News emerged this weekend that so-hot-right-now star Michael Fassbender wants to make a movie about Cuchulain. This is literally the most exciting movie news I've heard in years - even if it is in the pre-embryonic stages and should (if they're doing it right) face a rocky road to the screen. For those of you who weren't born in or near Erin's green valleys, let me explain what the heck it is, why it's awesome and how the heck you pronounce it*.
Cuchulain (also Cú Chulainn; also Cúchulainn; occasionally Cuhullin but that's not used by the cool kids) is Ireland's answer to Achilles, a warrior who led a short but glorious life a couple of millenia ago. Part of the Red Branch or Ulster Cycle of myth, the stories can be dated to about the 7th century but are supposed to have taken place considerably earlier than that, in the Bronze Age and pre-Christian times.
It's pronounced Coo-hullin, just so you know, because Irish words are generally spelled with several letters you should ignore and several letters you should randomly replace with completely different ones (the name Niamh, for instance, is pronounced "Neve").
But the story! Cuchulain's life is steeped in legend. Here's the (relatively) condensed version. His mother was a princess of Ulster, sister of the mighty King Conchobar and (of course) a great beauty in her own right. So much so, in fact, that she was abducted / seduced by the god Lugh and gave birth to a kid called Setanta (not to be confused with the Irish sport channel), already capable of prodigious feats at an age where most youngsters are watching Ben 10. He changed his name after killing the ferocious hound of the court's smith, Culain. When the smith complained that the beast's death left his home defenceless, the youngster offered to serve as his guard dog until another could be found and trained, and thus became known as the Hound Of Culain or, in the local parlance (technically, I'm told, "genitive case"), Cuchulain.
He won his arms before his balls dropped and proceeded to cut a swathe through all enemies that approached; he trained with the warrior woman Scáthach, and defeated (and then shacked up with) her rival Aoife; he killed (at least) 24 men to win the hand of the woman he loved in the original blood wedding.
But his moment of glory came in the story known as The Tain (pronounced Toyne, more or less), or The Cattle Raid Of Cooley.
This epic saga kicked off when Queen Mebh (also Medbh, Meadhbh, Medb, Meabh, Maev, Maive or Maeve; not to be confused with Queen Mab of faerie, probably) of Connaught got into a fight with her consort Ailil over who was the richer. It turned out that Mebh equalled her husband's possessions in every respect - except that he owned a magnificent white bull that she could not match among her herds. This, quite clearly, Would Not Stand, so she assembled the might of the three provinces of Munster, Connaught and Leinster, and marched on Ulster to take possession by force of the Brown Bull of Cuailnge (or Cooley).
Yes, it's all a fight over a cow. Deal with it. The Iliad had a giant wooden horse and everyone's OK with that.
ANYWAY, Mebh and company march to invade Ulster where - due to an unfortunate curse - all the men are writhing in agony on their sick beds and unable to fight. Except, that is, for our man Cuchulain, who's immune from the curse either because he's still only 17 and not yet a man, OR because he was born in Leinster, depending on which legend you read (If Fassbender's playing him, it should be option 2).
Our Hero single-handedly slaughters hundreds of Maeve's soldiers (and even her little dog, Baiscne!), because he has the strength of 20 men and is generally The Rock to their Cowardly Lion. Remember that scene in Lord Of The Rings where Sauron took to the battle field and scythed his way through the ranks of men and elves en masse? A bit like that. Or like one of those Frazetta drawings.
After thinning the ranks considerably, Cuchulain started challenging Mebh's champions to single combat, one by one, at the fords that marked the border between Ulster and the rest of Ireland. Mebh played rough, sending his friends and foster brothers against him - and the Goddess of War, the Morrigan, did her best to sabotage him after he spurned her advances - but Cuchulain stood firm, holding the border until Conchobar and the men of Ulster could recover from the curse and come to his aid.
