Greatest Ulster man/woman?

I note that the call for the greatest Irishman has been dominated with 1 the dead, in decided preference to the living, and 2 figures from the south, with the odd crossover like Terry Whittaker. There is nothing wrong with that, but to concentrate minds I’m calling for nominations specific to Northern Ireland. Again, one each: living and all time. We’ll judge on Friday whether we run two competitions or one.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • Henry94

    Ulster or Northern Ireland?

    Rory Gallagher was born in Donegal. Is he included?

  • Mickhall

    1/ James Connolly, Lived and worked in Belfast [does he count?]

    2/ Van Morrison

  • Why ‘Ulster’?

    How about Shay Given?

  • slug

    Lord Kelvin (William Thompson). Inventor of the Kelvin scale of temperature.

  • Keith M

    As a matter of interest when a group of 20 people got together to compile their Top 20 Irish people of the 20th Century in 2000 only one Ulster peson made the list (John Hume), although Carson made the list he’s a Dubliner.

    My nominations;

    Living : Pat Jennings
    RIP : James Craig

  • Katinka

    There are medical and scientific Ulstermen who have had world-wide reputations, but I would nominate one who has been responsible for saving countless lives everywhere – Frank Pantridge, inventor of the portable heart defibrillator(who is probably up above saying what he thinks about his name being mentioned in this type of competition!) A living person is more difficult but I would go for Seamus Heaney.

  • Fraggle

    Daniel O’Donnell

  • Living: as an Armagh man it pains me to say it but it has to be Peter the great

    Dead: George Best

    BTW Mick I am presnting these nominations as Ulster men not 6 county men 😉

  • If a Canadian born of Irish parents can contribute, I suggest that you add John Bell of Queen’s University to your list of deceased greats. He made major contributions to quantum theory and added to the lustre of Irish education. I am too far removed from Ireland to comment on living candidates.

  • Biffo

    1. Cú Chulainn
    2. Massey Ferguson

  • Ulsterman

    Tommy Bowe

  • Clones Cyclone

    Barry McGuigan

  • Chris,

    You present them anyway you like. It’s good to hear a bit about why people have made their choices. Hearing a bit of biog and what’s been particular about their contributions is great!

    It may help people focus on the achievements of lesser known candidates, and give them a decent chance against the Icons!

  • Peter Canavan – Living – (6 All Star Awards makes him the third greatest player in history in Ireland and the best Ulster player of all time)

    Dead – Bobby Sands

  • esmereldavillalobos

    Living: Heaney

    All Time: John Dunlop (born in Scotland but lived in NI when pneumatic tyre was invented – does he count?)

  • 9countyprovence

    Living: John Hume

    Dead: General Philip Henery Sheridan

  • dont diss the agreement

    Living: Peter Canavan
    Dead: George Best

  • Out-there

    Living: Ian Paisley
    Dead: Bobby Sands

  • Mags

    Ian Paisley is the best Ulsterman alive/
    George Best is the best deceased

  • Liam

    Living: Brian Friel, Jocelyn Bell (should have a Nobel prize), Seamus Heaney, Peter Canavan

    Dead: Harry Ferguson, John Boyd Dunlop, Patrick Kavanagh, Danny Blanchflower, George Best

  • Dead:
    Robert Ross

    Living: David Healy 🙂

  • Deceased: George Best

    Living: Dana 😉

  • Dead – Paddy Mayne

    Living – Mary Peters/Pat Jennings

  • Deceased: 1. CS Lewis 2. John Hewitt
    Living: Pat Jennings

  • cheddar fondue

    louis macniece / joey dunlop / cs lewis

    alex higgins / robert mcliam wilson / colin bateman

  • shalamar

    Famous Seamus Heaney (OK so its different from my Irishman nomination a few minutes ago, but a boy can change his mind)

    and Louis McNeice

  • CS Parnell

    Living: Has to be Hume – how many are alive today only because of him.

    Dead: It’s tough…Best? Macneice?

  • Brian Boru

    Hugh O’Neill and Henry Joy McCracken.

  • Brian Boru

    Oops one has to be living.

    In that case:

    John Hume
    Hugh O’Neill

  • Brian Boru

    Hugh deserves particular praise (from a Nationalist viewpoint) for almost driving the English army out of Ireland. The Spanish had sent a few hundred troops to Cork (they had been asked to land in the North but the request may have arrived too late) and then Elizabeth send Lord Mountjoy to beat them but then Hugh broke through the English ring around Ulster and marched all the way down to outside Kinsale and Mountjoy was sandwiched in between the two armies. Hugh might have won if his army had agreed to starve the English out, which was his wish, but Hugh O’Donnell and the rest said no and in that context the English won the battle easily, ending the Nine Years War.

  • DK


    Does that mean that we would have had a Spanish occupation instead of a British one?

  • bootman

    dead: Bobby Sands
    living: Peter Canavan

  • BogExile

    Living: Jim Platt (always liked Pat’s understudy more)

    Dead: James Molyneaux (Just kidding. I think). James Hewitt. The inventor of Tayto Cheese and Onion.

