Ireland's Greatest was a 2010 public poll by Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) and associated television documentary series broadcast on RTÉ One, where viewers voted to choose the greatest person in the history of Ireland.[1] The concept was based on the BBC series 100 Greatest Britons.[2] The winner was John Hume.[3]

1. John Hume was leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, recipient of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize and key figure in the Northern Ireland peace process.
2. Michael Collins was a leading political and military figure in the fight for Irish independence.
3. Mary Robinson was the first female President of Ireland and also United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Global Elder.
4. James Connolly was a socialist leader, founder of the Labour Party and leader in the Easter Rising.
5. Bono is the lead singer in rock band U2.
Ireland's Greatest Woman: Nano Nagle founded the Presentation Sisters.
Ireland's Greatest Sportsperson: Pádraig Harrington has won three golf majors.
Ireland's Greatest Scientist: Robert Boyle founded modern chemistry and discovered Boyle's Law.



To draw up an initial shortlist of 40 names, RTÉ commissioned an opinion poll of 1,000 members of the public,[4] carried out by Ipsos MRBI in late 2009.[1][5] The shortlist was published on 22 March 2010 on the RTÉ.ie website,[6] and readers could vote for their preferred person for 12 days, ending on 2 April;[1] one vote per IP address was permitted.[4] The top ten was announced on The Tubridy Show with Myles Dungan on 5 April 2010.[7] The top five was established at this point,[4] but not publicised until RTÉ's programming schedule for autumn 2010 was unveiled in August.[8] Each of the top five was profiled in a one-hour documentary programme broadcast in autumn 2010 and presented by a public figure advocating that person's claim to the title of "greatest person". Viewers voted for the overall winner, announced on The Late Late Show on 22 October 2010.[3][7]



Top five


The ranking of the top five, and the advocates who each present a one-hour documentary about one of them, were as follows:[3][9]

Place Nominee Presenter
1 John Hume Miriam O'Callaghan
2 Michael Collins Michael McDowell
3 Mary Robinson David McWilliams
4 James Connolly Joe Duffy
5 Bono Dave Fanning

Top 40


The following people were shortlisted:[1][3][7][8]

Rank Name Born Died Field(s)
1 John Hume 1937 2020 Politics
2 Michael Collins 1890 1922 Politics
3 Mary Robinson 1944 Politics
4 James Connolly 1868 1916 Politics
5 Bono 1960 Music, charity
6–10 Noël Browne 1915 1997 Politics
6–10 Stephen Gately 1976 2009 Music
6–10 Phil Lynott 1951 1986 Music
6–10 Pádraig Pearse 1879 1916 Politics
6–10 Adi Roche 1955 Charity
11–40 Éamon de Valera 1882 1975 Politics
11–40 Joe Dolan 1939 2007 Music
11–40 Ronnie Drew 1934 2008 Music
11–40 Colin Farrell 1976 Acting
11–40 Garret FitzGerald 1926 2011 Politics
11–40 Bob Geldof 1951 Charity, music
11–40 Pádraig Harrington 1971 Sport
11–40 Charles Haughey 1925 2006 Politics
11–40 Séamus Heaney 1939 2013 Literature
11–40 James Joyce 1882 1941 Literature
11–40 John B. Keane 1928 2002 Literature
11–40 Roy Keane 1971 Sport
11–40 Ronan Keating 1977 Music
11–40 Seán Lemass 1899 1971 Politics
11–40 Jack Lynch 1917 1999 Politics, sport
11–40 Paul McGrath 1959 Sport
11–40 Christy Moore 1945 Music
11–40 Liam Neeson 1952 Acting
11–40 Daniel O'Connell 1775 1847 Politics
11–40 Daniel O'Donnell 1961 Music
11–40 Brian O'Driscoll 1979 Sport
11–40 Michael O'Leary 1961 Business
11–40 John O'Shea 1944 Charity
11–40 Sonia O'Sullivan 1969 Sport
11–40 Charles Stewart Parnell 1846 1891 Politics
11–40 Christy Ring 1920 1979 Sport
11–40 Theobald Wolfe Tone 1763 1798 Politics
11–40 Louis Walsh 1952 Music manager
11–40 Oscar Wilde 1854 1900 Literature
11–40 William Butler Yeats 1865 1939 Literature