It is, in other words, well epic. It's also well blood-soaked. Those of you who thought that Irish mythology was all about little dudes in green hats with pots of gold and/or Sean Connery attempting the local brogue (*eye roll*) need to completely abandon that idea. Think more A Game Of Thrones, more Rome, more Troy. Take a look at some more Frazetta art, or Jim Fitzpatrick, for a sense of it; read some W B Yeats poems on the subject or read Lady Gregory's version of the legend. A day where this guy doesn't bloodily slaughter a number of people is a dull day indeed. As stories go, it's one of the great ones - and Hollywood has been nowhere near it. In a world where there are films based on board games, theme-park rides and self-help books, this is a frickin' gold mine!
What's interesting about Cuchulain from a modern point of view is that he has been used as a rallying figure both north and south of the Irish border. A statue of the dying Cuchulain stands in the GPO in Dublin as a monument to the Easter Rising that began the final stages of Ireland's road to independence from Britain, but the idea of an Ulsterman standing alone against the hordes of Ireland has also been used by Unionists in the six counties of Northern Ireland. So he's a figure to unite even Ireland's communities - something that Jake Sully from Avatar never achieved.
With Game Of Thrones doing so well on TV right now, there might be room on the schedule for a fantastical, violent, bloody, booby, mythological drama (nobody mention Conan The Barbarian). And there should be an audience for this: some 36 million Americans have Irish roots. That's a big built-in audience right there. Everyone likes the Irish; that's just science, and god knows the country could use a bit of a boost by seeing its ancient heroes onscreen. Finally, this gives us the chance to cast Liam Neeson as, say, Conchobar, and Brendan Gleeson as anyone (Fergus, maybe?).
The main problem, as I see it, is going to be finding a name for the damn thing that people can get their heads and tongues around. "Cuchulain" isn't helpful; "The Cattle Raid Of Cooley" is right out and its Irish form, "The Tain" might be confused with that Ben Affleck film. Some possibilities: The Hound Of Ulster, The Red Branch, maybe The Hero Light. But really that's the least of our worries. Let's all go hunt leprechauns and force the little bastards to grant us this wish. It'd be mega. I'm crossing everything.
*Disclaimer: I don't speak gaelic apart from a couple of useful phrases like Tiocfaidh ár lá and póg mo thóin so I've used some Anglicised forms of names and probably been completely inconsistent. My apologies, fellow Irishers. I had the choice of Irish or Spanish at school, and fancied field trips to the Costa over the Gaeltacht.
rattlehead57 Posted on Monday February 20, 2012, 17:03
Fantastic idea! I vote Nicholas Winding Refn to direct, a la Valhalla Rising. Gritty and violent.
loafroaster Posted on Monday February 20, 2012, 17:15
Stay off the wacky 'baccy next time you write a blog post, Helen.
Helen OHara Posted on Monday February 20, 2012, 17:31
Well gee Ioafroaster, I'm not sure what that's about but I'll be sure to bear that in mind.
potemkin1925 Posted on Monday February 20, 2012, 17:40
Awesome News!!! I've been wanting this movie (and a Fianna trilogy) for years. The character of Queen Maeve is unreal and hopefully they'll included the fact that she used seal deals and treaties with sex instead of a handshake.
potemkin1925 Posted on Monday February 20, 2012, 17:41
Ignore him Helen - he is just one of those Internet whingebags.
potemkin1925 Posted on Monday February 20, 2012, 17:49
Fassbender is already at work on a screenplay with Ronan Bennett. Can't wait for more news on this.
elsquig Posted on Monday February 20, 2012, 17:55
another great blog Helen x
Greagoir Posted on Monday February 20, 2012, 18:48
The Táin is slap in the middle of the Irish mythological cycles... Why not start with the story of Nuada of the Silver Arm and work forward from there. Nuada, High King of Ireland lost his arm in battle which was replaced with a silver one by the druids because a maimed king cannot rule. The first and second battles of Magh Turadh... The former against The Fir Bolg and Tuatha De Danann that the latter battle against the Tuatha De Danann and the dark skinned Formorians... Lugh, Cú Chulain's pops, was King of the Tuatha De Danann... A tribe that launched the leprachaun myth.. Then on to the Táin... To much material for one flick but a trilogy.
Big Red Posted on Monday February 20, 2012, 19:04
I think I played football in Killarney with Fastbender as a kid! Been asking for Cuchulain for years!! This is looong overdue and would certainly be a kick ass movie.
