Tuesday 24 October 2017

The Red Hot List: Celebrating Ireland's most hair-raising personalities

Liadan Hynes profiles the world's top redheads, past and present, and finds, mostly, they're Irish. Main photograph by Kip Carroll. Styling by Liadan Hynes

Three colours red: Leanne Brady, Aoife Walsh, January Russell Winters. Photo: Kip Carroll.
Three colours red: Leanne Brady, Aoife Walsh, January Russell Winters. Photo: Kip Carroll.
Joan: Christina Hendricks
Conor McGregor
Ed Sheeran
Enda Kenny
Florence Welch
Helen of Troy
Jean Butler
Lindsay Lohan
Mary McAleese
Maureen O Hara
Michael Fassbender
Mick Hucknall
Nicole Kidman and ex Tom Cruise
Richard Harris
Samantha Power
Steve Staunton
Susan Loughnane
Van Morrison
Van Gogh
Paula Hughes
Angela Scanlon
Blathnaid ni Chofaigh
Brendan Gleeson
Conan O'Brien
Domhnall Gleeson
Donald Trump
Glen Hansard
Prince Harry
Lizanna Kirwan
Marcia Cross
Molly Ringwald
Queen Elizabeth
Robert Redford
Susan Sarandon
Una Foden

Liadan Hayes

From legendary beauties to world leaders, movie stars to musicians, angsty artists to iconic puppets, feared fighters to fearless feminists,


Model, 1st Option Model Agency

"I've been modelling for about three years. I got into it at the Dublin Fashion Festival when I was 15. It was a competition; I went with my dad. I won the final.

"I've always been a redhead. My dad has black hair and sallow skin, and my mum is the same. They tan really easily. I think I got it from my nan.

"I used to hate it. I used to get bullied as a kid. I would try and get my mum to dye it brown. But I'm grateful now she didn't. It has helped in modelling - you have your unique thing. My agency, 1st Option, is really great for supporting your own natural self. They have never asked me to use fake tan. I used to do it as a kid, but it just didn't suit my skin.

"When I was chosen to win the competition I didn't have confidence in that sort of thing. They said, 'With your beautiful red hair, you really stood out. We're choosing you because you're unique'. And, going to castings, I can see that - there aren't many redheads. I realised I have something I never knew I had."


Former Miss Ireland, model, Andrea Roche Model Agency, teacher

"I'm a natural redhead. I'm so glad I never went down the route of dyeing my hair. When I was a teenager, I wanted to go blonde. My mom told me it would go green, and I was so naive, I believed her. I got my red hair from my grandmother Ita. She died when she was 94, and didn't have any grey hair. I'm thrilled; it's looking good for me. It's saving me a fortune not to be dyeing my hair.

"I did experience some negativity when I was younger, being called 'the ginger minger'. It didn't really bother me. I don't think I would really have gone through with dyeing my hair; I love being a redhead. I was the only redhead in school. It makes me stand out from the crowd. That's something I wanted to embrace. There haven't been any other Miss Irelands with red hair in recent times. I probably consider myself quite a confident, secure person. Being a redhead has helped me with that. Name-calling years ago helped build up a thick skin. And being a redhead does get you attention. If it's bad, I just ignore it; if it's good, I'm flattered."


Model, Morgan The Agency

"My natural colour is auburn. Because I do a lot of hair shows with L'Oreal and Wella, I keep it redder than it naturally is.

"Being a redhead is normally a positive - sometimes, though, it goes against you. In London, some casting forms would specify 'no redheads'. Black and red hair stand out more, I suppose. Most of the time, in different countries I've worked in, they loved it. In Madrid and Milan, they loved it. They're not used to it. Especially with the white skin.

"In London, it didn't work for me. That's when I bleached it, and went blonde. I was blonde for about a year. I absolutely felt different. I definitely think I got more wolf whistles being blonde! I wouldn't do it again.

"My hair is more auburn, so I got away lightly as a child, in that sense. Any difficulties would have been at castings - I haven't been booked for shows in Ireland for being a redhead. I suppose it's a personal preference. I've gained a lot more from it, though."


The genius

It's hard to imagine now, but there was a time when Van Morrison, who recently turned 70, had flowing red locks - see his early album covers.


