Darby O’Gill and the Little People 1959 is a charming Disney family film, with plenty of spookiness and horror to keep the adults entertained too, says DAVID SAUNDERSON
TITLE: Darby O’Gill and the Little People
YEAR RELEASED: 1959
DIRECTOR: Robert Stevenson
CAST: Albert Sharpe, Janet Munro and Sean Connery
PLOT: An wily old Irish gamekeeper, known to poach his own fair share of game, matches wits with the king of the leprechauns while playing matchmaker for his daughter.
FUN FACT: Walt Disney began planning the film in the early 1940s and originally announced the film would be called “The Little People”.
Today is St Patrick’s Day and to celebrate Ireland’s National Day I shall discuss my favourite spooky Irish film.
And funnily enough, it will have nothing to do with Bram Stoker, Sheridan LeFanu or Oscar Wilde to name but a few of the many famous Irish horror and supernatural authors.
Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959) is a classic Disney film that may not immediately jump to mind when discussing spookiness – but this supernatural children’s fare can still send shivers up my spine every time I watch it.
Starring Albert Sharpe, Janet Munro and a very young Sean Connery, Darby O’Gill tells the tale of an wily old Irish gamekeeper and his matching of wits with the king of the leprechauns while matchmaking for his young and beautiful daughter.
My dad was born in County Armagh in Northern Ireland and he instilled in me a dislike for US films based on but not made on the Emerald Isle. American films with actors sporting terrible accents portraying stereotypical drunken Irishmen spouting “top o’ the morning” kind of rubbish just doesn’t do it for me. But for some reason Darby O’Gill – while it is guilty of all those offences – has always been a favourite of mine.
I think it is one of my favourites because of the Banshee.
The Banshee is an Irish ghost that arrives to announce the death of a loved one. The wailing Banshee is a haggard old woman who scrapes and screams at your window in the dead of night. (It can also be a fairy woman and there is a Scottish version too.) It is one of the many marvellous Celtic superstitions and there is no surprise I like that kind of thing.
Darby O’Gill is full of Irish folklore. Darby himself, played by Belfast-born actor Albert Sharpe, is basically the town drunk, who likes to tell tall tales. So when he comes across the King of the Leprechauns, no one believes him. But Darby is no fool and uses his cunning to trick King Brian to giving him wishes. From here, the fun starts.
While I am not going to tell you the entire story, besides the fun and hijinks, the film goes to some very dark places and culminates with a visit from the Banshee and the Cóiste Bodhar – the Death Coach. It is for this very scene with these harbingers of death that I am writing this article and raises Darby O’Gill above other rubbishy Irish kids films.
The sight of old Darby trying to ward off the Banshee is emotional and very cool considering this is a Disney movie. I can’t recall another film with a Banshee in it (If you can think of one, please contact me.)
I am certainly no expert on the intricacies of Irish folklore but I loved this film as a kid (my first dog was called Darby) and I urge you to watch it.
Here’s a song from Sean Connery in the film for you to leave you with! Once again, Happy St Patricks Day.
Sean Connery sings in Darby O’Gill and the Little People
What do you think of Darby O’Gill and the Little People – tell us in the comments section below!