  • “James Hewitt. The inventor of Tayto Cheese and Onion.”


  • bigwhitedove

    Can you give us more detail on the Tayto guy please?

  • martin


    DK—there would have been no spanish occupation or indeed any occupation had Eoghan’s uncle Hugh won at Kinsale.

    ‘Did they dare,did they dare,to slay Eoghan Roe O’Neill ?
    ‘Yes they slew with poison him they feared to meet with steel.’
    ‘May God wither up their hearts! May their blood cease to flow!
    May they walk in living death, who poisoned Eoghan Roe!

    ‘Though it break my heart to hear,say again the bitter words.’
    ‘From Derry,against Cromwell, he marched to neasure swords;
    But the weapon of the Saxon met him on his way,
    And he died at Cloch Uachtar,upon Saint Leonard’s day.

    Sagest in the council was he, kindest in the hall;
    Sure we never won a battle–’twas Eoghan won them all.
    Had he lived–had he lived–our dear country had been free;
    But he’s dead, but he’s dead, and ’tis slaves we’ll ever be.

    ‘O’Farrell and Clanricarde,Preston and Red Hugh,
    Audley and Mac Mahon—ye are valient wise and true;
    But–what, what are ye all to our leader who is gone?
    The Rudder of our ship was he , our castle’s corner stone!

    ‘We thought you would not die—we were sure you would not go,
    And leave us in our utmost need to Cromwell’s cruel blow–

    Sheep without a shepherd, when the snow shuts out the sky-
    Why did you leave us Eoghan ? Why did you die??

  • DK


    Because the Spanish were in it purely for fun….

    It would take some doing for Ireland to have been the only minor European country not to have been occupied by one of the larger ones. The Spanish may have been better or worse than the English, but if they had won then Hugh might have gone down in history as the traitor that brought the evil Spanish jackboot to Ireland!

  • BogExile

    Thank you Beano, although my grammar was a bit shoddy, I should have said:

    John Hewitt: The inventor of Tayto Cheese and Onion. It is a well known fact around this secure ward that the great chronicler of Ulster’s plantation was also responsible for the three types of the finest sodium glutomate which combined in a shed outside Tandragee (involving an accident with a Cat) to produce the intense flavour which still today refuses to leave the fingertips weeks after you’ve had a bag.

    The connection is further cemented in his famous poem:

    We planed town to pacify
    The Heaving Country
    Keeping our cattle and our onion Rings close at hand…

    James Hewitt is a freudian slip. I met him by accident last Christmmas in a coat shop in Chagford where he advised me on Goretex vs cheap imitations.

    Some of this is even true.

  • martin

    had hugh won at kinsale–I don’t really think the 400 Spaniards would have posed much of a threat–Irish rascism is nothing new-and if it took 400 years up to then to get half used to the English speech and manners what do you think they would have made of 400 Spanish peacocks who hadnt exactly exerted themselves at Kinsale fighting Mountjoy trying to take over Hughs army and make him swear fealty to Phillip of Spain–especially when you think of the welcome we gave some of the survivors of the Armada wrecks along the West coast–we cut them to pieces in our ignorance so fast that they wanted to fall into english hands rather than ours.

  • Brian Boru


    Does that mean that we would have had a Spanish occupation instead of a British one?”

    Doubt it DK. There were only around 1,000 Spanish soldiers in Ireland. It would probably have meant an independent Ireland in my view.

    But even supposing a Spanish occupation had happened, it would have been very unlikely to have been as oppressive as the English/Brits because we were Catholics like them and the English persecution was because we were Catholics and they were Protestants.

  • DK

    Had Hugh won at Kinsale then (assuming the english didn’t return in force – big assumption) the few hundred Spanish would have been rapidly reinforced and the position consolidated. And Hugh would have welcomed them – just in case the English did return and he needed a handy bunch of professional soldiers nearby.

    Then the integration into the Spanish Empire would have begun. The Irish may have been Catholics, but then conversion didn’t help the meso-americans so the Irish may have ended up 2nd class citizens, or used as cannon-fodder/source of income in Spain’s many imperial wars. Would probably have ended up with a potato famine and a simultaneous blockade by the Royal Navy, knowing Ireland’s luck.

  • Brian Boru

    DK, considering Spanish rule in Catholic Italy I think it is reasonable to assume they would have treated us better than the Indians. There was a racist motive in treating the Indians so badly, but we were White so would probably have escaped that.

  • Concerned Loyalist

    This is a tricky one. It’s difficult to pick just one man, as many are great in different fields. I’ll have a think, but as my greatest Ulster sportsman lucky enough to still be alive I’d have to choose Willie John McBride, the renowned Ulster, Ireland and British Lions Rugby Union captain. I recognise his achievements, even though I’m a die-hard football fan who only takes a passing interest in the funny old game with the funny oval-shaped ball!

    George Best is my obvious but deserved nomination for the greatest deceased Ulster sportsman. Probably the greatest player to ever set foot on a football pitch…when Pele says he’s the best in the world, then you know it’s not just parochial pride in your own!