Lur Posted on Monday February 20, 2012, 19:26
so much good story telling in those myths. could see alot of great movies being made. only problem is alot of people would be put off if they cannot pronounce the names or places. fingers crossed though. with fassbenders name attatched it at least stands a chance of being greenlit
Big Red Posted on Monday February 20, 2012, 19:36
Wait, Helen of Hara, you had a choice not to learn Irish?? What school was this? If we failed Irish we failed life generally! :D
scifi Posted on Monday February 20, 2012, 21:43
Love the idea of Irish Mythology - providing it's done with real conviction and balls! (Preferably Fassbender's!)
KatieBun Posted on Monday February 20, 2012, 21:57
Oh yeah baby, bring it on! I've reckoned for years that Cúchalainn (should that not be pronounced Coo cull inn?) would make an arse kicking movie. And you missed out the big heroic finish - a mortally wounded Cúchulainn ties himself to standing stone so he died still standing, still fighting. Boromir's death had nothing on it!
You could have so much fun casting this: Rhys Meyers could be Lugaid, and have the assassination of a second Irish hero on his CV; Colin Farrell or Cillian Murphy as he foster brother/best friend he is forced to kill at the ford; and most of all you'd have to do this while Neeson is still on his action kick.
And you could have the most almighty hurling match of all times as a big of scene setting in the first reel!
Can someone get an application into An Bord Scannán/the National Lottery pronto please?
Whistler Posted on Monday February 20, 2012, 23:00
Fassbender could be starring in "Barbie: The Movie" and I'd still want to see it.
the ageless stranger Posted on Monday February 20, 2012, 23:20
There's a part in the Tain where CuChulain literally shakes the shit out of a man. I want to see Fassbender do this onscreen.
afahey Posted on Tuesday February 21, 2012, 00:31
Fassbender wouldnt play cuchulainn. too old. better off having someone like domhnall Gleeson would be a better choice...
choss2012 Posted on Tuesday February 21, 2012, 06:33
Oh please let this happen! I'll start collecting pennies...*goes to get empty jar* Do you know -Michael Fassbender is difficult to escape when I go to the cinema. That is in no way a complaint. He seems to take on a challenging role proceeds to make it his b***h. Anyway...*begins looking under sofa for pennies*
livewire Posted on Tuesday February 21, 2012, 08:26
I've been re-reading some of these old Irish legends lately as my daughter got a book of them for Christmas. they are truly freakin epic and need done now. when you look at the parts of game of thrones that are filmed here in Northern Ireland you can see exactly where this could fit.
fassbender may be in everything going at the minute but that's generally not a bad thing.
The Hooded Man Posted on Tuesday February 21, 2012, 09:40
Thoroughly inspiring news. Great piece Helen, living in the area where a lot of this is based I can't wait to see what they make of this. Can't think of a better choice than Fassbender to be honest.
aye_min Posted on Tuesday February 21, 2012, 12:54
Total flashback to a random elective in celtic studies in first year of uni. Loved reading all these stories. Think now is the perfect time for this to make it to the screen. Loved the article, Helen! Leprechauns are thin on the ground in Scotland but we've got plenty of short ginger people. Will they suffice?
keaneye Posted on Tuesday February 21, 2012, 14:23
I think you should have just asked how to pronounce his name and left it at that. KatieBun has it right. Good article though and I've want a film made of this for years. I know of many who have been tinkering with their own Cú Chulainn scripts for a very long time. Lets just hope this one actually happens.
Barry Posted on Tuesday February 21, 2012, 16:45
Option two is completely out of the question.
A Kerryman as a magnetic Holocaust survivor I can take...
But a Kerryman playing someone born in Leinster is a bridge too far.
Helen OHara Posted on Tuesday February 21, 2012, 16:52
Generally in English, we go with Coo-hullin. As I said, I didn't study gaelic so it might be different there.
Barry Posted on Tuesday February 21, 2012, 16:52
The story of Fionn McCool and the Red Branch Knights are also there for the taking in terms of stories.
Diarmuid and Gráinne is a good one!
