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Walt Disney came to Ireland in search of leprechauns and gold

The Hollywood legend has, in fact, a direct line to county Kilkenny.

EMIGRATION FROM THIS island means Ireland can lay a claim to many an international figure – from Cassius Clay to JFK.

But did you know Walt Disney also proclaimed to “always be Irish’?

The Hollywood legend has, in fact, a direct line to county Kilkenny.

According to Disney historian Paula Sigman Lowery, Disney’s great-grandfather, Arundel Elias Disney, emigrated with his family (including his children) to north America in 1834. His Irish-born son, Kepple, married another Irish-born immigrant, Mary Richardson and their eldest son, Elias, would become Walt’s father.

More than a century after his dad left his homeland – in 1946 to be exact – Disney returned, via England, with his wife Lillian.

The pair came to learn about folklore and leprechauns.

British Pathé has archive footage of the married couple talking about their wishes for the trip (from 1.06): 

British Pathé / YouTube

Disney wanted to visit his ancestral land before he made the movie Darby O’Gill and the Little People, a picture close to his heart.

Of his planned November 1946 trip to Ireland, he wrote to his sister Ruth to say:

“After the premiere [of Song of the South] we are flying up to New York and sailing on the Queen Elizabeth on the 14th for England and then over to Ireland.

We are starting a picture on the Leprechauns or ‘little people’ as they are called in Ireland, so we plan to spend most of our time there gathering background material and learning all we can about Irish folklore.

“I just hope that I can find that leprechaun with that pot of gold, because I could really use that in Hollywood with the cost of production going up the way it is. I’d really like to have it, it’d be handy,” he later told reporters in jest before arriving in Dublin.

Fourteen years later, Darby O’Gill premiered in Ireland – the first Disney film to get its first showing outside the US.

WALT DISNEY Walt and Lillian on 23 June 1959 AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

“I went Irish all the way. I even crossed the ocean in an Irish airlines plane,” Walt said in a promotional television programme with actor Pat O’Brien.

He told his sister that year in his annual birthday letter to her that the Irish people had given him a gift of a pony who was then being “broken and fattened up and will eventually make a marvellous pony for the grandchildren”.

The donkey was called Darby O’Gill, of course.

Read: Ireland was terrified that exercise could be the end of us all in the early 1980s…

More: The man who lived: How one convicted murderer escaped Ireland’s death penalty

Read: How a notorious Nazi war criminal was banned from his picturesque Waterford hideaway

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