The list of nominees for Ireland's Greatest was criticised by historians Diarmuid Ferriter,[10] Tim Pat Coogan, and Maurice Manning,[5] and Irish Times columnist Noel Whelan.[11] They said that the list was skewed towards recent times, and that many nominees were celebrities from popular culture or sport rather than people who had made a lasting contribution to society; Ferriter said "It is going to be very hard to take this seriously for historians".[10][11] Ryan Tubridy, who presents The Late Late Show, commented, "There are some really silly names in there. It's contentious to say the least".[4] Liam Dolan in the Sunday Independent called it "a shambolic litany of well-intentioned do-gooders and talented non-entities".[12] People whose inclusion attracted criticism included Stephen Gately, Louis Walsh and Daniel O'Donnell.[2] The Belfast Telegraph noted the absence of Van Morrison and George Best;[2] other absentees noted were Michael Davitt, John McCormack,[5] William Rowan Hamilton, Lady Gregory, and Samuel Beckett.[12] Ken Sweeney in the Irish Independent criticised the ranking of Stephen Gately ahead of Éamon de Valera.[4] The dearth of women —3 out of 40— was also noted.[2][4][7] Website responded to the lack of scientists on the RTÉ shortlist by organising its own poll for Ireland's greatest scientist, won by Robert Boyle.[13]

Ireland's Greatest Women


In 2005, Marian Finucane's radio show organised a similar poll to find Ireland's greatest woman. There were some claims of ballot-stuffing.[10] The top ten were:[14]

  1. Nano Nagle, (1718-1784) founder of the Presentation Sisters
  2. Mary Robinson, (1944-) President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
  3. Michelle Smith, (1969-) winner of three gold medals and a bronze medal in swimming at the 1996 Summer Olympics
  4. Saint Brigid, (451–525) 4th/5th century abbess and one of Ireland's patron saints (many modern historians believe Brigid to be fictional)
  5. Grace O'Malley, (c.1530–c.1603) Galway pirate
  6. Christina Noble, (1944-) founder of the Christina Noble Children's Foundation
  7. Edel Quinn, (1907-1944) Catholic missionary
  8. Sophia McColgan, child abuse survivor
  9. Kathleen Lynn, (1874-1955) suffragette, Sinn Féin TD and Easter Rising participant
  10. Nora Herlihy, (1910–1988) co-founder of the Irish League of Credit Unions[15]

Ireland's Greatest Sportsperson


In September 2009, RTÉ ran an online poll in sponsored by Paddy Power to nominate Ireland's greatest sportsperson.[16] A shortlist of 32 names was selected by a panel of experts.[17] The top ten was announced on 31 December 2009:[18]

  1. Pádraig Harrington (1971-) (golf)
  2. Brian O'Driscoll (1979-) (rugby union)
  3. Joey Dunlop (1952-2000) (motorcycling)
  4. George Best (1946-2005) (soccer)
  5. Roy Keane (1971-) (soccer)
  6. Sean Kelly (1956-) (cycling)
  7. Sonia O'Sullivan (1969-) (athletics)
  8. Christy Ring (1920-1979) (hurling and Gaelic football)
  9. Vincent O'Brien (1917-2009) (horse racing)
  10. Paul McGrath (1959-) (soccer)

The other 22 were:[17] D. J. Carey, Eamonn Coghlan, Ronnie Delany, Ken Doherty, Mike Gibson, Johnny Giles, Kevin Heffernan, Alex Higgins, Jack Kyle, Eddie Macken, Tony McCoy, Barry McGuigan, Aidan O'Brien, Mick O'Connell, Christy O'Connor Snr, Mick O'Dwyer, Jack O'Shea, Mary Peters, Stephen Roche, Henry Shefflin, Michelle Smith, and John Treacy.

Ireland's Greatest Scientist


In 2010, the website selected its Top 10 Irish scientists, in response to the exclusion of scientists from the RTÉ longlist.