Barry Posted on Tuesday February 21, 2012, 17:46
I think it's generally Coo-Cull-Inn, but that's just splitting hairs.
The Ulster gang have weird accents and might pronounce it differently.
Ulster Irish might as well be Chinese to my Munster ears.
Lindiana Jayne Posted on Tuesday February 21, 2012, 22:41
I've studied Celtic studies at uni and did a lot about Cu Chulainn (it is pronounced Coo-hullin) and I am so glad someone is finally thinking of making a film about it!!
Rosco_06 Posted on Wednesday February 22, 2012, 08:34
Brilliant blog - I've been saying they should make a film of this since I first read the Tain about 2 years ago! Not sure about Neeson as Conchobar, in some of the related stories he's a bit of a petulant d*ck, so maybe better to have someone like Colin Farrell who could pull that off. Neeson would be a shout for wise old Cathbad though. Gleeson as Fergus is spot on though.
Difficult narrative to film though (for example, how they would fit in the story behind the Pangs of Ulster would be interesting since it doesn't actually involve any of the protagonists of the main story...), and there's always the danger they make a "Beowulf" out of it. But it is a great story.
BenTramer Posted on Wednesday February 22, 2012, 11:07
I remember when I was a kid hearing the story of Cuchulainn belting the hurling sliothar down the dog's throat, that's got to be in there (with CGI, no dogs were hurt in the making of this legend!). And the Red Branch Knights, I always imagined them looking like red Samurai for some reason. Forget calling it The Cattle Raid of Cooley or The Tain, call it How McDonald's Began, (Cooley Big Macs) product placement, kerching-kerching, money in the bank.
DonnchadhT5 Posted on Wednesday February 22, 2012, 11:37
Great blog Helen, dear Jesus let this get picked up. If it does there'll be an unreal film to watch and a couple more steps'll have been made on the road to giving The Salmon of No Craic a feature of his own.
PaoloCorleone Posted on Wednesday February 22, 2012, 13:00
Big Red. I think I can answer your question about Helen having a choice. Unlike the Republic, learning Irish in schools in the North isn't compulsory. We do have a choice up here, I myself did learn a wee bit, including the few rather useful phrases Helen alluded to at the end of her blog
hoohaa1 Posted on Wednesday February 22, 2012, 14:12
As an Irish actor myself I'd love to see this happen. I have a friend who's doctorate is in Celtic studies and the stories are as exciting and gritty as any Norse/Greek legends but also a bit more unique.
I have to say I think Fassbender is playing a blinder. Ever since that George Clooney mention at the Globes (great publicist in action) he's on everyone's lips. But unlike Colin Farrell's meteoric rise in 2003 - it is backed up by incredibly nuances performances in excellent films. We've had Fish Tank, Inglorious Basterds and Shame - versus The Recruit, Daredevil and Swat for example.
Not knocking Colin - I think his performances in little seen Home at the end of the World and of course In Bruges show he's capable of the real deal, but it is nice to see Michael face into his initial success backed by the kind of artistic portfolio any of us would crave.
If he can make Cuchullain (Munster boys do pronounce it Coo-Chull-in) more The Wrestler than GI Joe, then we are all in for a treat.
And on that note - Mike, can I get a part?
st3veebee Posted on Wednesday February 22, 2012, 16:22
Being Irish I am instantly hesitant of this: films in and about Ireland never go well ...usually because of accents and leprachauns.
Maybe, just maybe, with Fassbender this could go well.
tmacie Posted on Wednesday February 22, 2012, 16:36
About bloody time someone did this. He should do a Lord of the Rings on it and get people to donate €25 to have their name on screen
lukesgood Posted on Wednesday February 22, 2012, 17:44
The story comes with a ready-made soundtrack by Horslips - check out their stuff on youtube - an dearg doom is legendary (prob due to italia 90, but thats another story...)
acertree Posted on Wednesday February 22, 2012, 22:16
As long as he focuses on this and stays the hell away from everything else then fine. I'm all for it. Lets make it a trilogy while we're at it so its just one franchise I need to stay the hell away from.
