In honor of my Irish heritage, I keep a few long-standing St. Patrick’s Day traditions alive in our house: corned beef and cabbage, a pint or two of Guinness, Chieftains music and required viewing of Darby O’Gill and the Little People – a classic piece of Disney cinema based on the books of books of Herminie Templeton Kavanagh.
If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend Darby O’Gill. 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.”
There are surprises in the movie (Sean Connery singing!) and fiery Irish romance (between Connery and Janet Munro). And the main character, Darby, is an authentic, storytelling Irishman played by well-known Irish stage and film actor, Albert Sharpe.
I love the film for many reasons, but there are two that stand out:
First, like my Chieftains albums, the story in Darby O’Gill is a perfect Irish combination of fun, family/laughter and drama/sadness/lament. A jig one moment and a crying banshee and lost love ballad the next. Up and then down on the St. Catherine’s Wheel of life. First laughter and then tears, and then more laughter… tall tales and ghost stories, community camaraderie in the pub and a beautiful haunting setting in ancient ruins – Darby O’Gill and the Little People has all of the best of the Irish paradoxes wrapped up in a great, satisfying fantasy adventure.
But the value placed on storytelling and the storyteller in the film is perhaps what resonates with me the most. Darby honors the leprechauns by telling their stories, and because of the this, he wins a great prize from King Brian and is treasured by the people of his village. He is an honest soul – a dreamer – who gives himself up to the story in much the same way that he gives himself up to life – unafraid to laugh when he is amused and cry when sorrowful. There is no artificiality and pretense about Darby.
I grew up amid storytellers. Some told stories in song, and some – like Darby – told stories in gatherings of friends and family. I did my best to honor this storytelling in my yet-to-be-published novel, “Dogs, Frost and Watermelon Candy” – some songs and stories bring smiles and some tears; that is the Irish way.
In my opinion, storytelling simply for the sake of sharing story with the listener is something of a lost art. So many who profess to be storytellers today simply wish to promote an agenda or persuade a listener. And, while I recognize the validity of this in certain instances, I yearn for the honest balladeer and the traditional oral storytellers of old.
And so, in honor of the day, I raise a pint today to Darby, and to the Irish storyteller in myself…and in all of us.