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The Most Famous

ATHLETES from Ireland

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This page contains a list of the greatest Irish Athletes. The pantheon dataset contains 3,059 Athletes, 19 of which were born in Ireland. This makes Ireland the birth place of the 46th most number of Athletes behind Kazakhstan and Argentina.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary Irish Athletes of all time. This list of famous Irish Athletes is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of Irish Athletes.

Photo of John Flanagan

1. John Flanagan (1873 - 1938)

With an HPI of 52.33, John Flanagan is the most famous Irish Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 27 different languages on wikipedia.

John Joseph Flanagan (sometimes spelled Flannigan; January 28, 1868 – June 3, 1938) was an Irish-American three-time Olympic gold medalist in the hammer throw, winning in 1900, 1904, and 1908.

Photo of Pat McDonald

2. Pat McDonald (1878 - 1954)

With an HPI of 47.44, Pat McDonald is the 2nd most famous Irish Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 20 different languages.

Patrick Joseph McDonald (born McDonnell; July 29, 1878 – May 16, 1954) was born in Doonbeg, County Clare, Ireland. He competed as an American track and field athlete in a variety of the throwing events. He was a member of the Irish American Athletic Club and of the New York City Police Department, working as a traffic cop in Times Square for many years. He was part of a group of Irish-American athletes known as the "Irish Whales."

Photo of Matt McGrath

3. Matt McGrath (1875 - 1941)

With an HPI of 47.11, Matt McGrath is the 3rd most famous Irish Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 21 different languages.

Matthew John McGrath (December 28, 1875 – January 29, 1941) was a member of the Irish American Athletic Club, the New York Athletic Club, and the New York City Police Department. At the time of his death at age 64, he attained the rank of Police Inspector, and during his career received the NYPD's Medal of Valor twice. He competed for the U.S. team in the Olympics in 1908, 1912, 1920 and 1924 (at age 47). In his prime, he was known as "one of the world's greatest weight throwers."

Photo of Patrick Ryan

4. Patrick Ryan (1881 - 1964)

With an HPI of 45.47, Patrick Ryan is the 4th most famous Irish Athlete.  Her biography has been translated into 21 different languages.

Patrick James Ryan (20 January 1883 – 13 February 1964) was an Irish American hammer thrower. He competed for the United States at the 1920 Summer Olympics and won a gold medal in the hammer throw and a silver in the 56-pound weight throw. In 1913 he established the first world record in hammer throw, which stood as a world record for 25 years and as an American record for 40 years. Ryan was part of Irish weight throwers known as the Irish Whales.

Photo of Martin Sheridan

5. Martin Sheridan (1881 - 1918)

With an HPI of 44.95, Martin Sheridan is the 5th most famous Irish Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 25 different languages.

Martin John Sheridan (March 28, 1881 – March 27, 1918) was a three time Olympic Games gold medallist. He was born in Bohola, County Mayo, Ireland, and died in St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan, New York, the day before his 37th birthday, a very early casualty of the 1918 flu pandemic. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York. He was part of a group of Irish-American athletes known as the "Irish Whales".

Photo of Tim Ahearne

6. Tim Ahearne (1885 - 1968)

With an HPI of 44.43, Tim Ahearne is the 6th most famous Irish Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 18 different languages.

Timothy Joseph Ahearne (17 August 1885 – 12 December 1968) was an Irish track and field athlete who competed for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in the 1908 Summer Olympics. He was born in Dirreen, Athea, Limerick and was the older brother of Dan Ahearn, the world record holder of the triple jump from 1909–1920. Ahearne won the gold medal in the triple jump at the 1908 Summer Olympics held in London, while representing Great Britain and Ireland (as Ireland was not recognised separately at the time by the International Olympic Committee). He finished eight in the long jump competition and also participated in the standing long jump event but his result is unknown. In the 110 metre hurdles competition he was eliminated in the semi-finals. After his Olympic victory in 1908, Ahearne emigrated to New York in 1909, and joined the Irish American Athletic Club. He also competed for time for the rival New York Athletic Club.

Photo of Patrick Leahy

7. Patrick Leahy (1877 - 1926)

With an HPI of 42.20, Patrick Leahy is the 7th most famous Irish Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 18 different languages.