  • DK

    Hard to say if Spain would have been better than England. You have to balance the religion thing versus the cultural thing. i.e. would it be better to have a nation united with a single culture and religion, or a nation full of politicians newspapers and dissent. The former is more peaceful, but oppressive; the latter is more dangerous, but more free.

    Anyway, the main point is that freedom was never on the cards in the climate of the time. Just a choice of whose empire you ended up part of. England was closest, so they won.

    Greatest Living = Julian Simmons
    Greatest Dead = Joey Dunlop

  • Spain may have colonised Ireland, there may have been blood spilt and oppression and hatred but would it have lasted as long? I don’t think it would. Spain may even have put planters in Munster but the divisions between the planter and the native may not have been as far reaching.The island would not have been partitioned which is the greatest barrier to normalisation here, oh and the US would probably be officially bi-lingual now with English and Spanish

  • Any more for any more?

  • DK

    Bad luck for Spain that Hugh lost then!

    I’m still not convinced that Spain would have been better then Britain. There may have been a united Ireland at the end, but I feel that this benefit would have been outweighed by loss in culture and infrastructure under Spanish rule.

    Maybe Ireland would have thrown off the Spanish yoke with the help of their brothers in Britain and joyously joined the British empire as a united member of the Commonwealth. How’s that for a happy ending?

  • Brian Boru

    “I’m still not convinced that Spain would have been better then Britain. There may have been a united Ireland at the end, but I feel that this benefit would have been outweighed by loss in culture and infrastructure under Spanish rule.”

    The culture has already been near totally extermination by the British suppression of the Irish language e.g. banning it in schools under the 1831 Education Act. Today, only 12,000 households in the South speak Irish as their first language. Spanish rule couldn’t have been any worse surely, especially with 17 million speakers of native American Indian languages in South America.

  • DK


    You’re right – Ireland was stuffed no matter what.

  • gizmo

    hey Mick, you should collate a top ten of ulster men living and dead compiled from suggestions from this thread.

    My 2 cents worth:

    Living – David Trimble/John Hume

    Dead – Lord Londonderry

  • Nathan

    Off the top of my head, I’d go for:

    1. Rob Saunders – for those who don’t know, he was one of only 2 players in the 20th century to captain Ireland on debut when he led the men-in-green out against France in the 1991 Five Nations championship (at the tender age of 22)

    2. A tie between Dr Ken Whittiker and Douglas Gageby

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Alive – Brian Friel

    Dead – Henry Joy McCracken

  • “Spanish rule couldn’t have been any worse surely”

    Sorry to shatter your illusions, but yes it could.

    Have a read of this:

  • Brian Boru

    Paul, they didn’t generally treat their European subjects e.g. in Italy, in that way, and as such I reject that analogy.

  • Concerned Loyalist

    Greatest Living Ulster politician: Ian Paisley

    Greatest Deceased Ulster politician:
    Andrew Bonar Law

    Greatest Southern politician: Lord Carson

  • Belfastwhite

    Deceased: Bobby Sands/Henry Joy McCracken

    Living: My mum and Dad, Wife and Kids (slushy I know but I cares not!).

  • Concerned Loyalist

    Tell me as I’m intrigued to know. Maybe it’s because I was brought up to distinguish right from wrong, but how in God’s name could Bobby Sands ever go down in history as Ulster’s greatest man?

    The man was a criminal who was pressurised by SF/IRA into refusing to wear prison uniforms. He was then advised by those same men that by putting his faeces all over the walls, he may extract more concessions from the prison authorities. When all of the above failed, SF/IRA and even the priests that came to visit him, filled his head full of rubbish about becoming a martyr and a republican hero of Ireland.

    It just seems wrong to me to put him in the same class as men like George Best, Joey Dunlop and Andrew Bonar Law…

  • Nathan

    The administrators of Slugger O’Toole have shown no interest in acting upon the nominations given here – we’re still waiting in anticipation for a winner to the Greatest Irishman/Ulsterman-woman competition.

  • This administrator’s been running around like the proverbial blue tailed fly for the last two weeks. But you’re right, we must get this going asap. I should be climbing out of frenetic mode sometime on Friday. Consider this at the top of my agenda!!

  • Belfastwhite


    You are entitled to your own opinion but I feel you are ill informed and would suggest you read up on the struggle in the H-Blocks and indeed prison experiences throughout our shared history. While one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter you have to admit that the fact that over 30,000 people voted this man an MP and over 100,000 people attended his funeral – why? You hit the nail on the head by you alluded to Bobby as a Criminal. Bobby Sands was a volunteer in the IRA and fought against the illegal ie criminal occupation of this country. He did not do this for material gain but because his conscience told him he was right to do so. Bobby Sands was prepared to die rather than have the fight for national self determination pronounced a crime. His struggle and death were testament to the stength of the human spirit. His ultimate sacrifice is not only recognised by republicans but by people accross the world. Indeed in her memoirs apparently Thatcher has even paid credit to him and his comrades. I dare even you to state here and now that Bobby Sands was not a brave man.

  • A

    Tommy Bowe by far

  • elfinto

    President Mary McAleese is a wonderful woman.