Darby O'Gill and the Little People

Darby O'Gill and the Little People
Darby O'Gill and the Little People

Film poster by Reynold Brown
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Produced by Walt Disney
Written by H. T. Kavanagh (stories)
Lawrence Edward Watkin
Starring Albert Sharpe
Janet Munro
Sean Connery
Jimmy O'Dea
Music by Oliver Wallace
Cinematography Winton Hoch
Editing by Stanley Johnson
Studio Walt Disney Productions
Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution
Release date(s) June 26, 1959 (1959-06-26)
Running time 93 minutes
Language English

Darby O'Gill and the Little People is a 1959 Walt Disney Productions feature film starring Albert Sharpe, Janet Munro, Sean Connery and Jimmy O'Dea, in a tale about a wily Irishman and his battle of wits with leprechauns. The film was directed by Robert Stevenson and its screenplay written by Lawrence Edward Watkin after the books of Herminie Templeton Kavanagh. The film's title is a slight modification of one of the two Kavanagh books, Darby O'Gill and the Good People. This title, and her other book; The Ashes of Old Wishes And Other Darby O'Gill Tales were the original source for this movie.



In the small Irish town of Rathcullen, County Kerry, Darby O'Gill (Albert Sharpe) is the aging caretaker of Lord Fitzpatrick's (Walter Fitzgerald) estate, where he lives in the nearby gatehouse with his lovely, almost grown, daughter Katie (Janet Munro). Darby spends most of his time in the town pub, regaling his friends with tales of his attempts to catch the leprechauns, in particular, their king, Brian Connors (Jimmy O'Dea). Darby is past his prime as a laborer, so Lord Fitzpatrick decides to retire him on half-pay and give him and Katie another cottage to live in, rent-free, and give his job to a young Dubliner named Michael McBride (Sean Connery). Darby begs Michael not to tell Katie that he is being replaced, to which Michael reluctantly agrees. That very night, Darby is captured by the leprechauns while chasing Cleopatra, his runaway horse (who is actually a Pooka), on top of the fairy mountain Knocknasheega. Darby learns that King Brian has brought him into the mountain so that Darby can avoid the shameful admission to Katie about losing his job. However, Darby tricks the leprechauns into embarking on a fox hunt by playing "The Fox Chase" for them on a beautiful Stradivarius violin, loaned to him by King Brian. The leprechauns mount their tiny white horses and leave through a large crack in the mountainside wall, from which Darby escapes.

King Brian, angry for being made a fool of, comes to fetch Darby, and another battle of wits ensues over a jug of poitín. Darby traps King Brian by getting him so drunk that he does not notice the sunrise, which strips him of his powers until the next sunset. Trapped, Brian is forced to grant Darby three wishes before he can return home. Darby wisely makes his first wish be that King Brian not return to Knocknasheega, but to remain at his beck and call for a fortnight (two weeks), giving him time to think of two other, equally wise wishes. King Brian is furious, but forced to comply. The wily leprechaun king manages to trick Darby into (partially) wasting his second wish by appearing only as a rabbit in Darby's burlap sack, causing Darby unwittingly to say to Michael: "I wish you could see him [the King]". King Brian meets Darby halfway by appearing to both Michael and Katie in his true form in their dreams. Darby decides that he wants to use his third and last wish to ensure Katie's happiness. King Brian says to Darby that what Katie probably wants most of all is a "good, steady lad with temperate ways". Someone, in short, like Michael.

After a rocky beginning, Katie and Michael begin to show signs of growing affection for each other. Katie believes Michael is merely seasonal help, as her father could not bring himself to break the news of his retirement (and their imminent move). However, Michael has an arrogant rival in Pony Sugrue (Kieron Moore), the town bully with his eyes on both Katie and Michael's job.

Katie, angered at finding out the truth about her father's retirement from Pony's unpleasantly meddlesome mother (Estelle Winwood), injures herself in a fall on Knocknasheega while trying to catch Cleopatra at night. The banshee appears, heralding Katie's death and sending the cóiste-bodhar, a spectral coach driven by a dullahan, to carry her soul off to the land of the dead. Desperate, Darby elects to use his final wish to go in his daughter's place. King Brian is deeply saddened at Darby's wish, but grants it, but once Darby is on his way to the next world, King Brian reappears in the Death Coach and tricks Darby into making a final fourth wish ("wishing" that his friend could join him in the afterlife). This negates all the previous wishes and spares Darby's life. Darby is saved and King Brian has (literally) the last laugh in their running battle of wits.

