11 Famous Americans with Irish Roots

March is Irish-American Heritage Month, and here at MyHeritage, we are celebrating by offering free access to Irish records from March 5–22, as well as a dedicated Irish heritage landing page.

Our research team also dove into our historical record collections in search of information about the Irish roots of 11 U.S. celebrities. Here’s what we found:

1. Anna Kendrick

Anna Kendrick is an actress and singer famous for her starring role in Pitch Perfect and her supporting roles in Up in the Air and The Twilight Saga. Born in Maine, Anna began her career as a child, and when she was just 12, she scored a Theater World Award and a nomination for the Tony Awards and Drama Desk Awards for her role in the 1998 Broadway production High Society.

Anna’s paternal grandfather, Ronald Cooke, is listed in the 1920 U.S. census. Ronald was 3 at the time, and his sisters, Charlotte (5) and Dorothy (1) are listed as well as his parents — Anna’s great-grandparents, Harry (35) and Emma (30).

Emma appears in the 1900 census with her family. She was born Mary Emma McCoy in Arlington, Massachusetts, to Irish-born parents: John McCoy and Elizabeth A. Lawthers. John and Elizabeth immigrated to the United States in 1886.

2. Ryan Reynolds

Ryan Reynolds has also starred in numerous films and shows, but is best known for his role as the superhero Deadpool. Born in Vancouver, Canada, he became a U.S. citizen in 2018 — but he is not the first in his family to live in the U.S.

Ryan’s paternal great-grandparents are listed in the 1900 U.S. census as living in Chicago, Illinois. His great-grandfather William was born in Canada to a father who was born in Ireland, and his great-grandmother Elizabeth was born in Louisiana, also to Irish-born parents. William’s career is listed as stone mason. They appear in the census with 3 of their sons, not including Ryan’s grandfather, who was born in 1902.

3. Saoirse Ronan

Saoirse Ronan is a Golden-Globe-award-winning actress, noted for her roles in Atonement, Lady Bird, and most recently in the starring role as Jo March in the 2019 production of Little Women. Saoirse was born in the Bronx, New York, to Irish-born parents from Dublin.

We found Saoirse’s paternal great-great-grandparents, Joseph and Sarah Carson, in the 1901 Ireland census along with their 4 sons and 1 daughter, including Saoirse’s great-grandfather Joseph. Joseph Senior was a tailor and Sarah was a winder linen. They lived on Leoville Street, Falls, Antrim, Ireland, and all the children were born in Belfast.

In the 1911 census, just 10 years later, the family had grown to welcome 5 more daughters and had moved to Cupar Street. This time, Joseph Junior — Saoirse’s great-grandfather, who was 15 at the time — is listed as having a profession: an apprentice book binder.

4. Robert De Niro

Robert De Niro is one of the most acclaimed actors in Hollywood, known for his roles in The Godfather II, Taxi Driver, New York, New York, and many, many others. He has won numerous awards, including 2 Oscars. He was born in Manhattan, New York City.

We found Robert’s maternal great-great-grandparents, Edward and Margaret O’Reilly, in the 1870 U.S. census along with their 3 daughters. Both Edward and Margaret were born in Ireland.

Robert has Irish roots on his father’s side, too: his paternal great-great-grandparents, John and Mary Burns, were both born in Ireland. We found them in the 1880 U.S. census along with their daughter, Mary — Robert’s great-grandmother.

5. Meryl Streep

Another beloved Hollywood veteran beloved for her remarkable versatility, Meryl Streep holds the record for the highest number of Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations. She won Academy Awards for her roles in Kramer vs. Kramer, Sophie’s Choice, and The Iron Lady. She also won 8 Golden Globes and 2 Emmy Awards. Meryl was born in New Jersey and holds an MFA from Yale.

Meryl’s maternal great-great-grandparents, Manus and Grace McFadden, were born in Dufanaghy County, Ireland, and married before immigrating to the U.S. We found them in the 1870 and 1880 U.S. censuses with 4 children (not including Meryl’s great-grandmother, who was an adult and probably living somewhere else). The family lived in Pennsylvania.

6. George Clooney

George Clooney is also a Hollywood veteran, with 3 Golden Globes and 2 Oscars under his belt. His most successful film was Ocean’s Eleven, which went on to become a trilogy. He also starred in Syriana, Argo, and The Ides of March, and in 2009, was included in Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world. George was born in Kentucky.

George’s paternal great-great-grandfather, Nicholas Clooney, was born in Windgap, Ireland in 1829, and his great-great-grandmother, Bridget Byron, was born in Limerick, Ireland in 1835. The pair was married on May 24, 1862, in Mason, Kentucky. Our team found their marriage record:

We also found them in the 1880 census with their 7 children, all born in Kentucky. Nicholas is listed as a laborer.

7. John Travolta

John Travolta rose to fame as an actor, singer, and dancer in the successful films Saturday Night Fever and Grease. After a lull in his career, he rose again in prominence for his role in Pulp Fiction, and went on to star in many more movies. He was nominated for 2 Academy Awards and won a Golden Globe for his role in Get Shorty. John was born in New Jersey, the youngest of 6 children.

