"When we were in Ireland this summer for the premiere of 'Darby O'Gill', the Irishers presented me with a pony which they shipped over here. The little fellow -- who, incidentally, was named 'Darby O'Gill' -- is being broken and fattened up and will eventually make a marvelous pony for the grandchildren. They already show a great interest in ponies."----Letter from Walt Disney to his little sister, Ruth, on December 6, 1959

One of the Disney films that scared me to death as a child was "Darby O'Gill and the Little People". There was just something about that Banshee and the Ghost Coach that to this day gives me the chills even thinking about them. As a child, I also accepted without question that the Leprechauns were real. They certainly looked real in the film and on television I had even seen a special where Walt Disney went to Ireland. It wasn't until decades later that I learned the entire film had been shot in Southern California and it was the trickery of Peter Ellenshaw that allowed real Leprechauns to exist.

Fortunately, that television episode, "I Captured the King of the Leprechauns" with Walt displaying his acting skill opposite actor Pat O'Brien and later Darby O'Gill and King Brian has been preserved on the DVD release of "Darby O'Gill." Which can still be ordered from www.amazon.com by following this link.

By the way, Leprechaun means "little body" in Gaelic, and according to legend, they are 21 inches tall, usually dressed in grass green, 5,000 years old, and immeasurably wealthy.

To celebrate St. Patrick's Day, here is an excerpt from Volume IV, Number 2 (1959) issue of "Walt Disney's Magazine" entitled "How I Met the King of the Leprechauns" by Walt Disney himself. The cover is a color photo by Ira Hoke of Walt and Darby O'Gill meeting the King of the Leprechauns. Obviously, Walt didn't write the article himself but I am assuming he must have skimmed through it to approve it for publication since it was going out to the public with his name.

The article was publicity for the forthcoming Disney live action film, "Darby O'Gill And the Little People", which had its official premiere in Dublin, Ireland on June 24, 1959.

Being half Irish myself, I learned about the Leprechauns of Ireland while I was still a small boy on our farm at Marceline, Missouri. I began to believe in Leprechauns then, because some of my relatives had pretty convincing stories to tell about the magic powers of these Little People, and the tricks they could play when angry.

So, I promised myself that one day, after I had grown up, I would go to the Land of the Leprechauns myself, and meet one in person. The opportunity finally came last year when we decided to use real Little People instead of cartoon imitations in a movie we were planning.

Most Irish in the old country respect Leprechauns. They leave food out for them at night, to keep them happy, and are careful not to disturb old forts and other ruins these wee folk guard as their very own. They are particularly careful not to throw water across any of the tiny paths Leprechauns leave in the grass, because Little People hate water, and there is no telling what sort of mischief they will be up to if they get their feet wet.

Anyway, once we decided on using real Leprechauns in the picture, I set out for Ireland to hire some. We needed about 150, all told, for the picture we had in mind.

How to find a Leprechaun? That was a big question. I found it wasn't easy. It takes a man mighty knowledgeable in the ways of Leprechauns to find one to talk to. I went to a library in Dublin. It was filled with books on the habits of Leprechauns. Each book recorded an encounter someone had with the Little People. There was even a little green suit which had been sent in to the library by a lady from County Cork. She had thrown out her wash water without looking where it was going and later found the fairy clothes hanging on a furze bush to dry. It was lucky nothing worse had come from such a careless encounter.

After a long discussion with the librarian who was an elderly scholar on the history of leprechauns and paging through engravings in books, Walt was sent to County Kerry to find Darby O'Gill who supposedly knew more about the Little People than anyone in Ireland.

Assuring Darby that he is not after Leprechaun gold but to talk to the king himself, Walt is taken to the ruins atop Knocknasheega where following Darby's instructions Walt is able to find a Leprechaun and with Darby interpreting got the fellow to notify the king that Walt wanted to see him.

To my surprise, King Brian spoke English. He is an educated man, you know, who makes it a point to keep up with the times. But his voice was all there was to him. There was nothing at all to be seen.

"Mr. Disney has come all the way from America to see ye, sir," explained Darby, talking to thin air, "Why don't you let him?"

"I've come all the way from the middle of the mountain to have a look at him," replied Brian's voice. "What's this I hear that he doesn't want our gold-is it some new trick maybe?"

Well the king was happy to hear of my Irish ancestry, and that I'd come all the way from America, and that I didn't want any of his gold. So, he condescended to let me talk to his crown and suddenly there it was before me, hanging in space and moving around in starts and stops as if for all the world it had a mind of its own.

"I'm going to do a moving picture about Ireland-the real thing," I told the crown.
"What is that to me?"
"I want you to be in the picture."
"Is it mad you are?"
With that the king appeared. I must have shown my excitement for King Brian shouted, "What ails you? Did you never see an immortal mortal before?"

"I've seen an engraving of you, but it didn't do you justice. I expected an older man," I said in a friendly way.
"Faith, I've only been on this earth 5,000 years!" shouted the king.
"You don't look a day over 4,000," I told him smiling.
I'd scored a point. The king was so flattered at the compliment, he promptly agreed to come to Hollywood and show his handsome face to all the world.

"Well," he said, "if it's a Leprechaun you want, then it's Leprechauns you'll be needin' for the parts of Leprechauns."
Two months later he arrived at the studio with 150 of his subjects, all ready to make the first Leprechaun picture in the history of Leprechauns, which in honor of those who made in possible, we call 'Darby O'Gill and the Little People'."

Walt must really have gotten real Leprechauns as I originally thought because in the final film is a title card that proclaims: "My thanks to King Brian of Knocknasheega and his Leprechauns, whose gracious cooperation made this picture possible-Walt Disney."

One of my treasures from childhood still exists in my collection: A much loved copy of the DELL comic book filled with beautiful Alex Toth artwork recounting the story of the movie. I guess to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, I should browse through my collection (always a dangerous thing to do because I find forgotten treasures to read) to locate that copy and read it again.....it is much less scary to see the Banshee and Ghost Coach in print than on screen!