Patrick Joseph Leahy (20 May 1877 – 29 December 1927) was an Irish athlete who won Olympic medals (for Great Britain and Ireland) in the high jump and long jump at the 1900 Summer Olympics.Leahy was born in Creggane, in the Civil parish of Hackmys, in the barony of Coshma near Kilmallock in County Limerick, near the border between County Limerick and County Cork. He was one of seven brothers all of whom were sportsmen. His brother Con won medals in jumping at two Olympic Games. Another brother, Timothy, also jumped competitively. Patrick broke the British high jump record in Dublin in 1898 with a jump of 6 ft. 4in. (1.93m), he went on to win the British AAA high jump title in 1898 and 1899, and also came third in the long jump in 1899. Leahy also competed internationally in the long jump and the hop, step and jump (triple jump).In the 1900 Olympic Games in Paris, Leahy took part in three jump disciplines. He won the silver medal in the high jump behind Irving Baxter of the United States, and the bronze medal in the long jump behind Alvin Kraenzlein and Myer Prinstein, he also finished fourth place in the triple jumps behind Prinstein, James Connolly and Lewis Sheldon.Eight years later, Leahy was back on the Olympic scene when he competed at the 1908 Summer Olympics, held in London, he entered the high jump again, but unfortunately he only finished ninth in the qualifying so didn't advance to the final, unlike his brother Con Leahy who went on to win the silver medal.In 1909 Patrick and Con Leahy emigrated to the United States. Patrick died in Chicago in 1927, aged 50.

Photo of Tom Kiely

8. Tom Kiely (1869 - 1951)

With an HPI of 40.86, Tom Kiely is the 8th most famous Irish Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 18 different languages.

Thomas Francis Kiely (25 August 1869 – 6 November 1951) was an Irish athlete. Kiely won gold in the all-round at the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri, making him the first multi-event track and field champion of the Modern Olympic Games

Photo of Edward Barrett

9. Edward Barrett (1877 - 1932)

With an HPI of 40.77, Edward Barrett is the 9th most famous Irish Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 15 different languages.

Edward Edmond Barrett (3 November 1877 – 19 March 1932) was a track and field athlete, wrestler and hurler. He was born in Rahela, Ballyduff, County Kerry, Ireland.Barrett played hurling with the local Ballyduff team. He emigrated to London, joined a local hurling club and was selected for the London GAA team. He was a corner-forward on the London team which won the 1901 All-Ireland Championship, beating Cork GAA 1–5 to 0–4 in the final. It remains London's only senior All-Ireland hurling Championship title. Barrett also appeared for London in the final of the following year, but this time Cork gained revenge, thrashing London 3–13 to 0–0.He won a gold medal as part of the City of London Police tug-of-war team in the 1908 Olympic Games in London. He also won a bronze medal in the heavyweight division of the freestyle wrestling competition.Barrett also competed in the shot, javelin and discus competitions in the 1908 athletics programme, but wrestling was his premier sport. He was British heavyweight freestyle champion in 1909 and 1911. Barrett also competed in Greco-Roman wrestling in both 1908 and the Stockholm Olympics of 1912. He was defeated in the first round on both occasions.

Photo of Pat O'Callaghan

10. Pat O'Callaghan (1906 - 1991)

With an HPI of 38.62, Pat O'Callaghan is the 10th most famous Irish Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 22 different languages.

Patrick "Pat" O'Callaghan (28 January 1906 – 1 December 1991) was an Irish athlete and Olympic gold medallist. He was the first athlete from Ireland to win an Olympic medal under the Irish flag rather than the British flag. In sport, he then became regarded as one of Ireland's greatest-ever athletes.

Pantheon has 19 people classified as athletes born between 1869 and 1996. Of these 19, 8 (42.11%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living athletes include Ron Delany, Sonia O'Sullivan, and Eamonn Coghlan. The most famous deceased athletes include John Flanagan, Pat McDonald, and Matt McGrath. As of April 2022, 2 new athletes have been added to Pantheon including Paul O'Donovan and Fintan McCarthy.

Living Athletes

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Deceased Athletes

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Newly Added Athletes (2022)

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Which Athletes were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 10 most globally memorable Athletes since 1700.