10 Famous Irish Speakers

People in the spotlight, whether by chance or design, often become ambassadors of various causes. Sports athletes, musicians, actors and social media influencers have the platforms to draw attention to something. The Irish language is no exception. Famous Irish speakers play a part, even if accidental, in promoting the language both in the country and outside of it.  

With that in mind, here’s a list of 10 famous Irish speakers (in no particular order) from a variety of backgrounds. Some are directly in the business of fostering the development of Irish, and others are Gaeilgeoirs that are in the limelight for other reasons. All of them, in one way or another, have publicly embraced the language.

1. Cillian Murphy

Cillian Murphy (photo by Tim Cornbill)

Known for big parts on major screen productions like Oppenheimer, Peaker Blinders, 28 Days Later and the Batman Franchise, one of Murphy’s earlier pre-Golden Globe roles was in an Irish language movie!

In 2000, he starred in the short film Filleann An Feall (What Goes Around), where he played a small-time Dublin criminal going to Conamara for a poteen deal. Interested? You can watch the film here.

2. Caitlín Nic Aoidh

Caitlín Nic Aoidh
Caitlín Nic Aoidh (photo by TG4)

This native Irish speaker from Cloughaneely, County Donegal is best known for being a weather forecaster or television presenter for TG4, the Irish language network.

In 2016 she disappeared on the set after being “struck” by a bolt of lightning, a good-natured hoax played by the station. You can see the prank yourself here.

3. Paul Mescal

Paul Mescal, a famous Irish speaker
Paul Mescal (photo by Emma Watson)

When Paul Mescal gave an interview to TG4 in Irish at the 2023 British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards, viewers around the world had the same reaction: Irish is cool.

The 28-year-old was nominated for Best Actor for the movie Aftersun. His interview was warmly welcomed by his home nation. It wasn’t Mescal’s first time at the BAFTAs, however, as his breakthrough role came in the 2020 series Normal People, based on the Sally Rooney novel. That year he won a BAFTA TV Award.

4. Éadaoin Fitzmaurice

Éadaoin Fitzmaurice
Éadaoin Fitzmaurice (photo by her)

This Arklow native and social media influencer came to fame showing her audience the hidden gems of Ireland, including the best places to eat and travel to. However, she is also a tireless advocator of the Irish language, so much so that she was named as one of the ambassadors of Seachtain na Gaeilge, an annual festival that runs from March 1st to 17th each year to promote the Irish language.

5. Liam Ó Maonlaí

Liam Ó Maonlaí, who is a famous Irish speaker
Liam Ó Maonlaí (photo by Zoran Veselinovic)

The lead singer for the breakout Irish band Hothouse Flowers is also an avid proponent of the Irish language. His father, being a fluent speaker, instilled the love of Irish in Liam, and he grew up attending a Gaelscoil (Irish-speaking school) on the southside of Dublin. He has also performed a variety of songs in Irish.

6. Niamh Ní Chróinín

Niamh Ní Chróinín
Niamh Ní Chróinín (photo by her)

Dublin native Niamh Ní Chróinín is the main presenter for Cúla4, the Irish language channel aimed at children aged 1 to 12. The channel is operated by TG4, a station whose content can also be a very useful resource for learning Irish. She is often found at Irish events for youth around the country as the ambassador of Cúla4, and is a recognizable figure for many of those who have grown up with the language recently.

7. Brendan Gleeson

Brendan Gleeson, one of the most famous Irish speakers
Brendan Gleeson (photo by Mario Antonio Pena Zapatería)

A former schoolteacher in Irish and English, this beloved actor is fluent in the language, and got to demonstrate that for the world at the 2023 BAFTAs in an interview about The Banshees of Inisherin.

Not only is Gleeson one of the most famous Irish speakers on the list, in 2001 he starred in an Irish language short film called Cáca Milis (Sweet Cake), in which he played the annoying and bothersome Pól.

8. Des Bishop

Des Bishop
Des Bishop (photo by Hot 97)

One of the most beloved comedians and American-born individuals in Ireland, Des’s biggest claims to fame may have been his show “In the Name of the Fada,” which chronicled him learning the Irish language to a level where he could perform stand-up comedy in it.

During this period he achieved fluency, and even performed an Irish-language version of the song “Jump Around,” titled “Léimigí Thart.” Check out this clip to see Des perform the song live on an Australian TV show!

9. Carrie Crowley

Carrie Crowley An Cailín Ciúin
Carrie Crowley (photo An Cailín Ciúin)

Like Brendan Gleeson, Carrie Crowley was also originally a teacher before becoming a radio broadcaster and then an actor. A well known Gaeilgeoir, Crowley starred on Echo Island, the children’s show presented by Dara O’Briain. Most recently, she is known for her role of Eibhlín Kinsella in the acclaimed Irish language film An Cailín Ciúin (The Quiet Girl), for which she received an Irish Film and Television Award (IFTA) nomination.

10. Dara O’Briain

Dara O’Briain
Dara O’Briain (photo by Feline_Dacat)

Although he lives in West London now, this popular Wicklow man put in his shift for the Irish language as the presenter of the biliginual children’s program Echo Island, aired on RTÉ 2 in Ireland.

These days, O’Briain is more widely known as a popular host for British shows such as Mock of the Week, The Panel, and The Apprentice: You’re Fired!. In addition to having written several books, O’Briain is also a well known stand-up comedian. Here’s a clip of Dara talking about his days presenting in Irish, on The Jonathan Ross Show.

Obviously, this list is not exhaustive, and readers likely know other famous Irish speakers. Some entries may have been more of a surprise than others. The number of well known people who speak the language, nonetheless, demonstrates how widespread Irish continues to be, and how important it is to the Irish identity. It is also exciting to know that all of us, whether we’re famous or not, can participate in the revival of the language by joining the global Irish language community!

Join the online Irish community for cúrsaícomhrá & ceardlanna, and follow along on social media @LetsLearnIrish – beidh fáilte romhat!

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