Hollywood is full of talented actors with deep connections to Ireland. In advance of the Academy Awards this weekend, we’re taking the occasion to look at 15 stars with ties to the Emerald Isle but weren’t born there. Some of them may surprise you!
We are starting this list with one of the world’s most highly acclaimed A-list actors, Michael Fassbender. Although born in Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, Fassbender spent the majority of his childhood and adolescence in Ireland and has long called Killarney his home. His mother, Adele, is a County Antrim native who met and married his father, Josef in Germany. The couple preferred to raise their children along the picturesque shores of County Kerry as opposed to the more urban environment of Germany. They moved to Killarney when Fassbender was just two. He and his sister spent summers in Germany, where they learned to speak the language fluently. In 2016, he was awarded Killarney’s highest honor, The Order of the Inisfallen, where he thanked his parents for having the “wisdom and foresight” to raise their children in Ireland.
Although born in The Bronx, Saorise Ronan is also full-blooded Irish, being the daughter of Dublin natives Monica and Paul Ronan. Her parents came to New York when Paul, who worked in the construction industry, chose to pursue a career as an actor. He would go on to become a well-established Irish actor in shows such as “The Devil’s Own” and “Veronica Guerin.” When she was three, the family relocated back to the Emerald Isle where they spent many years in County Carlow. After landing a pivotal role in Joe Wright’s 2007 film Atonement at the age of 12, Ronan solidified her own acting career and has performed along numerous Hollywood heavy-hitters such as Keira Knightly, James McAvoy, Susan Sarandon, Mark Wahlberg, and others. Other films Ronan has starred in include City of Ember (2008), The Lovely Bones (2009), and The Way Back (2010).
The oldest of the “Baldwin Brothers,” Alec Baldwin probably has the most prominent television and movie career of his four male siblings, all of whom were born in New York but share Irish ancestry. The Baldwin name originated from Norman settlers who made their home in Ireland during the 12th century and means “brave, bold friend,” or “wine drinker” depending on which interpretation of ancient Norman you’re reading. Regardless of which interpretation is truer, Baldwin is definitely recognized for his bold nature, and is well-known for his outspoken political views, hot tempered treatment of paparazzi, and a striking presence on screen. Baldwin has made appearances in numerous Hollywood hits including The Departed (2006), Along Came Polly (2004), Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), The Hunt for Red October (1990). He is also the co-star of NBC’s popular sitcom 30 Rock. Oh, we forgot to mention his daughter’s name is Ireland.
Meg Ryan was born on November 19, 1961 in Fairfield, Connecticut, and her Irish origins stem largely from her mother’s side. Her maternal grandparents were both born in New York to Irish immigrants, and although her actual last name is Hyra (Polish), she chose to use her grandmother’s maiden name Ryan as her stage name. Her acting career started on the American soap opera As the World Turns in the early 80s. The idea was to earn extra money during her undergraduate days at NYU, but her appearance on the show was a tremendous hit with audiences, and she dropped out of college to pursue acting full time. Today she is best known for her roles in When Harry Met Sally (1989) and Sleepless in Seattle (1993).
Often referred to as one of the greatest actors in history, Daniel Day-Lewis likely owes his unsurpassed acting abilities to his Irish ancestry (obviously!). Day-Lewis’ father is the UK Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis, a native of Ballintubbert in County Laois. His mother, Jill Balcon, was born in London, England. For being one of the movie industry’s biggest names, it is a little ironic that he has appeared in relatively few films when compared to his fellow A-list stars. Nevertheless, he has won three Academy Awards for Best Actor for roles in My Left Foot (1989), There Will Be Blood (2007), and Lincoln (2012). Some of his other iconic appearances can be found in films such as The Last of the Mohicans (1992), The Age of Innocence (1993), The Boxer (1997) and Gangs of New York (2002). He retired from acting as of 2017 after finishing production on Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread.
