Man of Steel has introduced a new generation to the epic story of Superman. With Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan – who happens to be of Irish descent – on board as executive producer and Zack Snyder directing, movie fans were expecting big things from Man of Steel. And they weren’t disappointed.
In its opening weekend Man of Steel grossed an estimated $113.1 Million. English actor Henry Cavill (who frequented some of Ireland’s castles during his time in The Tudors) plays the role of Kal El aka Clark Kent, and Kevin Costner plays the role of Jonathan Kent. Cavill does an impressive job donning the red cape. When you consider Cavill just barely missed out on playing James Bond to Daniel Craig and a role in the Harry Potter movies, you can’t help but feel chuffed for him.
All this talk of Superman got us thinking about our own Irish superheroes: Cu Chulainn and Fionn Mac Cool. Both men were ancient heroes from the old legends of Ireland. Both were accomplishing heroic feats way before Superman was a twinkle in his father’s super-eye.
Cu Chulainn: The Hound of Ulster
Sure, Superman can lift giant oilrigs and shoot red-hot laser beams out of his eyes, but can he hit a sliotar (think leather tennis ball, used in Gaelic sport of hurling) high into the air and catch it before it hits the ground? Ok, chances are he probably could. But he wouldn’t do it with as much style as our Cu Chulainn. Originally known as Setanta, our hero earned his name Cu Chulainn (which translates into ‘the hound of Chulainn’) when he slayed a monstrous guard hound single-handedly…when he was still a young boy!
Cu Chulainn grew up in County Louth, near the ancient site of Newgrange. Older than both the pyramids of Egypt and England’s Stonehenge, Newgrange is an ancient feat of architectural genius and well worth a visit – plus, it’s a far sight better and easier to find than Krypton.
The young boy was said to have had super-human strength and great prowess on the battlefield. The story of his death is especially heroic. Mortally wounded and facing an enemy army, Cu Chulainn tied himself to a standing stone (still visible today!). The enemy army dared not take one step further while Cu Chulainn stood strong.
Although Cu Chulainn’s lifeblood flowed from his body and he died, the enemy army still saw Cu Chulainn standing tall. They only realised he was dead when a raven landed on his shoulder and began to peck. You can see a beautiful bronze statue of Cu Chulainn’s heroic final moments in Dublin's GPO on O’Connell Street in Dublin City.
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Keeping your MacCool!
Fionn MacCool was an another Irish giant superhero from County Antrim. His battle roars could be heard in neighbouring counties and he could lift one hundred men in one arm. Word reached Fionn of a Scottish giant by the name of Benandonner who challenged Fionn to mortal combat. Furious, Fionn began to forge a pathway from County Antrim across the Irish Sea to Scotland so he could smash his foe.
Turns out Benandonner was nearly twice the size of Fionn, so rather than fight, Fionn and his wife Oonagh outsmarted the Scottish giant and sent him scarpering back to Scotland.
The pathway that Fionn built became known as the Giant’s Causeway and you can still see it today. Some 40,000 hexagonal columns rise and peter out into the ocean in a strange and fanciful way. Sure, some people will tell you it was intense volcanic pressures that created the Causeway, but we prefer the tale of two feuding giants. County Antrim goes hand in hand with fantasy stories. The worldwide TV smash hit Game of Thrones films there, too.
Though Superman is the hero of the moment, Cu Chulainn and Fionn MacCool have had their stories told for thousands of years. Will we still be talking about the Man of Steel in a few thousands years?
Only time will tell.
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