Irish Mythology and the Movies

selkie3

Apparently, Hugh Jackman of Wolverine fame will be bringing Irish Mythology to the big screen. You might think I would be happy about that. Guess again.

It seems that the Wolverine character has Irish blood. As a result of that, he is coming to Ireland in search of his heritage, and Mr Jackman thinks it’s a good idea to include Cuchullain and Fionn mac Cumhaill in his supporting cast.

Jackman is reported as saying, “A friend of mine from Ireland gave me a book of them (Irish legends), and Cuchullain and those stories, they’re amazing.” Well, thanks! Glad someone noticed.

Needless to say, Irish media is in a fawning frenzy all over the poor guy.

I’m sure the making of part of a blockbuster Hollywood movie would bring a lot of revenue to Ireland, and heaven knows, we could do with it.

I have always wanted to bring the wonders of Irish mythology to a new audience, to keep it alive. But not this way, not by cheapening our two greatest mythological heroes as Wolverine’s sidekicks in a trashy X-men movie.

Don’t get me wrong; I have no problem with adapting the old stories into modern ones which speak to the youth of today. Even the seanchaí of old did that, when tales were spoken rather than written down. But at least do so with respect.

Some movie-makers have done just that. Ondine is a beautiful, powerful, emotional movie based on Irish folklore, which I highly recommend.

Interestingly, out of all the movies made since 1948 based on Irish mythology (there are 24 of them), 3 are about fairies, 1 about ghosts, 6 about selkies, and 12 about leprachauns. Only 1 was about Fionn mac Cumhaill.

Leprachauns! Is that really the best we can do? Is that what the outside world really thinks of us, when it thinks about Ireland?

Our heritage tells of the adventures and exploits of the Tuatha de Denann, the tall red-headed folk with magical powers, upon whom Tolkien based his elven races. George Lucas’s Sith in the Star Wars series is just another spelling of the Sidhe, Ireland’s fairy folk descended from the Sidhe.

We have Gods, Kings, warriors, lovers, druids, epic battles, magic, tragedy, shape-shifters, sea voyages, mysterious other worlds, you name it, we got it, and yet half our movies involved Leprechauns.

This year’s movie, Song of the Sea, is yet another based on the selkie. Whilst undeniably beautiful, disappointingly, it’s hardly original.

So come on you movie-makers! There’s more to Irish mythology than selkies, fairies and leprechauns. If you’re not sure. I can point you in the right direction to stories which will thrill and enthral your viewers all around the world.

77 thoughts on “Irish Mythology and the Movies

    1. Pol, it would indeed! And would be no less deserving. Considering how writers have borrowed from Irish mythology throughout history, I’m surprised no one’s seen the potential in it yet.

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  1. Wow, late to this Ali so I haven’t read the other comments. I’m afraid commercial films will be made so as to attract the highest revenue. Sympathy, empathy, accuracy doesn’t come into it and catching the many with a basic curiosity in all things Irish does. It’s like the folk taking a few snaps at Tara and hurrying back onto the bus to find lunch. I bet there are some terrific non-commercial movies out there somewhere which do the subject justice.

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    1. Haha! Yes, you’re right about the tourists being shepherded on and off the bus… poor things! I always feel sorry for them, but thats what they signed up for I guess. You cant ‘do’ Ireland in a day.

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  2. I hope somebody with a Hollywood (rather than a Hollyhead) connection see your words and gets somebody to contact you Ali. Unfortunately, movies are sometimes about nothing but making big money. The entertainment value is sometimes lost. Thank goodness for independent movie makers and for those we see here in the UK on Channel 4. They always give the Independent movie maker a big chance. Maybe then I should delete my first line and replace it with “I hope somebody with an independent connection contacts you Ali?”

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    1. Lol, Hugh! I suppose it depends what you call entertainment value. Movies like X-men are big box office hits, they make millions, so yes, they are all designed around making wads of cash, but clearly the general public is finding them hugely entertaining. Trouble is, we then get fed with the same old pap over and over until we overdose. HW doesnt care as long as theyre still making their millions. Its such a powerful well oiled machine, and its not going anywhere soon…

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      1. Dare I say I’ve never seen any of the X-Men movies (am I the only one?) They just don’t attract me to wanting to watch them, but I suppose that it out of personal choice.