Aidan Quinn was born on March 8, 1959 in Chicago, Illinois to County Offaly natives Teresa and Michael Quinn. His parents moved the family between Dublin and Birr, in County Offaly at different points in his childhood. At the age of 19, Quinn began pursuing his acting career at the Piven Theatre Workshop in Evanston, Illinois, and earned his first significant role in the 1984 film Reckless. He became a household name for his controversial role in An Early Frost (1985), in which he played a gay lawyer diagnosed with AIDS. This role earned him wider recognition and he went on to start in numerous hits throughout the 80s and 90s, including The Mission (1986), Legends of the Fall (1994), The Handmaid’s Tale (1990), and Practical Magic (1998). The name Quinn is an Anglicized form of the Irish Ó Coinn, meaning “descendant of Conn.” It is one of the 20 most common surnames in Ireland with large concentrations of Quinns in Ulster, as well as counties Clare, Longford, and Mayo.
This Irish-Ethiopian actor is known for her recent television roles in BBC’s Criminal Justice, ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and AMC’s Preacher. She is also a stage actor and most recently performed in the Gate Theater’s fall production of Hamlet as part of the 2018 Dublin Theatre Festival. Negga’s mother is Irish, and her father was Ethiopian. The two met when Negga’s mother, a nurse, was serving in Ethiopia where she met her future husband, a doctor. The family relocated to Limerick from Addis Ababa when Negga was four years old, and she has lived in London for the past twelve years. She earned a bachelor’s degree in acting studies from Trinity College, Dublin, and made her screen debut in the Irish film Capital Letters (2004). Her vibrant acting style and strong talent caught the attention of director Neil Jordan, who re-wrote the script for his 2005 film Breakfast on Pluto so Negga could be in it. Her unique heritage has caused a bit of a kerfuffle among media reporters, who can’t seem to nail down a definitive approach to describing her heritage. Can we blame them?
Born in Peekskill, New York on January 3, 1956 to an American father and Australian-Irish mother, Mel Gibson’s ancestry is primarily Irish. His mother, Anne Patricia, is Irish-born and a native of County Longford who instilled in Mel a strong sense of his Celtic roots. His parents named him after Saint Mel, a fifth-century Irish saint who founded his mother’s native diocese at Ardagh. His second name, Colmcille, also belongs to an Irish saint and parish in County Longford. His family relocated to Australia when Gibson was 12 and he enrolled in the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney. Although trained for the stage in the British-theater tradition, Mel’s career took a dramatic turn in 1979 after the release of Mad Max for which he was paid $15,000. In 1981, he was given a Best Actor Award for his appearance in the World War I drama Gallipoli, which caught the attention of Hollywood agent Ed Limato, which propelled him into the American film industry.
The Ohio-born Apocalypse Now star is very proud of his uncle’s involvement with the IRA. Born August 3, 1940 to Francisco Estévez Martínez, a Spanish immigrant, and Mary-Ann Phelan, a County Tipperary native, Sheen was largely unaware of his family’s role in Ireland’s War of Independence until he participated in a genealogy television series Who Do You Think You Are? Over the course of the show, Sheen discovered his uncle Michael Collins volunteered to fight against the Anglo-Irish treaty which resulted in a civil war in the 1920s. Sheen was relieved to know his uncle was incarcerated during the assassination of Mick Collins. He enrolled as a non-traditional student at the National University of Ireland in Galway in 2006.
Brooklyn beauty Anne Hathaway was born on November 12, 1982 to Kate McCauley and Gerald Thomas Hathaway, both of whom share Irish ancestry, but a little more so on her father’s side. Hathaway has said she enjoys catching up with relatives in Cork and Donegal, and says she would love to live on the Emerald Isle someday. The “schizophrenic” weather, however, might be a problem. Hathaway’s breakthrough role in The Princess Diaries (2001) landed her world-wide critical acclaim and instantly propelled her into the mainstream limelight. To avoid being typecast in the princess persona, she branched off to star in more mature-themed films such as Havoc and Brokeback Mountain (both 2005), Becoming Jane (2007) and Passengers (2008). She has also performed in voiceover roles for The Simpsons and Family Guy.