John’s maternal great-great-grandfather, Richard Burke, was born in Limerick, Ireland in 1818 and immigrated to the U.S. in July of 1848. His second wife, Mary Clancy Burke, was also born in Ireland. The pair appear in the 1850 U.S. census as living in Great Barrington, Berkshire, Massachusetts, with 2 sons, including John’s great-grandfather James. Richard is listed as a farmer in the census.

8. Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey is one of America’s most beloved singers, celebrated for her 5-octave vocal range, vocal runs, and signature use of the whistle register — the highest register of the human voice. One of the best-selling artists of all time, she is the only artist to have their first 5 singles top the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart. Mariah was born on Long Island, New York.

We found this photo of Mariah’s great-great-grandparents, John Edward Hickey and Ellen Cantrell. Both were born in Thurles, County Tipperary, Ireland.

Photo of Mariah Carey’s Irish great-great-grandparents, John and Ellen Hickey

Photo of Mariah Carey’s Irish great-great-grandparents, John and Ellen Hickey

John and Ellen were listed in the 1870 U.S. census along with 4 of their children, including Mariah’s great-grandfather John, who were all born in Illinois. John was a farmer.

Mariah’s maternal great-great-grandfather, James Blanchfield, was born to Irish parents in Illinois in 1854. He married Mary Ryan Blanchfield, who was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1864. The pair are listed in the 1910 U.S. census as living in Sangamon, Illinois with 3 of their 5 children. James worked in the railroad industry.

9. Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift is an accomplished American singer-songwriter. Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, Taylor was the youngest artist to be signed by Sony/ATV Music publishing house at age 14, and signed her first record deal at age 15. She is one of the world’s best-selling music artists, has won numerous awards, and set 6 Guinness World Records.

Taylor’s 3rd-great-grandparents, Francis and Susan Gwynn, were both born in Ireland and married on November 12, 1839. They appear in the 1860 U.S. census, listed as living in Philadelphia with 5 children, including Taylor’s great-great-grandmother, Mary. Francis was a soap boiler, and the value of their personal estate is listed as $4000 — about $124,000 in today’s currency.

In the 1880 census, Francis and Susan appear with 2 of their children, including Taylor’s great-great-grandmother Mary, who was 24 years old at the time.

10. Jack Nicholson

Jack Nicholson’s acting career has spanned more than 60 years and has included an incredible range of roles, from comedy to romance to horror. He is best known for his roles in films such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Shining, and Something’s Gotta Give. He has been nominated for the Academy Award 12 times, more than any other male actor in history, and is one of only 3 male actors to win 3 Oscars. He was born in New Jersey.

Jack’s maternal great-grandmother, Ella Nicholson (born Lynch), was born in 1867 in Cork, Ireland. She immigrated to the United States in 1880. In the 1910 U.S. census, she’s listed as a widow living in Neptune, Monmouth, New Jersey, with her only son: John, Jack’s grandfather. Ella was a homeowner and a “laundress” by profession, though the record states she had been out of work for the past 5 months.

Ella also appears in the 1930 census. The record lists the value of the home she owned as $2500, which is worth about $39,000 in today’s dollars.

11. Ben Stiller

Ben Stiller is celebrated for his roles in films such as Zoolander, Meet the Parents and There’s Something About Mary. Born in New York, he was the son of two veteran actors and comedians. His father is Jewish and his mother came from an Irish Catholic background.

His maternal great-grandparents, James and Annie Meara, appear in the 1910 U.S. census. They were living in Brooklyn, New York, with their two children, including Ben’s grandfather, Edward J, and a nephew. James was born in County Tipperary, Ireland, and immigrated to the United States in 1881. His wife Annie immigrated from Ireland in 1882. The record states that James was a city patrolman. The couple had 7 children, but only 2 were living in 1910: they lost a son at 2 months of age in 1890, and another at age 16 in 1907.

Annie died 4 years after this census was taken. James died at age 70 in 1928 as a retired police officer from accidental illuminating gas poisoning in his home.

Ben’s maternal great-great-grandfather Cornelius Dempsey was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1827. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1851 at 24 years of age, arriving on October 13 on a ship named Western World.

He married a woman named Ellen, who was also born in Ireland. In the 1860 U.S. census, the couple is listed as living in Brooklyn with their 4-month-old daughter, Mary. Cornelius was a carpenter by trade. His personal estate value is listed as $300, or around $9000 in today’s U.S. dollars.

In the 1880 census, Cornelius is listed as a widower. His wife, Ellen, died in 1870, but not before having 3 more children, including Ben’s great-grandfather John. The record states that John, aged 16, worked as a clerk in a store.

The Irish people have had a profound impact on American society and the world at large. Through the above examples, we can see that some of the most famous and influential figures in the United States have Irish roots. This Irish-American Heritage month, we celebrate them and their ancestors.


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  • Adan

    March 22, 2020

    Hi im just wandering Who Is in my family tree like my great great grand father.