The hellraiser

Known to a generation as the original Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films, it was far from children's movies that Harris spent most of his life. Apart from making such celluloid gems as The Field, Mutiny on the Bounty, and Camelot, Harris spent a great deal of his time carousing around London with fellow actors Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton, getting into fights and often spending the night in jail.


The eccentric

Florence + the machine

Florence, of indie-rock outfit Florence and the Machine, is not a natural redhead - she dyes her hair red as part of what she describes as a sort of armour to help deal with the attention that fame brings. Her look has taken off to such an extent that she has inspired collections by Gucci. She experienced huge success with her second release, Ceremonials, in 2011, and is now back, after taking time off, with the album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful.


The Stateswoman

Mary celebrated post-presidential life with a bold crop. Instead of disappearing into retirement, she has, in recent times, spoken out on several issues, including becoming a somewhat surprise advocate for the Yes side in the same-sex marriage referendum.


Tortured red

The original selfie taker - Van Gogh's famous self-portraits are probably among the most famous renderings of a redhead.



'Model slash something' is an easy target, but Loughnane has more than earned her stripes after her accomplished turn playing Debbie the prostitute in the acclaimed crime drama Love/Hate, for which she won an IFTA in 2013. The recently engaged Malahide native is a former Britain's Next Top Model contestant, and is currently working on her second novel.


The fighter

Conor McGregor

Luckily for McGregor he decided against his original career of plumber. The Ultimate Fighting Champion also toyed with the idea of becoming a professional footballer, and he trained as a boxer, a fact that gives him an edge over most other mixed-martial-arts (MMA) fighters. Known for his sartorial confidence, McGregor favours Irish tailor Louis Copeland. Very sweetly, he got long-term girlfriend Dee Devlin to quit her job and put her on the payroll as soon as he could afford to.


Sports hero

The silent type.

Rare, for a redhead.



The thoroughbred

Nowadays, Nicole Kidman favours a more strawberry-blonde shade, and those ringlets are rarely let loose in all their glory, but in her heyday (the Tom Cruise days), when she played Shannon, the classic, fiery, Irish redhead, in Far and Away, she made ringlets look better than might have been thought possible on anyone past the age of five.


Ruler red

Nobody could claim that Taoiseach Enda Kenny is doing much for the dignity of redheads everywhere, but at least he's hanging on to a fine head of hair.


Adopted red

Ed Sheeran

We're not sure that we quite understand the seemingly overwhelming appeal of the one-man-and-his-guitar, singing, dare we say it, the same old singer-songwriter type thing we have heard a million times before. But we are fully prepared to claim Ed as one of our own. His grandparents hail from Gorey in Co Wexford, and he has cousins in Spiddal, so this isn't just pure fantasy. He's great friends with Niall Horan; he actually plays the bodhran; as a teenager, he busked in Galway; and he recently played at Ronan and Storm's wedding. Honorary Irishman, indeed.


Hot mess

Lindsay Lohan

Lindsay is Irish on her father's side, you would know that alone by her approach to drink - she likes to deal with it with gusto. Having initially shown huge promise as a child star, she has been putting in time as a hot mess ever since.

There have been several near-rehabilitations; starring in A Prairie Home Companion with Meryl Streep, in 2006, seemed like it might serve as a way back to the straight and narrow, and Oprah seemed bent on solving Lindsay's issues for a while there. She is now mostly known for being a total nightmare to work with. Her most recent incarnation is as a stage actress - last year, she spent time living in London while starring in Speed-the-Plow in the West End.


Childhood classic

Some argue that if there is to be an emoticon for redheads, Bosco should be it. The Eighties' icon played a role in the recent same-sex marriage referendum, making an ad with Dustin the Turkey.


The beauty

There were a lot of things wrong with 2004's Troy, chief among them Brad Pitt's incredibly wooden performance. But Diane Kruger playing Helen of Troy as a blonde was simply inaccurate. The woman whose beauty caused the Trojan wars was, in fact, a redhead.


Dulcet-toned red

Baskin, a legendary presenter with RTE, who in later years moved to India to open a hotel, she has just come back on our airwaves with a new radio show for Cork 96fm.


