Casting the Celtic Gods in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Part II: Heroes, Monsters, and Druids Who Deserve the Spotlight

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A quick recap to get you all up to speed: 

I have a theory that the Celtic gods are going to show up in Thor: Love and Thunder.

In the comics, there are 11 core deities who comprise the Celtic gods (a.k.a. the Tuatha de Danaan / Danann). Those deities have already been cast in the MCU…by me.

If you haven’t already, you should go back right now and read part I of casting the Celtic gods in the MCU. It explains my whole super sophisticated casting methodology, which I dare not rehash here as it is too super and too sophisticated.

Alright, enough preamble. Let’s get to it.

11 Characters From Celtic Mythology Who Would Light Up the Screen (And the Actors and Actresses Who Should Play Them)

1. Brigid — Saoirse Ronan

photo of saoirse ronan next to illustration of Irish goddess brigid

Known as Brigindo among the Gaulish Celts and Brigantia among the Brythonic/Brittonic Celts, Brigid (also: Brigit) is the Irish goddess of fertility and poetry. In Irish culture, Brigid is famous for inventing the keen—a strained, mournful, nasally style of singing—as well as for her feast day, Imbolc, celebrated on February 1st-2nd. (She’s also the daughter of the Dagda who, in a perfect world, will be played by Brendan Gleeson.)

As one of Ireland’s most popular and influential goddesses (it’s likely she inspired many of the stories written about the eponymous St. Brigid, Ireland’s patroness saint), it’s only fitting she be played by one of Ireland’s most popular and influential actresses, Saoirse Ronan. With starring turns in films like Brooklyn, Lady Bird, and Little Women, there’s no doubt the Oscar-nominated Ronan would be able to elevate even the most ham-fisted of mythologically inspired superhero scripts. And yes, if the MCU needs Brigid to bust some skulls, Ronan—who played a teenage assassin in Hanna—can handle that, too.

Alternate(s): None.

2. Lugh — Cillian Murphy

The problem with the Cork-born actor Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later, Peaky Blinders) is that I want to cast him in every role. It took all of my willpower to keep him off of my list from Part I. But the more I thought about it, the more it became clear that Murphy has to play Lugh. Why? Because while Lugh isn’t given much to do in the comics, he plays a hugely important role in Irish myths.

Cognate with the Gaulish Lugos and the Welsh Lleu, the Irish Lugh Lamhfada (“of the long arm” or “of the long throw”) is ostensibly a sun-god but is also known as the “many-skilled” god, as he is a master poet, musician, blacksmith, builder, swordsman, and the list goes on. Like Brigid, he has his own feast day (Lughnasadh). During the Second Battle of Mag Tuireadh, Lugh witnesses the death of his king, Nuada, at the hand of Balor of the Evil Eye, leader of the Fomorians. Rather than back down, Lugh engages Balor in battle and sends a sling-stone right through Balor’s infamous eye, killing him. Oh, and as I mentioned in my Thor: Love and Thunder post, Lugh possesses the lightning spear, a legendary weapon that never misses its mark and, like Thor’s hammer Mjölnir from Norse mythology, always returns to its thrower. 

The bottom line: this god is more than a god, he’s a hero. Not only can Cillian Murphy play that hero, he can then pass the spear onto the next generation. In Irish mythology, Lugh is the father of Ireland’s greatest champion, Cú Chulainn (ideally played by Michael Fry).

Alternate(s): Ewan McGregor

3. Scáthach — Karen Gillan

Before you even say it, yes, I know Karen Gillan is already in the MCU…buried under blue makeup. Now, imagine if Karen Gillan, butt-kicking star of the new Jumanji flicks, were also to appear in the MCU as an ancient Scottish warrior…who were known to wear blue face paint (woad) into battle. Look, I’m sorry Ms. Gillan, there’s no getting around the blue paint, but I promise that Scáthach is a stellar role.

The main thing you need to know about Scáthach is that she teaches Cú Chulainn, Ireland’s greatest hero, how to fight and how to throw his famous belly-spear (Gáe Bulg) with his foot. Yes, you heard that right: Scáthach is the greatest hero from Irish mythology’s teacher. In fact, she trains a lot of the Irish heroes from the Ulster Cycle. They all make the journey to Scáthach’s famed martial arts school, Dún Scáith (“Fortress of Shadows”), on the Isle of Skye. Now that’s something I’d like to see on the big screen: Karen Gillan’s Scáthach putting a bunch of cocky Irish demi-gods in their places at the Fortress of Shadows.

Alternate(s): Isla Fisher, Kelly Macdonald

4. Aengus Óg — Colin Farrell

Do I even have to explain this one? Aengus Óg is the Irish god of love, and Colin Farrell is Colin Farrell. Just look at the pictures for Dagda’s sake!

Class dismissed.

Alternate(s): Jamie Dornan, Paul Mescal

5. Ériu — Sharon Horgan

There’s a scene in the show This Way Up in which Sharon Horgan (Pulling, Catastrophe) plays the bodhrán, and I knew right then: This is the personification of Ireland. Sharon Horgan must play Ériu, the goddess who gave the Emerald Isle its name (Éire).

