In 1890 the name was ranked 38th most common, with 321 births. By 1996 it had risen to 34th, based on telephone listings - the uneven geographical spread is illustrated clearly in the discrepancy in 1996 ranking between the Republic and Northern Ireland: in the north it was only 147th, while in the south it was 23rd.
The most famous modern bearer of the surname In Ireland was Brian O'Nolan (1911-1966), better known under his two pen-names of Flann O'Brien and Myles na Gopaleen, whose genius for comic invention has only been fully appreciated since his death. His best-known work is At Swim-Two-Birds. Sir Sidney Nolan (1917-92) was one of the best artists of his generation, and the first Australian painter to become internationally famous. In acknowledgment of his Irish roots, he donated a large collection of his paintings to Ireland in 1986. Christopher Nolan (b. 1965) was born quadriplegic and language-impaired but has had a remarkable literary career. His autobiography Under the Eye of the Clock won the Whitbread Prize in 1988.