no signs of burning out any time soon.

1. Brendan Gleeson – a varied and long-standing career

Brendan Gleeson – a varied and long-standing career
Credit: Mario A. P. / Flickr

Brendan Gleeson is one of the best Irish actors in history, but he came from humble beginnings. Gleeson was a secondary school teacher when he started acting, and only took the plunge into full time acting work in 1991.

That was a risk that paid off handsomely as we all know now – Gleeson is an internationally beloved actor of stage and screen. Some of his highest profile Hollywood productions have included the Harry Potter franchise, Michael Collins and Gangs of New York.

He started his career on the stage, and still takes on theatre projects – anyone who saw him acting alongside his sons in The Walworth Farce can see he still has a huge amount of grá for treading the boards. Without hesitation, we crown the mighty Brendan Gleeson the best Irish actor of all time.