Darby O'Gill is the protagonist in Disney's 1959 live action film, Darby O'Gill and the Little People. He is based on a character created by Hermione Temple Kavanagh, who used him as an archetypal Irish storyteller for her retelling of Irish folklore, similar in some ways to Uncle Remus as an African-American storyteller. He is Lord Fitzpatrick's former caretaker, Katie's father, and Michael MacBride's possible future father-in-law.
Darby is the town's leading expert on Irish folklore and spends most of his time telling his friends in the pub about his adventures with the Leprechauns, neglecting his work caring for Lord Fitzpatrick's estate. He is good-humored and clever, priding himself on how close he has come to outwitting the Leprechaun king, King Brian. He is still impulsive, however, and for all his cleverness, sometimes rushes into a situation without thinking. He dearly loves his daughter, Katie, who understands his bond with the little people. As she explains it, Darby has been lonely since the death of his wife, and "The wee folk give him sport."
Role in the film
In the film, Darby is an elderly widowed workingman living in the Irish town of Rathcullen with his grown-up daughter, Katie. Over the years, he has frequently tried to capture King Brian of the Leprechauns and force him to give him a pot of gold. In spite of their rivalry, Darby and King Brian are both fonds of each other.
When Lord Fitzpatrick tells Darby that he is being retired and replaced by Michael McBride, Darby urges Michael to keep it a secret for Katie until he can break the news to her himself. That night, in the old ruins of Knocknasheega, looking for his horse, Cleopatra, he is transported to the kingdom of leprechauns. Having heard of Darby's trouble, King Brian invites him to stay with the leprechauns for the rest of his life. Darby tricked his way out of the Fairy mountain by playing a tune on a violin that whipped Brian and his people into a frenzy. When Brian and his subjects went out riding, Darby escaped. When Darby arrives home, Brian came in angry. Darby tricked Brian to stay with him to have a drink, causing him to stay until morning when he was powerless. He forced Brian to grant him three wishes. His first wish was for Brian to stay with him until he made the next two. But Brian tricked him out of one wish when he wished Michael could see the Leprechaun king himself. When Darby was unable to think of a third wish, Brian offered to play matchmaker between Katie and Michael.
Katie has a fall searching for Cleopatra. When Darby sees the Banshee approaching her, and the Coiste Bodhar (Death Coach) following, he realizes she is dying and uses his third wish to have the coach take him instead.
Darby climbs into the death coach to ride to the afterlife, with Brian accompanying him. As a last favor to Darby, Brian tricks him into wishing they could ride together all the way. Since a fourth wish undoes the first three, Darby is returned to earth alive, while Katie still recovers. Soon after Michael and Katie admit their love, ensuring that Darby and Katie will be able to live in their old house with Michael from now on.
- Darby is played by the Irish actor, Albert Sharpe, who had played a similar character on Broadway in the musical Finian's Rainbow, a part that was later played by Jonathan Freeman (who voiced Jafar). In the musical, Sharpe played an elderly Irishman obsessed with getting rich using a Leprechaun's gold. Walt Disney saw the show and years later, was inspired to cast Sharpe as Darby.
- Albert Sharpe did not know how to play the violin, so two professional musicians were hired to create the illusion. One handled the bowing and the other handled the fingerboard while Sharpe kept his hands out of the way during the Fox Chase scene.