  1. Robert Boyle, (1627-1691) founder of modern chemistry and discover of Boyle's law
  2. William Rowan Hamilton, (1805-1865) mathematician who developed Hamiltonian mechanics and discovered quaternions
  3. Ernest Walton, (1903-1995) physicist who "split the atom"; at the time of broadcast, the only Irish Nobel laureate in a science (Physics, 1951)
  4. Kathleen Lonsdale, (1903-1971) X-ray crystallographer who discovered the molecular structure of benzene and diamonds
  5. Dorothy Price, (1890-1954) introduced the BCG tuberculosis vaccine to Ireland
  6. John Tyndall, (1820-1893) physicist who studied radiant energy in air
  7. Harry Ferguson, (1884-1960) inventor of the modern tractor
  8. George Gabriel Stokes, (1819-1903) physicist who worked in fluid dynamics, optics and mathematical physics; also discovered Stokes' theorem
  9. Fr Nicholas Callan, (1799-1864) who invented the modern induction coil
  10. Charles Algernon Parsons, (1854-1931) inventor of the steam turbine
  11. William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin, (1824-1907) who formulated the first and second Laws of Thermodynamics

Other editions


Other countries have produced similar shows; see Greatest Britons spin-offs


  1. ^ a b c d "RTÉ launches Ireland's Greatest Figures". RTÉ. 22 March 2010. Archived from the original on 29 July 2010. Retrieved 6 August 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d "Ireland's 'greatest' list misses out on the Best". The Belfast Telegraph. 22 March 2010. Archived from the original on 15 October 2012. Retrieved 16 April 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d "Hume wins 'Ireland's greatest' award". The Irish Times. 23 October 2010. Archived from the original on 25 February 2015. Retrieved 24 October 2010.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Ken Sweeney (6 April 2010). "Dev out but Gately joins the top 10 Irish greats". Irish Independent. Archived from the original on 9 April 2010. Retrieved 16 April 2010.
  5. ^ a b c Murray, Ken (7 August 2010). "Historians unimpressed by RTÉ 'greatest' shortlist". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 7 August 2010.
  6. ^ "Irelands Greatest". RTÉ.ie. Archived from the original on 17 September 2010. Retrieved 6 August 2010.
  7. ^ a b c d "Ireland's Greatest Final Top 10 is Announced" (Press release). RTÉ.ie. 5 April 2010. Archived from the original on 14 August 2010. Retrieved 6 August 2010.
  8. ^ a b McGreevy, Ronan (5 August 2010). "RTÉ unveils autumn schedule". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 6 August 2010.
  9. ^ "The new season 2010/2011" (PDF). RTÉ. August 2010. p. 4. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 September 2010. Retrieved 8 August 2010.
  10. ^ a b c Bray, Jennifer (4 April 2010). "Ferriter slams RTÉ over 'Ireland's Greatest' top 10". Sunday Tribune. Archived from the original on 11 April 2010. Retrieved 6 August 2010.
  11. ^ a b Whelan, Noel (1 May 2010). "Fictional Keano has a point about 'Ireland's Greatest'". The Irish Times. Archived from the original on 26 October 2010. Retrieved 6 August 2010.
  12. ^ a b Collins, Liam (11 April 2010). "Rockers 'n' rebels – is this the best we can do?". Sunday Independent. Retrieved 10 August 2010.
  13. ^ "Robert Boyle – Greatest Irish Scientist poll". 12 April 2010. Archived from the original on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 12 August 2010.
  14. ^ Ring, Evelyn. "Nano Nagle voted Ireland's greatest woman" Archived 27 October 2005 at the Wayback Machine. Irish Examiner. 25 June 2005.
  15. ^ "Fifty Years Serving Communities in Ireland 1958 – 2008". Irish League of Credit Unions. Archived from the original on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 12 August 2010.
  16. ^ "Sport today on RTÉ.ie". RTÉ.ie. 25 September 2009. Archived from the original on 11 January 2010. Retrieved 10 August 2010. Voting closes Sunday on our poll to find your choice as Ireland's Greatest Sportsperson
  17. ^ a b "The Greatest Irish Sportsperson Ever!". RTÉ.ie. Archived from the original on 31 December 2009. Retrieved 10 August 2010.
  18. ^ "Kelly makes top ten of Irish sporting greats". Waterford News & Star. 13 January 2010. Retrieved 10 August 2010.[permanent dead link]