The icon

The star of The Quiet Man was the original flame-haired sexpot, as they would no doubt have described her in those days. O'Hara lived in west Cork on and off for decades, before moving back to the US in recent years, when she retired permanently from public life.


The brainbox


They're currently working on an X-Files revival and, shock horror, Gillian Anderson, who of course plays Dana Scully, a sexy scientist redhead, is wearing a wig. Obviously, this has caused major concern among the fans, as the wig is not flaming red, but a more mellow strawberry-blonde. Anderson was adopted as one of our own when she came here to shoot The Fall, along with Jamie Dornan, in recent years.


Bearded red

He's not a pure-bread redhead, so to speak, but German-born, Killarney-raised Fassbender has an almost fully red beard. People need to stop calling him the new Colin Farrell. He's hotter and a better actor. He really came to prominence with the film Shame, a movie about a sex addict, which featured a full-frontal appearance from Fassbender. About to get all tortured playing Macbeth.


The lothario

The Simply Red lead man has compared the gingerism he has suffered to a form of racism. We can't see that it has put a stop to his gallop; as well as fronting a hugely successful band, he once apparently admitted to sleeping with over 1,000 women.


Va-Va-Voom Red

Joan: Christina Hendricks

Hendricks is actually a natural blonde, who went red at the age of 10. She originally dyed her hair after reading Anne of Green Gables. After her career-making appearance as Joan in the long-running TV series Mad Men, she achieved the status of a cultural icon, becoming a sort of modern-day Marilyn.


Brainy red

She has been described as the world's most powerful Irish person, and is a key player in the Obama administration. Power was the youngest person ever to be appointed US ambassador to the United Nations. Born in Castleknock, she moved to America when she was nine. A former Harvard professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, the mother of two now lives in New York with her family.


Classy red

Jean managed to work closely with Michael F and not seem remotely tacky. An achievement in itself. A New Yorker whose mother hailed from Mayo, Jean attended Irish-dancing classes in America from a young age. She hated it at first, particularly the standing-with-her-arms-at-her-sides bit, a tradition that was abandoned in the Riverdance version of Irish dancing. Jean choreographed her own solo in the show. She now resides in New York and is a lecturer in Irish studies at NYU.


The daddy-of-all red

Eminently watchable in whatever he does, the former teacher is by far our favourite on the list of Irish actors who turn up in every Irish movie. Gleeson's breakout appearance was in Mel Gibson's Braveheart, and he went on to star in a hugely impressive list of blockbusters, including the Harry Potter movies, Troy, Cold Mountain, Gangs of New York and Mission Impossible 2. He has also fronted an impressive list of home-grown movies, including Calvary, The Guard and In Bruges. With his two actor sons, he looks set to head the first great redheaded acting dynasty.


Redhead about to go global

The eldest Gleeson brother has been quietly carving out an A-list career, with his appearances in the Harry Potter movies (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, parts one and two), Ex Machina, Angelina Jolie's Unbroken, and Richard Curtis's About Time.

His role in the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII, The Force Awakens almost didn't happen - they wanted him to sign without having seen the script, which he refused to do. With the blockbuster's release, life will never be the same again for the Dublin actor. The knowledge of this, and the inevitable effect on his privacy it would entail, caused him to have a panic attack the night before he signed.


The candidate

The redhead all other redheads would most like to distance themselves from, we would imagine. Possibly soon-to-be ruler of the free world? A scary thought.


Angsty red

We loved his awkwardly funny turn as Outspan in The Commitments, but since then, as lead singer with The Frames, things have taken a turn for the angsty. He seemed to be shaping up to be the next Damien Rice, but became an unlikely collaborator on a musical, with the Broadway version of the film Once. The redhead of choice if you like navel-gazing, soul-searching tunes.


The hot mama

Susan Sarandon

From her The Witches of Eastwick days through to Thelma & Louise, Susan Sarandon has been a poster girl for an almost Italian-style hotness. Red hair doesn't age in the same way as other colours; it skips grey and goes blonde, then white. Susan Sarandon, in turn, doesn't age in the same way as most Hollywood actresses.