Katie's fever has broken and she and Michael reveal their love for each other. Michael also fights Pony Sugrue at the pub; getting his just revenge for Pony's attempt to get him fired by clubbing him on the head and pouring whiskey all over him to make him appear drunken and incompetent. Michael soundly thrashes Pony and knocks him cold. Finally, Darby and Michael depart arm-in-arm, joining Katie outside in the wagon for a happy ending, with Michael and Katie singing a final duet together of "Pretty Irish Girl" (see below).



The film's development began with a visit to Ireland and the Irish Folklore Commission by Walt Disney and associates in 1947. The Disney company continued to liase with the Commission and its director, James Delargy, over the coming decade based on Disney's desire to use Irish folklore as the basis of a film but, to Delargy's disappointment, eventually decided to make an adaptation of Irish-American writer Herminone Templeton Kavanagh's 1903 collection of stories 'Darbie O'Gill and the Good People.'[1]

This is the film that first brought Sean Connery to the attention of producer Albert R. Broccoli, who at the time was casting the first James Bond film, Dr. No. Broccoli hired Connery on the recommendation of his wife, Dana Broccoli.

The Death Coach, or cóiste bodhar (pronounced "Coashta-Bower" in the film), acquired its name from a misunderstanding - 'bodhar' being the Irish word for 'deaf' rather than 'death', the misunderstanding presumably arose from differences of accent.

There are actually two versions of the film's soundtrack. Several of the original Irish actors' accents (notably Darby, Widow Sheelah Sugrue, King Brian, and the Leprechauns) were deemed too difficult for American audiences to understand and were consequently overdubbed with easier-to-understand voices, possibly from different voice actors. The original soundtrack also contains some dialogue in Irish, especially from King Brian and his leprechaun subjects, which was subsequently changed in the overdubbed version to English alternatives. Both versions are used on television showings and also on DVD, although quite contrarily, the Region 1 US/Canada DVD contains the original undubbed soundtrack and the Region 2 PAL disc uses the dubbed version.

Despite its setting, the bulk of the film was shot at Disney's ranch in Burbank, California. Second unit footage from Ireland, combined with matte paintings by Peter Ellenshaw, helped present a seamless picture of late-nineteenth century Ireland.

Many of the scenes combining humans and Leprechauns used forced perspective, with the "Little People" much farther from the camera. This required stopping the camera's lens way down for adequate depth of field, and a consequent increase in lighting to compensate.

The duet "Pretty Irish Girl", apparently sung by Sean Connery and Janet Munro, has been alleged to feature dubbed vocals by Irish singers, Brendan O'Dowda and Ruby Murray.[2] A single of the duet was released in the UK. However, the deeper male vocal and breathy female vocal (which matches Munro’s a capella finish to the song, plainly recorded on set) performing the song in the American version of the film[3] do not match the voices of O'Dowda (a tenor) nor Murray (a trained singer.)[3] Connery does sing the song Pretty Irish Girl (with solo piano accompaniment) on the 1992 compilation The Music of Disney: A Legacy of Song, and in 1959 Top Rank released a single in the UK (catalog number JAR 163) which featured Connery and Munro singing the song.[3]

Walt Disney devoted an episode of his show Disneyland to promoting the film, recruiting actors Sharpe and O'Dea to film special segments on the set with Disney, as well as Irish-American actor Pat O'Brien. The episode, "I Captured the King of the Leprechauns", marked the only known television appearance of both Sharpe and O'Dea.


On the film's initial release, A. H. Weiler of The New York Times praised the cast (save Connery whom he described as "merely tall, dark, and handsome") and thought the film an "overpoweringly charming concoction of standard Gaelic tall stories, fantasy and romance."[4]

Film critic and historian Leonard Maltin in his book The Disney Films, states, "Darby O'Gill and the Little People is not only one of Disney's best films, but is certainly one of the best fantasies ever put on film."[5] Maltin rates the movie so highly that in a later article he included it among a list of lesser known outstanding Disney films.


  1. ^ Tony Tracy, 'When Disney Met Delargy: Darby O'Gill and the Irish Folklore Commission', Béaloideas: Journal of the Irish Folklore Society, Vol. 78, 2010 pp 50-59.
  2. ^ "Gifted Irish tenor linked with Percy French", The Irish Times, 2 March 2002
  3. ^ a b c Youtube, Duet between Connery and Munro
  4. ^ New York Times Review. Retrieved September 23, 2008
  5. ^ Maltin, Leonard (2000). The Disney Films. Disney Editions. pp. 416. ISBN 978-0786885275. http://www.amazon.com/Disney-Films-Leonard-Maltin/dp/0786885270. Retrieved 2010-08-17. 

External links

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