In honor of St. Patrick's Day, we've decided not just to wear the requisite green or indulge in a celebrated Irish beverage, but to also pay tribute to our 17 favorite (living) Irishmen in filmdom. (Some of the actors and filmmakers hail from Northern Ireland but self-identify as Irish, and who are we to argue?)
It's a shame we couldn't come up with a corresponding list of Irish actresses, but very few of them have crossed over into Hollywood films in the past couple of decades. Even in movies about Irish characters, the women tend to be played by Brits (Samantha Morton in 'In America,' Nicole Kidman in 'Far and Away,' Minnie Driver in 'Circle of Friends,' Cate Blanchett in 'Veronica Guerin'). Hopefully soon there will be just as many Irish women to celebrate as men. We'd even take "just a few" for now.
17. James Nesbitt
Born and raised in Northern Ireland, Nesbitt has been acting on stage and screen for more than 20 years, but his breakout performance came in 2002, when he played a Protestant civil-rights leader in Paul Greengrass' astounding documentary-style drama 'Bloody Sunday.' Next, Nesbitt stars in the Irish indies 'Cherrybomb' and 'Outcast,' and in Ralph Fiennes' Roman-themed directorial debut 'Coriolanus.'
16. Stuart Townsend
This handsome Dubliner is as known for the roles he's bowed out of (the upcoming superhero adventure 'Thor' and Aragorn in 'The Lord of the Rings') as the ones he's actually played (Lestat in 'Queen of the Damned,' Dorian Gray in 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen'). In addition to acting, Townsend is also a writer-director, whose debut, the current-events indie 'Battle in Seattle,' hit the festival circuit in 2008.
15. Stephen Rea
Despite appearing in nearly 60 films, including 'V for Vendetta,' 'The End of the Affair' and 'The Butcher Boy,' Belfast-born Rea will forever be remembered by movie enthusiasts for his Oscar-nominated role in 'The Crying Game.' Let's just say Rea is the other man present when Jaye Davidson makes his (and one of movie history's most shocking) big reveal in the drama. Rea may take on a regular primetime gig, if 'Chaos,' his CBS CIA drama, is picked up.
14. Colm Meaney
Whether he's playing a cop ('Con Air,' 'Law Abiding Citizen'), a criminal ('Layer Cake') or the manager of a beloved football team ('The Damned United'), Meaney is a chameleon-like supporting actor who's always recognizable with his mop of curly hair and for his many years on two second-generation 'Star Trek' shows. He'll next portray legendary columnist H.L. Mencken in the upcoming drama 'Alleged.'
13. Ciarán Hinds
With a stare that could turn you to stone, Belfast-raised Hinds is yet another Irish actor who's a consummate "That Guy," popping up in more than 40 movies since 1981. He's played everything from Capt. Wentworth in 'Persuasion' to Julius Caesar (HBO's 'Rome') to Herod the Great ('The Nativity Story'). Currently starring in the supernatural Irish drama 'The Eclipse,' Hinds will make his first appearance in the Harry Potter universe as Dumbledore's curmudgeonly brother Aberforth in 'Deathly Hallows 1 & 2.'
12. Neil Jordan
The Academy Award-winning writer-director-producer responsible for 'The Crying Game,' 'Interview With a Vampire,' 'The Butcher Boy,' 'The Brave One' and 21 other films, Jordan is one of Ireland's most successful artistic exports. He's directed more than half of the men on this list, and at age 60, he shows no signs of slowing down, having filmed or produced a movie nearly every year since 1981.
11. Gabriel Byrne
Byrne's distinctive Irish brogue is so well loved he hardly ever disguises it. The brooding Dubliner won a Golden Globe for his work on HBO's 'In Treatment,' but is still best known for his 63 film credits, including 'The Usual Suspects,' 'Miller's Crossing,' 'The Man in the Iron Mask' and 'End of Days.' Cop, killer, priest, Satan -- he's always so, so good. It's also clear why EW.com once named Byrne one of the hottest actors over 50.
10. Cillian Murphy
There are few young actors who can match Murphy's blue-eyed intensity. His performances are brilliant, whether in thrillers like '28 Days Later,' 'Red Eye' and 'Batman Begins' or epic dramas like 'The Wind That Shakes the Barley.' Murphy will star opposite Leo DiCaprio in Christopher Nolan's 'Inception' and in fellow Irishman Brendan Gleeson's directorial debut, 'At Swim-Two-Birds,' with Farrell, Byrne and Rhys-Meyers.