The Eighties hero

Ringwald made red hair and pale skin cool for an entire generation, not to mention proving that red hair and pink clothes can work together. She turned down the part that later went to Julia Roberts after seeing an early version of the Pretty Woman script. Now seems to have largely given up acting in favour of becoming a jazz singer and agony aunt.


The talker

It almost seems a prerequisite of being an American late-night talk-show host that one would have a borderline irritating hairstyle. O'Brien favours the quiff. A one-time writer and producer for The Simpsons, O'Brien once seemed like the young pretender to the throne of Jay Leno and David Letterman.

His career never really recovered from his summary dismissal from The Tonight Show, and now the likes of Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert have eclipsed him. O'Brien's family left Ireland during the Famine, and he did pay the country a visit in an episode of Late Night with Conan O'Brien.


The 'Desperate Housewife'

Cross is a perfect example of the odd-looking but simultaneously beautiful thing that only redheads can pull off. Jolie laide, the French might say. Having spent the post-Desperate Housewives years mostly at home with her children, Cross is now starting to come back to her career, beginning with an appearance in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.


The classic

Redford has actually gotten redder, and less strawberry-blonde, with age. Some have commented on the 79-year-old's suspiciously thick thatch of hair. This is Robert Redford, people, a contender for Most Attractive Man Ever, let's not be churlish.


The supermodel

Kirwan is part of the gang of top Irish models that included Corina Grant, Aoife Cogan, Andrea Roche, Sarah McGovern and Chloe Arnold. She is now enjoying motherhood and domestic bliss, married to Eddie Irvine's best friend, Ivan Hynes.


Ireland's Grace Coddington

Hughes is the stylist behind Penneys' beautiful ad campaigns, not to mention the most stylish magazine editorials each season. She scored a career high when she booked Cara Delevingne for an A|wear advertorial just before the supermodel's career went global.


Girl power red

Una Sitting on Plane (Exclusive).jpg
Una Foden sitting aboard the new Cadbury Jet, of which she is a brand ambassador

Strictly speaking, Una is a borderline redhead, an auburn, if you will. But in the derivative world of girl groups - she's the redhead in The Saturdays - she's a red. But where Ginger Spice, the original girl-band red one, was loud, brash and known mostly for wearing ill-fitting Union Jack dresses and shouting a lot, this Tipperary native is a singer-songwriter, mother of two, with a successful TV-presenting career, and she has oodles of talent.


The fiery red

Elizabeth I was the original one to rock the 'pale face, red hair' combination, not to mention display something of the redheads' penchant for having a fiery temper.


Cheeky-chappy red

Prince Harry

Everyone's favourite royal. It seemed as if William was going to be the hot one, but then that receding hairline happened, and it turned out Harry was not only the fun one, but the hot one, too.


The yummy mummy

The mother-of-four is a long-time stalwart of the national broadcaster, and practically the face of the St Patrick's Day parade.


The export

"As far as I can recall, I have always loved being a redhead. It felt like something special; the hairdresser would compliment it, warning me never to dye it, my aunts would rub it, strangers on holiday would stare at it. I quite enjoyed the attention, and it felt like an unearned gift.

"I'm one of four girls, three of us with pretty much the same hair. When we left Ireland, we were like a travelling circus, it seemed our hair was quite unusual indeed - exotic and a point of conversation. Then teenage years came, and boys, and suddenly I realised I didn't fit the pretty narrow stereotype of a lust-worthy human lady. The discussions were always around blonde or brunette, and preferences in one direction or the other. The idea that I wasn't even in the running seemed unjust, and made me feel awkward and somewhat ostracised.

"I figured I was an 'acquired taste', something numb-nut teenage lads couldn't quite understand. Feigning absolute disinterest and mild disgust at their general demeanour felt like the only real route to self-preservation at that bleak point in time. Once I chose the high road, I took back ownership and a renewed sense of pride in my 'ginger' mane and I haven't looked back!

"It's my most identifiable attribute, it helps me get away with murder and I wouldn't change it for the world. I feel a strange sense of responsibility for younger redheads now, I want them to embrace it, not apologise for it - to wear it like a prize, not hide it and hope that no one notices. I also feel a weird affinity with my headfellows. These days, I am often found winking affectionately at gingers on the Luas."

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