Oscar-winning members of the Irish diaspora

2023 is a big year for the Irish at the Academy Awards with a record-breaking 14 nominations. Irish actors received five of the 20 acting nominations up for grabs. This is a feat only the US and the UK have achieved up until now. And thanks to An Cailín Ciúin, an Irish language film has been nominated for the first time too.

However, the Irish have long been represented at the awards thanks to our large and talented diaspora. Ahead of the 2023 Oscars, let’s take a look at some members of the diaspora that have taken home the gold statuette.

Maureen O’Hara

Maureen O’Hara

Dublin-born Maureen O’Hara never won an Oscar in a competitive category during her career. In fact, she wasn’t even nominated for one. However, in 2014, her work on the big screen was recognised with a Lifetime Achievement award. Her career spanned more than half a century and included more than 50 films. Highlights include her roles in Miracle on 34th StreetThe Hunchback of Notre DameThe Quiet ManThe Parent Trap and How Green Was My Valley.

O’Hara was born in Ranelagh and moved to Hollywood to start her career aged just 19. She received her honorary Oscar at the age of 94 – just a year before her death in 2015.


George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw

Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw was born in Portobello, county Dublin, in 1856 but left for London to begin his career as a writer just 20 years later.

His play Pygmalion first premiered in 1913 and he later adapted it for the screen in 1938. That same year, he won the Academy Award for the Best Adapted Screenplay. Shaw’s contempt for Hollywood meant that he was outraged by the nomination.

According to Robert Osborne, author of Academy Awards Illustrated, the 82-year-old reacted by saying: “It’s an insult! It’s perfect nonsense. My position as a playwright is known throughout the world. To offer me an award of this sort is an insult, as if they had never heard of me before… and it’s very likely they never had.”

Shaw was the first person to win both a Nobel Prize and an Oscar. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925 and, initially, he declined to accept. He was the only person to have won both accolades until Bob Dylan joined his exclusive club in 2016.


Michèle Burke

Kildare native, Michèle Burke, moved to Canada in 1973 where she became a make-up artist and pursued a career in film. She jointly won the Academy Award for Best Makeup in 1981 for her work on Quest for Fire and then again in 1992 for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.


Bing Crosby

Bing Crosby was nominated in the Best Actor category several times throughout his career, before finally winning a statuette in 1945 for his lead role in the musical comedy Going My Way.

The singer-cum-actor’s maternal great-grandparents hailed from Schull, county Cork, where a wall of their old homestead still stands. His ancestors emigrated to Canada in 1831 before heading to the US.

Crosby was hugely proud of his Irish roots and even visited Ireland from time to time.


Mary Pickford

Mary Pickford

Mary Pickford, whose father was English and mother was Irish, was born in Toronto back in 1892. She rose to fame during the silent movie era. When recalling the early days of Hollywood later in life, she is quoted as saying: “We big Irish all knew each other and we all stuck together”.

Pickford was one of the Academy’s original 36 founding members. Then, in 1930, she won the second Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in the silent drama Coquette. In 1976, she was also awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the age of 83.


Daniel Day Lewis

Daniel Day Lewis

Daniel Day Lewis was born in London, but has held dual citizenship of Ireland and Britain since 1993 thanks to his Irish father who was from Ballintubbert, county Laois.

Between 1990 and 2018, he received six nominations in the Best Actor category and has won three times for his leading roles in My Left FootThere Will Be Blood and Lincoln. The actor has now retired and lives a quiet life in county Wicklow.


Reese Witherspoon

Reese Witherspoon, who won the Best Actress Oscar in 2006 for her portrayal of June Carter Cash in Walk the Line, only discovered that she had Irish roots relatively recently.

In 2018, she received the results of a DNA test which revealed that she was 63% Irish and traced her roots back to Ireland.


Cedric Gibbons

Cedric Gibbons

Like Mary Pickford, Cedric Gibbons was a founding member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Back in 1928, he even designed the Oscar statuette that we still know today.

The set designer and art director was born to an Irish father and an American mother and made huge contributions to film from the 1930s through to the 1950s. He built up almost 1,500 credits during this time.

Gibbons was also nominated for a plethora of Academy Awards. Altogether, he received 39 nominations for Best Production Design and won 11 times – both of which are records that he still holds today. Among his winning sets were Pride and PrejudiceGaslightLittle WomenAn American in Paris and Julius Caesar.

Ahead of the 2023 Academy Awards, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum has launched a new display which takes a look back at his career.


Grace Kelly

In 1955, Grace Kelly won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in The Country Girl. At the time, her win came as a surprise because Judy Garland was the favourite to win for her role in A Star Is Born.

The year after her Oscar win, Kelly retired from acting to marry Prince Rainier III of Monaco and become a princess. Kelly greatly valued her Irish roots, which go back to Drimurla in county Mayo. Her grandfather left the cottage that was his birthplace in 1887 to emigrate to Philadelphia.


Martin McDonagh

Martin McDonagh

The playwright turned filmmaker was born in London to Irish parents and holds dual Irish and British citizenship. At this year’s Academy Awards, his film The Banshees of Inisherin is up for a record-breaking nine nominations – the most ever received by an Irish production.

McDonagh himself has been nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Director. However, many people aren’t aware that he already won an Oscar back in 2006. He received the award for Best Short Film (Live Action) for his 27 minute long drama Six Shooter.

EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum works hard to highlight the many positive contributions that Irish people have made to the world. To find out more about their influence on the world of film, visit today.