In Irish mythology, Ériu stands on the hilltops with her sisters, Banba and Fódla, as the invading Milesians storm the shore. She’d prophesied their arrival. So rather than fight them off, she negotiates: “Name this island after me and my sisters and we’ll leave you alone” (paraphrasing). The Milesians agree. And while Ériu’s name has obviously stood the test of time, “Banba” and “Fódla” are still used occasionally as poetic names for Ireland, similar to how Albion is used as a poetic name for Britain.

Alternate(s): Aisling Bea

6. Dian Cécht — Billy Connolly 

photo of billy connolly next to illustration of Irish god dian cecht

We need this character for one scene, one glorious, humorous scene: Dian Cécht, the Irish god of medicine, presents the recently de-limbed Nuada with a silver hand (or silver arm, depending on one’s interpretation of Airgetlám). Dian Cécht attaches it. Then he makes several sexually explicit jokes about how Nuada should—and shouldn’t—use his new hand. This is Irish mythology, after all.

Yes, Billy Connolly (The Boondock Saints, Brave, The Hobbit) is Scottish, but that hardly matters. He has the gravitas to be taken seriously as the doctor of the Irish gods, and as a former stand-up comedian, you can be sure as silver that Connolly can quip with the best of the MCU’s many quippers.

Alternate(s): Ian McElhinney

7. Danu —  Ivanna Sakhno

Danu—cognate with the Welsh Dôn—is a mother goddess, the Irish equivalent of Mother Earth. She also happens to be the namesake of the Tuatha Dé Danann (“tribe of the gods of Danu”). Unfortunately, there are no surviving myths that describe Danu in action. She’s more of an ancestral figure. In an MCU film, she’d definitely be a flashback star, à la Sauron in the Lord of the Rings movies. Her role would be to shine a light on the earliest days of the Tuatha Dé Danann.

Naturally, we need Ivanna Sakhno (Pacific Rim: Uprising, The Spy Who Dumped Me). She’s a Ukrainian actress. Why do we need a Ukrainian actress for the part of a Celtic god? Because “Danu” likely comes from the same root word as the Danube River that flows through Eastern Europe. Was one named after the other? Hard to say. But for the purposes of making a bold casting choice, let’s assume the goddess Danu originated on the banks of the Danube. I can already picture a flashback and/or opening scene in which we see Sakhno’s Danu sailing to Ireland and assembling the Tuatha Dé Danann, Avengers-style.

Alternate(s): Milla Jovovich, Diane Kruger

8. Balor of the Evil Eye — Jonathan Rhys Meyers

photo of jonathan rhys meyers next to illustration of Irish god balor of the evil eye

Have you seen Match Point? How about The Tudors? If you know, you know: Jonathan Rhys Meyers can play the crap out of a violent creep, making him perfect for the role of Balor of the Evil Eye, leader of the Fomorians (also: Fomorii) and arch nemesis of the Tuatha Dé Danann.

According to Irish mythology, Balor can wreak havoc upon the battlefield just by opening his eye, which unleashes poison. And as we learned earlier, Lugh (ideally played by Cillian Murphy) ultimately defeats Balor by sending a sling-stone through his evil eye. Not only will this make for an awesome action sequence, but it will also make for an emotional family moment. Oh, did I forget to mention…?

Balor is Lugh’s grandfather.

Alternate(s): Iwan Rheon

9. Ceridwen— Aimee-Ffion Edwards

Don’t worry, Welsh readers. I didn’t forget about yas! And the MCU shouldn’t forget about the many wonderful (and powerful) characters from Welsh mythology either. At the top of my list of Welsh magic-wielders is Ceridwen (also: Cerridwen), who is either the goddess of poetry, inspiration, and transformation or an enchantress associated with those specialities. Her divinity depends on the source material. Regardless, the Welsh actress Aimee-Ffion Edwards (Peaky Blinders, Skins, Detectorists) is perfect for the role.

I can see it now. Edwards’s Ceridwen in a fire-lit room, leaning over Awen—the cauldron of poetic inspiration. (What, you’ve never heard of it?) She’s mixing a potion. But what’s this? One of Ceridwen’s servants has knocked over a vial of newt’s eye (or something). So now Ceridwen is turning the servant into a kernel of corn, and now she’s transforming into a chicken and…eating him!? But that’s not the end of it. Not even close. Because after eating the servant, Ceridwen becomes pregnant and gives birth and the servant is reborn as the master bard/druid, Taliesin, who also happens to be the next character on this list.

Alternate(s): Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kate Dickie

10. Taliesin — Ioan Gruffudd

photo of Ioan Gruffudd next to illustration of Welsh bard Taliesin

Some people say Taliesin was the original Mr. Fantastic. And by “some people,” I mean absolutely nobody. Still, Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four, King Arthur) is the man for the job.

Much like St. Patrick—and, let’s face it, everyone, to varying degrees—Taliesin is both a historical and legendary figure. The historical Taliesin was a sixth-century C.E. bard and poet who lived in Britain, then under Roman rule. In medieval Welsh manuscripts he is often referred to as Taliesin, Chief of Bards (Taliesin Ben Beirdd).