jeanvilain Posted on Thursday February 23, 2012, 22:58
Neil Marshal (Centurion) or Kenneth Branagh (Thor) to direct,Micheal Fassbender,Dominic West, Liam Neeson, Liam Cunningham, Brendan Gleeson, Patrick Bergin, Gabriel Byrne, Saoirse Rohan, Ciaran Hinds, Alison Doody,Colm Meaney,Cillian Murphy,Colin Farrell. This could be greatest irish cast ever assembled .
spartan118 Posted on Friday February 24, 2012, 00:30
As a young irish man that grew up listening to these tales from my grandparents i can't wait to see this movie....but its pronounced more Cu Cullen
ismiseciaran Posted on Friday February 24, 2012, 09:12
Firstly, I think I would prefer a series in the same line as Spartacus! Far too much happens in the story's to try and jam it into one film!! And I think we are all sick of trilogy's!!
Secondly, why stop at chu chulainn?? Irish folklore is vast!! If you look up Irish folklore we have many more heroes and stories which can be told!! And all of them as violent as chu chulainn!
Even if one film is made I can't wait to see the story's I grew up with on the big screen!! But lets think a little bigger and show the world were not all leprechans and fairys!! Good luck with this Michael, I'm sure you'll do the whole nation proud!!
sheam47 Posted on Saturday February 25, 2012, 16:49
As a father of two, a son who was born three weeks ago called Oisín and a four year old called Connor I have been reading the legeds again to explain to my two sons about the myths and legends of Ireland, admittedly Oisín is a bit young he's started with the right name though. I am really looking forward to this I think having Michael Fassbender behind it is a great thing and being from Dundalk myself I am very familiar with the story. As for the pronunciation, it all depends on where you are from, my wife is from Waterford and her Irish is different to the Irish that I speak, but it's all pedantry. Personally I would watch Brendan Gleeson blow his nose on film or stage and it's always good to mine all the Irish talent we have both film and stage and if this gives them a chance to shine then fantastic bring it on I say.
quinner111089 Posted on Saturday February 25, 2012, 17:28
This is potentially a completely original & bankable idea that is so rare these days. Hopefully, there will be no inaccuracies with the story because it's just as interesting, bloody & entertaining as it is. I'm hoping for a relatively new, up-&-coming, hungry, director to take the helm, who will immerse himself in the material. That, and there's plenty of Irish talent out there to fill the roles so keep all American stars as far away from this project as possible
Dr Yakubu Posted on Saturday February 25, 2012, 17:51
This film should definitely be made and in the Irish language.
jonny1974 Posted on Monday July 16, 2012, 03:58
ive loved the stories of cuchulain ever since i read on ravens wing by morgan llewllyn if he uses that book as a model hes onto a winner, espacially if he follows up with finn mccuhal by the same author
Mouguias Posted on Monday November 26, 2012, 16:56
It`s not gonna work. CuChulainn of Muirthemne by Lady Gregory is my favourite book of all time, I love everything Irish and I tell you these Hollywood morons are going to spoil it all. They have not made a decent epic movie since Braveheart. They are going to turn CuChulainn into some ridiculous Marvel-comics-style superhero and it is going to drive me crazy! Alexander, 300, Troy, Arthur...The list goes on an on, those were perhaps the worst movies of the decade, aside from Transformers 3. They just pile up CGIs and believe they are dazzling us as if we all were illiterate teenagers. The Red Branch deserves more than that. It is authentic, it is truly primitive, it bears memories from the Iron Age, from the old religion. It has nothing to do with your science-fiction, your comic-book barbarians and your contrived XXth Century elves. It`s a legend soaked in mist, told by a nation of primitive, pagan, bragging cattle - raisers. It smells of bonfire smoke and dung. What do they know about all that in California? now, if they only managed to capture one tenth of all the beauty and poetry that CuChulainn holds...The movie would kick ass!
Bodach Posted on Thursday December 12, 2013, 17:20
great idea and long overdue. The imagination in these stories puts makes the Lord of the Rings sound boring.
You have a problem, though: there is a LOT of violence. Cuchulainn cuts people's heads off for looking at him in a funny way. But I would support any group that is looking to get this made. Ar aghaidh! Or as Cuchulainn would say :"Your head would look good tied to the rim of my chariot"