Disney’s The Fighting Prince of Donegal

The Fighting Prince of Donegal is a classic Disney film that blends historical drama with adventure, released in 1966. Based on the book “Red Hugh: Prince of Donegal” by Robert T. Reilly, the film tells the story of Hugh O’Donnell, the 16th-century Irish chieftain. Directed by Michael O’Herlihy, the film is set against the backdrop of Ireland’s struggle for independence from England. We take a look at the film along with a few of the posters and collectables along with some guide prices.

Cinema Poster Walt Disney presents The Fighting Prince of Donegal
Cinema Poster: Walt Disney presents The Fighting Prince of Donegal, starring Peter Mc Enery, Susan Hampshire, directed by Michael O’Herlihy. Sold for 120 Euros at Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers, December 2023.

The Plot 

Set in the late 1580s, “The Fighting Prince of Donegal” loosely follows the real-life exploits of the 16th-century Irish prince “Red” Hugh O’Donnell. The film’s story arc begins with a pivotal moment in Irish history: the death of Hugh’s father, the king, which leaves Hugh to ascend to the throne of Donegal. This succession sparks a prophecy that has significant implications for the narrative: “When Hugh succeeds Hugh, Ireland shall be free.” This prophecy, heralding the end of Elizabethan and English rule in Ireland, serves as a catalyst for the unfolding events.

Walt Disney Presents The Fighting Prince of Donegal Gold Key Comics 1966
Walt Disney Presents The Fighting Prince of Donegal Gold Key Comics 1966. Sold for £17.97 on ebay, November 2023.

The O’Donnell lords, interpreting this prophecy as a call to arms, initially plan to use force against the English occupiers. However, Hugh, played with charismatic leadership by Peter McEnery, advocates a more strategic approach. He proposes uniting the various Irish clans to form a stronger front, aiming to negotiate freedom from a position of strength. This aspect of the plot showcases Hugh’s tactical acumen and vision for a united Ireland.

The Fighting Prince of Donegal 8x10 photo featuring Susan Hampshire
The Fighting Prince of Donegal 8×10 photo featuring Susan Hampshire

Amidst these political and military maneuvers, the film introduces a romantic subplot involving Hugh and Kathleen McSweeney, portrayed by Susan Hampshire. Her character, Kathleen, is not just a love interest but also a political alliance, as her union with Hugh would further augment the strength of the Irish clans. The burgeoning romance between Hugh and Kathleen adds a personal dimension to the larger historical narrative.

The plot takes a dramatic turn when Hugh O’Donnell is imprisoned by the British in Dublin Castle, reflecting the brutal realities of the time. His imprisonment and subsequent fight for freedom are central to the film’s narrative, highlighting both his resilience and the broader struggle for Irish independence.

The Fighting Prince Of Donegal Style B Folded Us One Sheet Poster Disney 1966
The Fighting Prince Of Donegal Style B US One Sheet Poster Disney 1966. Estimate £15 / $20.

Ultimately, Hugh’s journey leads him to fight for the liberation of Donegal Castle, where Kathleen is being held. This climactic battle is not only a personal quest for Hugh but also a pivotal moment in the struggle against English rule. The film’s depiction of these events, although fictionalized, captures the essence of the Irish fight for freedom and the legendary status of “Red” Hugh O’Donnell.

The performances of the cast, led by McEnery and Hampshire, bring depth to these historical figures. Andrew Keir, as Sir John Perrott, and Gordon Jackson, as Captain Leeds, contribute significantly to the film’s portrayal of the complex political landscape of the era. The supporting cast also plays a crucial role in bringing authenticity to the story.

Incorporating this plot overview into the feature, “The Fighting Prince of Donegal” emerges as a film that is not just an adventure and historical drama but also a romantic tale interwoven with the struggle for Irish independence. The movie, with its blend of action, strategy, romance, and historical context, presented through compelling performances and stunning visuals, remains a memorable entry in Disney’s filmography and an engaging portrayal of a significant chapter in Irish history.

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