        You are so right that it’s not going anywhere fast, but at least, just like with Indie authors, we get a few real gems every now and again which can blow the big boys out of the water.

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            1. It depends on whether you accidentally step on the little buttons on the x-men that poke their claws out from behind their hands. 🙂 I don’t remember aiming that accurately, though. 🙂

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    1. Lol! Thats a hilarious story… but poor George, all that mirth at his expense! But doesnt Wolverine have blades for claws? I wouldnt fancy a back rub from him, but if Hugh Jackman offered, I doubt I’d say no! 😁

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  3. Okay Ali, haven’t even finished reading this yet.

    Fionn and Cúchulainn in the same cast??? Gods beware. 🙂 The very eloquent words I have to pass on are Oh sh*t. Sums it up, it does. Obviously, Fionn will win, even if there’s no standoff. They do have a serious, though partially playful rivalry going on which I doubt the filmmakers are aware of. Should be interesting. 🙂

    And I have to add, my first guess was you wouldn’t be happy about adding Irish mythology to a movie. I instantly agreed when I saw the title of the post. I can’t think of a situation in which the movie industry ever tried to honor the ancient people they seek to portray for mass entertainment.

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    1. Exactly, Éilis! Now a retelling of their lives would be a different story altogether. Lol! Or a sensitive and respectful introduction into a more modern tale where their story overlapped with modern protagonists. But as Wolverines partners in crime, just NO!

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      1. Yeah, I was seriously worried that was the direction it was going! I can’t see it going well. 🙂

        Horribly anachronistic is probably the kindest thing I could say about it. Kind of just as ridiculous as putting Medb and Scathach on the same team and expecting they’d cooperate. Time periods, anyone? Not to mention the enumerable disagreements about everything from ethics to strategy. They care more about what each person was and nothing about who they are, or even were. Any thought to personality, even in the broadest most generalized terms, anyone? Yike! 🙂

        As you say, movies could be made that could greatly honor all of our ancient ancestors, celebrate their individuality and what has been passed down about their lives, and do so in a thoughtful way.

        I don’t think anyone is happy with what’s happening instead. I for one am certainly disappointed. At the very least, whoever put together this movie has a marked lack of imagination. There’s a lot more that could be said. But why say so? Everyone here is in agreement.

        And it is all the more reason for those of us who stand by those who have gone before and care for their stories to keep making our voices heard, in whatever way we are best creative. It would be awesome if someone would make a genuinely thoughtful movie about cúchulainn or Fionn and the Fianna. Preferably separately? 🙂

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        1. Lmao! Definitely separately! Since when did Holywood care about time periods? Or actually anything else except ticket sales. They’ll probably best played by American actors with bad Irish accents. And probably stage a battle with Wolverines enemies where they knock the hell out of Tara, probably with a semi nude Morrigan in tow!

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            1. Oh, the inequity between genders, fair enough point, LOL!

              I meant, more metaphorically, the day when the Morrigan, as in what all she stands for, is not at the forefront of most collective action. It would be an interesting silver lining in the situation, no? 🙂 It would make for a better world.

              Oddly though, if things go ahead with this movie and the Morrigan is cast in it, there will be quite a few battles to be sure, and the Morrigan won’t be heading them. Strange that, from a mythological point of view.

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  4. Exactly Ed, you have hit the nail right on the head! I just don’t know how Irish mythology has been overlooked for so long. Probably because people look no further than the leprechaun and the puca and the banshee, and think that’s all there is to it. Hell, most Irish people haven’t a clue about it, so how can we expect anyone else to know? Or care?

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  5. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    The Irish have not enjoyed the greatest reputation abroad, more often the butt of a joke which usually very funny misses the point. The Irish are one of the ancient tribes and it was Irish monks who took learning and much of the written word of the day across Europe, not as often reported to open Irish Bars… Ireland is a small country with a population of only 4 million people.. It is steeped in history and legend and thanks to authors such as Ali Isaac gaining the respect of outsiders as a wonderful place to visit. I agree with her on this and I am sure Hugh Jackman who is a really nice guy should read the article and reconsider his statement.. and take the opportunity offered to him to get the facts straight and to make a real blockbuster.

