10 Irish Actors Who Almost Won An Oscar Before Cillian Murphy
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10 Irish Actors Who Almost Won An Oscar Before Cillian Murphy


  • Irish actors had never won an Oscar for leading roles despite Saoirse Ronan, Paul Mescal, and Colin Farrell receiving nominations.
  • Notable Irish actors like Liam Neeson, Michael Fassbender, and Ruth Negga have earned Oscar nominations but never won.
  • Irish actors like Kenneth Branagh and Barry Fitzgerald have won Oscars at the Academy Awards but never in a leading role.



The Oscars are the most sought-after prize for anyone working in films, but until Cillian Murphy’s Oscar win, no Irish actor or actress had won the Oscar for a leading role. The Academy Awards are incredibly prestigious, with only a handful of categories awarding an Oscar each year, and several nominees fighting to win the coveted prize. However, despite incredible talent and many years of hard work, many people involved in cinema will never win an Oscar themselves.

And, while the Oscars are hosted in the US, there is plenty of representation and recognition, shining a light on talent from all over the world. Every year, actors, directors, and others involved in making movies from a diverse range of countries are in the running for an Oscar, but despite solid representation in the industry, Irish actors have never been the recipient of an Oscar for Best Leading Actor or Actress until now. Cillian Murphy may be the first Irish actor to achieve this career-defining award, but he certainly wasn’t the first to be nominated.

Daniel Day-Lewis won three Oscars with a further three nominations. However, he was born and raised in England, but he holds dual British-Irish citizenship.

10 Saoirse Ronan

Nominated In 2016 For Her Performance In Brooklyn

Saoirse Ronan became one of the youngest people nominated for an Oscar for a Leading Role when she appeared in Brooklyn at 21. However, Ronan was also recognized at the Awards much earlier, at just 13 years old, when she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 2008 for her role in Atonement. Ronan is an incredibly talented young woman, and following her nominations in 2008 and 2016, she was nominated again in 2018, for Lady Bird, and in 2020, for Little Women. Which could mean it’s only a matter of time before she takes home the win.

9 Paul Mescal

Nominated In 2023 For His Performance In Aftersun

Aftersun 2022 (2)

Paul Mescal is a recent nominee who was in the running for the 2023 Oscars for his performance in Aftersun. The film is a coming-of-age story, where Mescal plays a young Scottish father on holiday with his child. The film is deeply emotional, and Mescal does a great job with the accent despite being the wrong type of Celt for the role. Mescal’s talents are only just beginning to be recognized after he began landing credited acting jobs in 2019, but in just a few years, he now has over a dozen credits to his name and an Oscar nomination.


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8 Colin Farrell

Nominated In 2023 For His Performance In The Banshees Of Inisherin

Padraic (Colin Farrell) explains himself to Colm (Brendan Gleeson) in The Banshees of Inisherin

That same year, a veteran Irish actor who has been a well-known figure in Hollywood for some time was also competing for his first Oscar nomination. Colin Farrell has had a colorful career in films, appearing in everything from Ben Affleck’s Daredevil as Bullseye, to playing Penguin in Robert Pattinson’s The Batman, but his first Oscar nomination came from a very different type of movie. The Banshees of Inisherin is an Irish dramedy that managed to earn a total of nine nominations in 2023, but due to stiff competition, the film walked away empty-handed.

7 Michael Fassbender

Nominated In 2016 For His Performance In Steve Jobs

Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs

Michael Fassbender was born in Germany to an Irish mother and moved to the South-West of Ireland when he was just 2 years old. His acting career has seen him tackle a variety of roles, from X-Men: First Class to Prometheus, with most placing him in a leading role. In 2015, he portrayed the late technology innovator and legend in the titular film, Steve Jobs, for which he received widespread recognition for his incredible performance. He was also nominated as Best Supporting Actor for his role in 12 Years a Slave in 2014.

6 Liam Neeson

Nominated In 1994 For His Performance In Schindler’s List

Liam Neeson is potentially the most famous actor to hail from Ireland before Cillian Murphy’s steady rise in Hollywood. Neeson starred in Taken and its sequels, he played Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Ra’s al Ghul in Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, and he was the voice of Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia films in the late 2000s. But before any of those, he had his breakout role as Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List. Not only did this role see Neeson’s career take off, but it earned him a nomination for Best Actor in 1994.

5 Ruth Negga

Nominated In 2017 For His Performance In Loving

Ruth Negga in Loving

Ruth Negga was born in Ethiopia, but raised in Limerick, Ireland, before spending some time in London studying, and then returning to study at college in Dublin, Ireland. She has consistently grown her career in acting for TV and film since 2004, and in 2017, she received an Oscar nomination for her role in Loving. Ruth then became the first Irish person of color to be nominated for an Oscar in a leading role and has continued to land leading roles in film and TV ever since.


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4 Stephen Rea

Nominated In 1993 For His Performance In The Crying Game

Forest Whitaker and Stephen Rea in the Crying Game.

Stephen Rea began his career performing in stage productions in Ireland, before landing on-screen roles. Once again, his breakout role was the one to see him nominated for an Oscar in 1993, when he played Fergus in The Crying Game. The film explores The Troubles in Northern Ireland, a story which likely held significance for Rea personally as he had grown up in Belfast and lived through those dark periods of history. Rea has gone on to appear in much larger productions, such as Interview with the Vampire, V For Vendetta, and Breakfast on Pluto, but mainly in supporting roles.

3 Richard Harris

Nominated In 1991 For His Performance In The Field

Richard Harris was nominated for an Oscar twice, in 1964 for This Sporting Life, and again in 1991 for The Field. However, neither of these was his most popular role, and he continued to have a long and healthy career in Hollywood before passing away in 2002. Richard Harris was an incredible talent who played Albus Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films and had several films released posthumously, which reflected his commitment to his craft with so much work filling out his final years.

2 Kenneth Branagh

Nominated In 1990 For His Performance In Henry V

Kenneth Branagh as King Henry V of England in Henry V.

Kenneth Branagh has had a varied and illustrious career in Hollywood, having tackled roles as a director, writer, and actor, and receiving critical acclaim for each. In 1990, Branagh was nominated for both Best Director and Best Actor for his work on Henry V but won neither award. Since then, Branagh has been nominated for his various contributions on several other occasions, until in 2022, he finally won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay with Belfast. Thus proving that persistent effort can get the desired results, and earning one of the few Oscar wins for Ireland.

1 Barry Fitzgerald

Nominated In 1945 For His Performance In Going My Way

barry fitzgerald in going my way as father fitzgibbon

In 1945, Barry Fitzgerald earned the unique privilege of having been the only actor in history to be nominated for two Oscars, in two separate categories for the same character in the same film. Fitzgerald plays Father Fitzgibbon in the film Going My Way, and after his nominations, the rules and guidelines for the awards were tightened to prevent such an incident. While Fitzgerald did not win the Best Leading Actor category, he did win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, making him the only Irish actor to win for a supporting role.

Brenda Fricker then went on to become the first Irish actress to win an Oscar in a supporting role in 1989 for her performance in My Left Foot, opposite Daniel Day-Lewis, which he also won.

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