According to the Hanes Taliesin (Tale of Taliesin), which was recorded in the 16th century by chronicler Elis Gruffydd (yup, you read that right, just one letter off from our boy Gruffudd), Taliesin is not only a bard, but also a wizard (or perhaps a druid), capable of enchanting people (and animals) and predicting the future. So what qualifies Gruffudd for the role, apart from his Welshness? The Chief of Bards needs to be able to carry a tune, and Gruffudd has already proven that he can.

Alternate(s): Matthew Rhys

11. Amergin Glúingel — Aidan Gillen

Another day, another bard-cum-druid in need of an actor who can sing. According to the Book of Invasions, the aforementioned Milesians initially engaged in diplomacy with the Tuatha Dé Danann, and the Milesian druid-bard Amergin Glúingel served as a sort of impartial third-party. A chief arbiter, if you will (which was a typical function of historical druids, I might add). As part of the deal Amergin negotiated, he and the rest of the Milesians would return to sea—beyond the magical boundary of the ninth wave—and would give a signal before engaging the Tuatha Dé Danann in battle.

Long story short, the Tuatha Dé Danann reneged on the deal and brewed up a magical storm to prevent the Milesians from landing again. This did not sit well with Amergin, who sang an invocation—now known as the “Song of Amergin“—calling on the spirit of Ireland (did somebody say Ériu?) to part the storm. His plan worked. And the rest is history. Errr, mythology. 

Okay, okay, that was a lot of preamble for the only important question on everyone’s mind:

Can Game of Thrones star Aidan Gillen sing? I mean…sort of? But really it doesn’t matter. They’ve got auto-tune these days. And besides, Amergin Glúingel—Aidan Gillen. Clearly this casting was meant to be.

Alternate(s): Pierce Brosnan

*12. Banshee — Saoirse Ronan

Dual roles. Yes, you heard me right. As a bonus twelfth entry on this list of Celtic gods, monsters, and heroes, I give you Saoirse Ronan once again, this time as a banshee.

You see, there’s this theory that the banshee is actually the spirit of the Irish goddess Brigid, who, as you might recall, was renowned for her sorrowful singing style known as keening. And what is a banshee but the ultimate keener? A female spirit who goes around shrieking and wailing to warn of impending death.

Weirdly, playing the spirit of a deceased character wouldn’t be a first for Ronan (re: The Lovely Bones). She’s also played dual roles before (re: The Host). Again, perfect casting, if I do say so myself. If you’re going to bring a talent like Ronan into the MCU, best cast her as a character who can grow and evolve (or devolve) over the course of several on-screen projects.

***UPDATE (May 27, 2022)

It just dawned on me that Amergin Glúingel—like the rest of his Milesian compatriots—came from what is now Spain (or so the story goes). Ergo, I failed to adhere to my incredibly strict and complex rubric for making these very real and very important casting decisions. Upon further reflection, I should have cast the role with a Spanish actor.

Allow me to remedy this most egregious error post-haste:

Forget your Antonio Banderases, forget your Javier Bardems. Jordi Mollà might not be a household name in North America, but just google or IMDb the guy. Blow. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. And apparently Mollà was in Ant-Man but in an uncredited role? Just retcon that, Marvel. “Castillo” (Mollà’s character) was Amergin all along!

Further Reading

The Mammoth Book of Celtic Myths and Legends by Peter Berresford Ellis

Celtic Myth and Religion: A Study of Traditional Belief, with Newly Translated Prayers, Poems and Songs by Sharon Paice MacLeod

Celtic Myths and Legends by T. W. Rolleston

A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology (The Oxford Reference Collection) [1st Edition] by James MacKillop

Thor and Hercules: Encyclopaedia Mythologic by Anthony Flamini, Fred Van Lenten, Paul Cornell, & Greg Pak

Want to learn about the darker side of Irish mythology? Check out…

Samhain in Your Pocket (Celtic Pocket Guides 2)

Perhaps the most important holiday on the ancient Celtic calendar, Samhain marks the end of summer and the beginning of a new pastoral year. It is a liminal time—a time when the forces of light and darkness, warmth and cold, growth and blight, are in conflict. A time when the barrier between the land of the living and the land of the dead is at its thinnest. A time when all manner of spirits and demons are wont to cross over from the Celtic Otherworld. Learn more…

Neon Druid: An Anthology of Urban Celtic Fantasy

“A thrilling romp through pubs, mythology, and alleyways. NEON DRUID is such a fun, pulpy anthology of stories that embody Celtic fantasy and myth,” (Pyles of Books). Cross over into a world where the mischievous gods, goddesses, monsters, and heroes of Celtic mythology live among us, intermingling with unsuspecting mortals and stirring up mayhem in cities and towns on both sides of the Atlantic, from Limerick and Edinburgh to Montreal and Boston. Learn more…

More the listenin’ type?

I recommend the audiobook Celtic Mythology: Tales of Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes by Philip Freeman (narrated by Gerard Doyle). Use my link to get 3 free months of Audible Premium Plus and you can listen to the full 7.5-hour audiobook for free.

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