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  6. I’m sure you’ll constantly be disappointed; I wept at Beowulf though the CGI was incredible. That’s part of the danger, I think, with fantastical tales: the emphasis is on what images can be created not on the stories per se or the characters. That is a gross over simplification of course as there are movie makers who want authenticity but they’re not necessarily the ones with the money.

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    1. I think you are right. Beowulf was visually stunning, though. And maybe that’s all today’s viewers want. But I think movie makers do have some responsibility for not distorting the actual legends in the making of their movies. They just don’t seem to give a … hmm, now what’s the Irish word for it? I’m sure my sons would know. Let’s settle for a Father Ted ‘feck’ .

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  7. I agree Ali, the Wolverine mashup looks like a dog’s dinner, but a saviour might be down the line. It’s a race at the moment as to who gets a Cuchulainn movie out first as there’s more than 1 in development which look promising. But it’s all down to funding at the end of the day: Hugh Jackman has the readies (& the clout). We can just hope that one of the talented Irish-driven projects wins out and doesn’t let the Hollywood money take over.

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      1. There are at least 2 in script development, but they’re still a long way off being made. I know more about one production than any others – called ‘Hound’ – and that one really does look good. It’s true to the mythology without veering into cheap sensation or Hollywood butchery. But as I say, you never know who’s going to get backed and it seems like it’s going to be a race in the end. Keep your fingers crossed (unless you have spare tens of millions knocking around looking for a project, obviously!)

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  8. Somehow I cant see epic warriors such as Fionn or CuChulainn signing up to join the ranks of the Xmen or hanging out with the Avengers. I too would love to see these stories retold on the big screen, but not at the cost of the Hollywood machine having its wicked way with them
    What we need is someone with the money and vision to create some truely epic movies.

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  9. Unfortunately all most people think about is wealth, hence leprechauns for their pots of gold and fairies as most people think of them as being nothing more than wish grafters (such asin Cinderella and other fairy tales).
    As for selkies, movies just pop in the supermodel of the day in a bikini to lure an audience, story doesn’t matter as long as there is sex hinted at.

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    1. Well you make some fair points, and I tend to agree. Hollywood does not take responsibility for it’s actions. Borrowing ideas from other cultures is one thing, and can be a very good thing, but taking what you want without a care for what you do with it, and bastardising it in which ever way makes the most money for them is something else entirely.

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  10. That’s how Thor got his modern day gig at Marvel. They might do a fair job, but I understand your reluctance to be supportive. (Darby O’Gill and the Little People is one of my favorites. Sean Connery singing is worth watching.) (Sorry)

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    1. I guess I must be a traditionalist in some ways, then, Craig. I didn’t like what they did to Thor, even though he was a bit of eye candy for the ladies. I don’t want Cu and Fionn and our other heroes going the same way. I’ve never seen Darby O’Gill, only clips, and it would not be my cup of tea. Sean Connel is always worth watching, even though he plays the same character in every movie he has ever done lol!

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      1. That was kind of my point. Those who work in the superhero industry are very creative at coming up with new characters. They don’t need legends to compete. I always thought Thor was kind of a b list superhero and yours won’t fare any better. They will be second fiddle in the film too..

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            1. Well Wolverine was descended I believe from Irish wolves so perhaps Fionn and Cuchullain were too, and the mythology got it wrong. Perhaps he will turn out to be related to Cormaic Mac Airt, who was at least raised by a wolf…

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  11. I promise I don’t think of leprechauns when I think of Ireland! I watched the trailer for Ondine – it’s so beautiful. Please tell me it has a happy ending… none of the other selkie stories I’ve read have. (Although I did read a swan-changing one once, where the swan and her family made a net to take the man with them when they flew away, but I haven’t been able to find it again.)

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    1. Oh, I haven’t heard of that story! I’m just in the middle of writing a swan story, actually; its the legend of Oengus Og and the swan-maiden Cáer Ibormeith, and this one does end happily, for a change… most Irish love stories in mythology are quite tragic! I hope you do watch Ondine, it is a beautiful movie, in fact, I’d quite like to see it again myself! And it has Colin Farrell in it, say no more!

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