George Clooney was born on May 6, 1961 in Lexington, Kentucky to Nina Bruce and Nick Clooney. Genealogists recently discovered the Clooney homestead and the truth of his Irish heritage. In 2015, genealogist Fiona Fitzsimons uncovered his ancestor’s origins and in the process brought to light a tragic family history that would make a Hollywood hit in its own right (but only if it starred Clooney himself, of course). Nicholas Clooney (the great great grandfather of George) was a cottier in Windgap, County Kilkenny in the 1850s. Like many other small farmers during this time, Clooney was regularly harassed and bullied by larger farmers and their men who wished to absorb more farmland for themselves. Court records discovered by Fitzimons revealed the Clooney’s were violently assaulted at various times throughout 1852, so the family made the decision to emigrate to Kentucky. Clooney’s iconic performances in ER (1994-2009), The Perfect Storm (2000), O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), Ocean’s Eleven (2001), Gravity (2013), have made him a household name around the world.
Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds was born in Vancouver, British Columbia on October 23, 1976. Although born and raised in Canada, Reynolds has said he was raised to be very proud of his Irish ancestry and was raised in a strict Catholic household. His great-great grandfather was George Edward Reynolds, who was born in Belturbet, County Cavan. His great-great grandfather on his mother’s side was Thomas Charles Long, who was born in Inchigeelagh, County Cork. Both sides of the family tree made their way to Canada over the course of the next couple generations, and today we can thank them for giving us one of Hollywood’s best-looking actors of the decade. Reynolds has visited Ireland frequently with family to promote his work and the work of his wife Blake Lively, spending most of their time in Dublin and Galway.
Anna Kendrick was born in Portland, Maine, on August 9 1985. Her father is 100% Irish, and according to Kendrick, is very proud of his heritage. Although she started her acting career at the age of 12, she began to build mainstream attention when she played Jessica Stanley in Twilight (2008). Her roles in the Pitch Perfect films and an acclaimed performance in 50/50 (2011) have helped establish herself as a likeable, spunky, beautiful actor with a bright future ahead of her. The name Kendrick comes from the Anglo-Saxon word Cyernic, meaning “family ruler.” In Welsh, it stems from the word Cynwrig meaning “greatest champion.”
Olivia Wilde was born in New York City on March 10, 1984, and as you probably guessed she has deep Irish roots. Wilde’s father, Andrew Cockburn was born in London, England, but was raised in County Cork where many relatives still live. As a result, Wilde spent her childhood split between the family home in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., and Ardmore in County Waterford. She studied acting at the Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin. Like the other actors on this list with at least one Irish parent, Wilde holds dual citizenship between Ireland and the United Sates. Wilde’s mother, Leslie Cockburn, is a producer for 60 Minutes and a journalist. Wilde’s acting career began in the early 2000s with the FOX television series Skin (2003-2004), The O.C. (2004-2005), and The Black Donnellys (2007). The Black Donnellys centered around the struggles of working class Irish-American Catholics in New York City. In one interview regarding the show, Wilde stated her Irish heritage helped play a significant role in portraying her character, and she fondly recalled her childhood days spent in the small fishing village Old Morrick.
Eighties heartthrob Matt Dillon was born on February 18, 1964 to a tight-knit, Irish Roman Catholic family in New Rochelle, New York. According to Ethnicelebs.com, he is 87.5% Irish, a pretty good score! Both his paternal and maternal sides of the family come from Irish immigrants who settled in New York City. The name Dillon made its first recorded appearance in Ireland with the arrival of Sir Henry de Leon in the early 1200s. Today, the name is still very prevalent in Ireland, and is most common in counties Meath and Westmeath. Dillon’s career happened a bit by chance. While cutting classes at Hommocks Middle School, he was noticed by a couple talent agents combing the neighborhood in search of young faces to appear in the upcoming film Over the Edge (1979). Dillon agreed to audition, and casting director Vic Ramos penciled “Should be a movie star” in his notes for the 14-year old future actor.