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Film / The Fighting Prince of Donegal

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The Fighting Prince of Donegal is a 1966 Walt Disney Productions historical adventure film directed by Michael O'Herlihy and starring Peter McEnery, Susan Hampshire, Tom Adams, Andrew Keir, Gordon Jackson and Richard Leech.

It is based on the novel Red Hugh: Prince of Donegal by Robert T. Reilly and loosely follows the real-life exploits of late 16th century Irish prince Hugh Roe O'Donnell (McEnery). The story begins in 1587, when Hugh's father, the Chief of the Name, dies, leaving his son as chief of the O'Donnell clan. It seemingly fulfills an Irish prophecy which promises freedom from English rule, when Queen Elizabeth I had large parts of Ireland occupied.

In response, Sir John Perrott (the Queen's Lord Deputy) abducts Hugh, imprisons him in Dublin Castle as a hostage for the Clan's good behavior. Hugh must then escape before he is sent to a certain death at the Tower of London and rally the Irish clans to send a message of rebellion to the Queen.


The film got a Comic-Book Adaptation by Gold Key Comics in 1967, Walt Disney Presents: The Fighting Prince of Donegal.

The Fighting Prince of Donegal provides examples of:

  • Age Lift: The film is set in 1587. The real Hugh Roe O'Donnell was 15 that year. It's safe to say no one ever acts like he is a teen in this film — Peter McEnery was 25/26 when playing him.
  • The Alcatraz: Hugh's second prison is more of a dungeon, and living conditions there are worse than in his first cell and there is no shaft/window this time around. He has to bribe Martin, a half-Irish prison attendant, to help him and his comrades to escape through an underwater way leading to the castle moat.
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • As mentioned above with Age Lift, the real Hugh Roe O'Donnell was 15 in 1587, and likely didn't look like a 25/26 year old.
    • Everyone sings "O'Donnell Abú" at the end (the melody of which is used as Hugh's leitmotif in the movie). That song was composed and written about 256 years laters, in 1843.
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  • An Axe to Grind: Hugh uses an axe when leading his troops to retake his castle.
  • Beard of Evil: The Queen's Lord Deputy and Captain Leeds are both bearded in Elizabethan fashion.
  • Boisterous Bruiser:
    • Henry O'Neill is quite a braggart, and he's never afraid to get into a fight.
    • Lord McSweeney is as eager for battle as he loves drinking beer and singing.
  • Call to Agriculture: Martin (the half-Irish prison attendant) dreams of buying himself a farm.
  • Cannot Tell a Lie: When brought before the Queen's Lord Deputy, Hugh cannot promise than he won't try to escape.
  • Cardboard Prison: The first cell in which Hugh is detained has a chimney-like shaft he can quite easily sneak in after filing one of its bar's extremities.
  • The Clan: Hugh leads the O'Donnell clan, and must band together with the other Irish clans to have a chance to defy the English occupation.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Hugh's father was also named "Hugh".
  • Disguised in Drag:
    • Hugh and Henry O'Neill try to escape Dublin disguised as women. It doesn't go as smoothly as expected, as they're betrayed by their shoes.
    • They disguise as women again when they're housed by Moire and her sisters. And Henry has to feign death.
  • Divided We Fall: The various Irish clans are in some sort of feud. Henry O'Neill refuses to be under the command of a O'Donnell for instance. Hugh's goal is to unite them all to have a chance of bargaining with/battling (as a last resort) English occupiers.
  • The Dragon: Captain Leeds is this to the Queen's Lord Deputy.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: During his first evasion attempt, Hugh knocks a guard out and steals his helmet and cape to cross the ramparts.
  • Everything's Louder with Bagpipes: Bagpipes play whenever there is a feast inside an Irish clan's castle, and when Hugh fights Henry O'Neill. And bagpipes play again in the Final Battle when Hugh's army storms the castle.
  • Fighting Irish: Henry O'Neill is always eager to fight.
  • The Ghost: Queen Elizabeth I is mentioned quite a few times, but she's never seen.
    • She does briefly appear at the very beginning in the comic book adaptation, where she discusses with her advisers the possibility of Hugh leading a rebellion against her, and reluctantly orders his capture.
  • Great Escape: While he is detained by the English in Dublin, Hugh seeks to escape by any mean, and eventually pulls it off with his second attempt.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Phelim O'Toole stays behind during Hugh's second evasion attempt, as he doesn't want to be The Load due to his leg.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Lord McSweeney has a flask of alcohol on him, just in case. He funnily drinks some of it before the Final Battle starts.
  • Knife-Throwing Act: When Hugh wants to prove his point about Divided We Fall regarding the clans, he takes a dagger and throws it on a shield on the wall, explaining that one clan's struggle against the English occupation is not enough. He then throws other daggers on it, and it starts unhooking. Henry O'Neill (Tom Adams) then provokes him into a fight, loses the fight, takes a dagger and throws it on the shield, which makes it fall, meaning all clans are now united and follow Hugh.
  • Love Interest: Kathleen McSweeney (Susan Hampshire) is the love of Hugh's life and his betrothed.
  • Lured Into a Trap: An English wine merchant invites Hugh on his ship. Turns out it's a trap to capture him.
  • Martial Pacifist: Hugh doesn't want all-out war against the English, his main goal is to unite the clans and form an army to bargain with the English. Said army would attack only if the English refuse to evacuate Ireland.
  • News Travels Fast: The minute Hugh steps in the prison in Dublin, every prisoner inside already knows who he is. Phelim O'Toole tells him that news travel fast.
  • Occupiers Out of Our Country: The story is about an Irish prince uniting clans to make sure English occupiers leave the country.
  • One-Hit Kill: Whenever someone is hit by an arrow, he dies instantly.
  • Red-Headed Hero: Hugh is red-headed.
  • Rebel Leader: Hugh doesn't fear being one, although the rebellion he wants to ignite is a bargain at first. It will take a more active turn shall the English refuse to withdraw their troops from Ireland.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The way Hugh's army walks towards his castle to retake it in the climax and the shots on said castle are remarkably similar to the Viking army walking towards Aella's castle in The Vikings (1958).
    • The final duel between Hugh and Leeds on the O'Donnell castle's stone stairs inevitably brings the final duel between Robin and Sir Guy of Gisbourne from The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) to mind.
  • Storming the Castle: The Final Battle consists in the retaking of the O'Donnell castle by a coalition of clans led by Hugh.
  • The Strategist: Hugh elaborates a strategy to retake the castle of Donegal and explains it to all the clan leaders before the Final Battle.
  • Violence is the Only Option: Hugh's liege lords want war against the English without negotiations. Hugh refuses.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • Captain Leeds threatens to torture Phelim O'Toole, then hang him if Hugh, Henry and Martin are not recaptured. It's the last scene in which O'Toole is seen. Who knows if he isn't dead by the time the messengers Hugh would have likely sent to Dublin to free him in exchange for Leeds after retaking his castle?
    • Likewise, did Martin succeed in escaping to other parts to farm in peace?