Ireland’s greatest nights at the Oscars

While Saoirse Ronan is our best hope at the Academy Awards on Sunday, Esther McCarthy looks back at magic Irish moments of previous events

Ireland’s greatest nights at the Oscars

While Saoirse Ronan is our best hope at the Academy Awards on Sunday, Esther McCarthy looks back at magic Irish moments of previous events

Barry Fitzgerald (1944)

Fitzgerald boasts the unusual accolade of being nominated for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for Going My Way. He won in the latter category and the rules were adjusted the following year.

The star of The Quiet Man started his career in the Abbey Theatre, where his knack for comic timing lead to further offers of work.

Playwright Sean O’Casey called him: “One of the greatest comedians who ever went on stage.” During the war years, Oscars were made of plaster, and Fitzgerald decapitated his while practising his golf swing.

Cedric Gibbons (multiple wins)

The Irish have such a long history of Oscars success that the Academy Award was even designed by an Irishman. Dublin-born art designer Cedric Gibbons.

Born in 1893, he moved to New York with his parents at the turn of the century and initially followed his father into architecture before discovering the movies were his real passion.

By his mid-twenties, he was art director for MGM in the powerful studio’s heyday, bringing the visuals of the golden age to the big screen and influenced heavily by art deco. He won an incredible thirty nine nominations and 11 wins for such classics as The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Julius Caesar, An American in Paris and Little Women. In 1928, he designed the Oscar statuette.

Once (2008)

“Even when the whole world was watching, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová sang as if they were the only two people in the room,” wrote Rolling Stone of one of the most intimate performances we’ve ever seen at the Academy Awards.

Introduced by Colin Farrell as “the little film that could”, ‘Falling Slowly’ went on to win Best Original Song, to the astonishment of the two. “This is mad,” said Hansard when they took to the stage for the low-budget romance Once written and directed by John Carney.

“We shot this on two handycams in three weeks for 100 grand. We never thought we would be up here tonight”.

As Irglová went to speak, the orchestra drowned her out. In an unprecedented move, Jon Stewart brought her back on stage following the ad break.

“This is such a big deal, not just for us but for all independent musicians,” she said.

My Left Foot (1990)

Jim Sheridan’s moving and funny tale of Christy Brown was up for five nominations and came home with two: Daniel Day-Lewis for Best Actor and Brenda Fricker for Best Supporting Actress for playing his indefatigable mother.

It was a huge landmark in Irish cinema and a turning point for Day-Lewis, who would go on to win two more Oscars, for Lincoln and There Will be Blood.

Daniel Day-Lewis won Best Actor and Brenda Fricker was awarded Best Supporting Actress for their roles in My Left Foot
Daniel Day-Lewis won Best Actor and Brenda Fricker was awarded Best Supporting Actress for their roles in My Left Foot

In her acceptance speech, Fricker showed characteristic wit when she thanked Christy’s mother, adding: “Anyone who gives birth 22 times deserves one of these, I think”.

She became the first Irish actress to win an Oscar.

Michele Burke (1981 and 1992)

A true trailblazer, make-up artist Michele Burke grew up next to the cinema in Kildare town and was a huge film fan before she started working in the US.

After doing a course, she studied make-up artistry, taking on jobs to hone her craft. One of these, Quest for Fire (1981), saw her pick up the statuette (she also won for Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992).

“I got a call to do this film about neanderthals in Africa. I said yes but what I didn’t realise was that they had called every other make-up artist in Montreal before me. I just said: ‘Great, I’m off.’ And then it won me an Oscar,” she said of the win.

She was so convinced she wouldn’t win that she took a job in Alaska, later collecting it with her sister from a local customs centre. The officer presented her with it, to cheers from onlookers.

George Bernard Shaw (1939)

Irish pride was high when one of our most-loved writers won for Pygmalion. It made him the only person ever to win both an Oscar and a Nobel Prize.

He did not attend the ceremony and while for years it was rumoured he never received the Oscar, actress Mary Pickford was reported as saying she saw it in his home. The play would go on to be adapted again, as the classic movie My Fair Lady.

Josie MacAvin (1986)

It was third time lucky for the Dubliner when the set designer made Oscars history, winning on her third nomination for her work on Out of Africa.

Almost a decade later, she won an Emmy for her work on the TV series Scarlet, making her the only Irish person to win both awards. The late MacAvin worked as a stage manager in Dublin’s Gate Theatre, and forged her film career with a job on the James Cagney film, Shake Hands With The Devil.

Neil Jordan (1993)

Original Screenplay is one of the most revered accolades in cinema, and when Neil Jordan won for The Crying Game, it helped propel a hugely productive four years that included films like Interview with the Vampire, Michael Collins and The Butcher Boy.

“It was a difficult script to write,” he said in his acceptance speech. “People said to me it was about characters that were unappealing. But I think the way audiences have responded to this film told me that audiences have it in their hearts to embrace any range of points of view.”

Maureen O’Hara (honorary, 2014)

Having blazed a trail for the Irish with an iconic career playing feisty, smart women, it was a joy to see O’Hara honoured by the Academy just a year before her death.

Ireland’s biggest star in the golden age of Hollywood, with a career that spanned over half a century, worked with John Ford, John Wayne and Alfred Hitchcock.

She starred in several classics including The Quiet Man, Miracle on 34th Street, How Green Was My Valley and The Parent Trap, and was nicknamed The Queen of Technicolor.

Element Pictures

The Irish production company have been keeping the Academy busy in recent years with nominations for Lenny Abrahamson’s Room (Brie Larson went home with Best Actress), and Yorgos Lantimos’ The Favourite (Olivia Colman was a Best Actress winner) and The Lobster.

Caoimhe and Andrew Lowe of Element Pictures.
Caoimhe and Andrew Lowe of Element Pictures.

The company’s first big hit was Brendan Gleeson-starring comedy The Guard a decade ago.

- The Academy Awards are Sunday. Highlights on RTÉ2 on Monday

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