A list of famous Irish must begin with St. Patrick (c.385–461), who, though not born in Ireland, represents Ireland to the rest of the world. Among the "saints and scholars" of the 6th to the 8th centuries were St. Columba (521–97), missionary to Scotland; St. Columban (540?–616), who founded monasteries in France and Italy; and Johannes Scotus Erigena (810?–80), a major Neoplatonic philosopher.
For the thousand years after the Viking invasions, the famous names belong to warriors and politicians: Brian Boru (962?–1014), who temporarily united the kings of Ireland and defeated the Vikings; Hugh O'Neill (1547?–1616), Owen Roe O'Neill (1590?–1649), and Patrick Sarsfield (d. 1693), national heroes of the 17th century; and Henry Grattan (1746–1820), Wolf Tone (1763–98), Edward Fitzgerald (1763–98), Robert Emmet (1778–1803), Daniel O'Connell (1775–1847), Michael Davitt (1846–1906), Charles Stewart Parnell (1846–91), Arthur Griffith (1872–1922), Patrick Henry Pearse (1879–1916), and Éamon de Valera(b.US, 1882–1975), who, with many others, fought Ireland's political battles. The politician and statesman Seán MacBride (1904-88) won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974.
Irishmen who have made outstanding contributions to science and scholarship include Robert Boyle (1627–91), the physicist who defined Boyle's law relating to pressure and volume of gas; Sir William Rowan Hamilton (1805–65), astronomer and mathematician, who developed the theory of quaternions; George Berkeley (1685–1753), philosopher and clergyman; Edward Hincks (1792–1866), discoverer of the Sumerian language; and John Bagnell Bury (1861–1927), classical scholar. The nuclear physicist Ernest T. S. Walton (1903–95) won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1951.
Painters of note include Sir William Orpen (1878–1931), John Butler Yeats (1839–1922), his son Jack Butler Yeats (1871–1957), and Mainie Jellet (1897–1944). Irish musicians include the pianist and composer John Field (1782–1837), the opera composer Michael William Balfe (1808–70), the tenor John McCormack (1884–1945), and the flutist James Galway (b. Belfast, 1939).
After the Restoration, many brilliant satirists in English literature were born in Ireland, among them Jonathan Swift (1667–1745), dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin and creator of Gulliver's Travels; Oliver Goldsmith (1730?–74); Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816); Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854–1900); and George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950).
Thomas Moore (1779–1852) and James Clarence Mangan (1803–49) wrote patriotic airs, hymns, and love lyrics, while Maria Edgeworth (1767–1849) wrote novels on Irish themes. Half a century later the great literary revival led by Nobel Prizewinning poet-dramatist William Butler Yeats (1865–1939), another son of John Butler Yeats, produced a succession of famous playwrights, poets, novelists, and short-story writers: the dramatists Lady Augusta (Persse) Gregory (1859?–1932), John Millington Synge (1871–1909), Sean O'Casey (1884–1964), and Lennox Robinson (1886–1958); the poets AE (George William Russell, 1867–1935), Oliver St. John Gogarty (1878–1957), Pádraic Colum (1881–1972), James Stephens (1882–1950); Austin Clarke (1890–1974), Thomas Kinsella (b. 1928), and Seamus Heaney (b. 1939); the novelists and short-story writers George Moore (1852–1932), Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th baron of Dunsany (1878–1957), Liam O'Flaherty (1896–1984), Seán O'Faoláin (1900–91), Frank O'Connor (Michael O'Donovan, 1903–66), and Flann O'Brien (Brian O'Nolan, 1911–66). Two outstanding authors of novels and plays whose experimental styles have had worldwide influence are James Augustine Joyce (1882–1941), the author of Ulysses, and Samuel Beckett (1906–89), recipient of the 1969 Nobel Prize for literature.
The Abbey Theatre, which was the backbone of the literary revival, also produced many outstanding dramatic performers, such as Dudley Digges (1879–1947), Sara Allgood (1883–1950), Arthur Sinclair (1883–1951), Maire O'Neill (Mrs. Arthur Sinclair, 1887–1952), Barry Fitzgerald (William Shields, 1888–1961), and Siobhan McKenna (1923–1986). For many years Douglas Hyde (1860–1949), first president of Ireland (1938–45), spurred on the Irish-speaking theater as playwright, producer, and actor.