9. Terry George
As a screenwriter, George was celebrated for collaborating with his friend, director Jim Sheridan, on 'In the Name of the Father' and 'The Boxer.' His directorial debut, 'Some Mother's Son,' was produced by Sheridan, and his follow-up, 'Hotel Rwanda,' earned him his second Oscar nomination. George, who seems drawn to emotional, grief-laden stories, is taking on crime in his upcoming script for Spike Lee's 'Inside Man 2.'
8. Brendan Gleeson
Younger audiences may only know Gleeson for playing Alastor 'Mad-Eye' Moody in the 'Harry Potter' films, but the 54-year-old Dublin native is an award-winning actor who has played everything from Winston Churchill ('Into the Storm') to gangsters ('In Bruges,' 'The General,' 'Gangs of New York') to an Abbot in this year's Academy Award-nominated animated drama 'The Secret of Kells.' Gleeson will add writer-director to his filmography with his upcoming adaptation, 'At Swim-Two-Birds.'
7. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers
Whoever thought King Henry VIII couldn't be sexy has never seen Rhys-Meyers in Showtime's 'The Tudors.' Rhys-Meyers' bedroom eyes and lopsided smirk ooze with sex appeal. He won a Golden Globe for playing Elvis, thrills audiences as the womanizing 16th-century monarch and dazzled critics with his unforgettable roles in 'Velvet Goldmine' and 'Match Point.' Next, the 32-year-old joins his countrymen in Gleeson's 'At Swim-Two-Birds.'
6. Colin Farrell
Like his friend Rhys-Meyers, there's just something about Farrell that's hot, hot, hot. Farrell may be notorious for his partying off screen, but on screen, he's a revelation in films like 'Tigerland,' 'The New World' and, yes, even 'Miami Vice.' He recently surprised critics and audiences alike with his singing chops in an uncredited performance in 'Crazy Heart' opposite Oscar winner Jeff Bridges. Farrell will next star in Gleeson's 'At Swim-Two-Birds' and as Keira Knightley's lover in 'London Boulevard.'
5. Jim Sheridan
Sheridan is a quintessentially Irish director. His work is imbued with the kind of passion, emotion and tempestuousness that his country's people are legendary for displaying. He's made magnificent politically-charged films like 'In the Name of the Father' and 'The Boxer,' and heart-tugging, emotionally driven dramas like 'My Left Foot,' 'In America' and 'Brothers.' Not only is Sheridan a gifted director, he's produced films by Terry George, Paul Greengrass, Angelica Huston and his brother Peter Sheridan.
4. Kenneth Branagh
Although many fans think this classically trained actor-director is English, he's actually from Northern Ireland. The expert Shakespearean ('Hamlet,' 'Othello,' 'Much Ado About Nothing,' 'Love's Labour Lost,' 'Henry V') has been nominated for an Oscar four times, and he's mastered roles ranging from a Nazi general ('Valkyrie') to a conceited wizard ('Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets') to a mad scientist ('Frankenstein'). There's nothing he can't do.
3. Pierce Brosnan
As amazing as Daniel Craig's gritty new James Bond is, there's something to be said about Brosnan's smooth and elegant 007. It's no wonder he's been People's Sexiest Man Alive, considering his scenes with Rene Russo in 'The Thomas Crown Affair' alone make him worthy of the title. Now in theaters as Robert Pattinson's father in 'Remember Me' and a former prime minister in 'The Ghost Writer,' Brosnan is proving one of Hollywood's hardest working; April's 'The Greatest' will mark his fourth release of 2010.
2. Liam Neeson
Neeson has cornered the market on playing impossibly brave, wise and fearless types. It doesn't hurt that he's usually the tallest man in a cast, so he's bound to command attention. Although it's his roles in franchises like 'Star Wars' and 'The Chronicles of Narnia' that have made him a household name (he'll also star in 'The A-Team' and 'Clash of the Titans'), it's his dramatic turns as Oskar Schindler, Alfred Kinsey and Rob Roy (and one day Abe Lincoln!) that make us love him.
1. Peter O'Toole
T.E. Lawrence. Henry II. Lord Jim. Don Quixote. Robinson Crusoe. Sherlock Holmes. O'Toole has played them all, and he's played them all brilliantly, earning eight Academy Award nominations and one Honorary Oscar in the process. He would've topped the list with just 'Lawrence of Arabia,' but the 77-year-old Irishman keeps on working. He's going to play Symeon the Righteous in 'Mary Mother of Christ,' Gallus in a historical drama about 'Katherine of Alexandria' and a Lord in the thriller 'Eager to Die.'