The Mystery of O'Gills the Lucky Fish

by Jim Korkis, staff writer

When I was much younger and uncovered a Disney fact that Disney Archivist Dave Smith didn't know (completely forgetting that Dave knew a ton of things I didn't know), he graciously told me, "Nobody can know everything about Disney. Certainly not me."

It is a phrase I often used for years afterward when referring to myself when someone stumps me because that statement remains as true today as it did when Dave first said it.

Every day new discoveries are being made in Disney history. In addition, Disney is constantly changing things, especially in physical locations, like the theme parks, such as removing the authentic Chicago barber chairs in the Walt Disney World (WDW) Harmony Barber Shop in 2012 that had adorned the shops for 40 years to the recent re-hab of the Disney Magic cruise ship where some beloved areas were completely transformed into something different.

I doubt I will ever remember to call it Prince Regal Royal Carousel instead of Cinderella Carousel, and I continue to call a popular WDW theme park Disney MGM Studios despite all the new signage and collateral.

However, I was taken aback when I recently took "The Art of the Theme Show Tour" on the Disney Magic. The guide took the group to the After Hours area on Deck 3 Forward. While she didn't take us inside any of the clubs, she quickly rattled off some information before taking us to the next location.

One of the things that caught my attention was when she claimed, "O'Gill's Pub is based on the Disney film Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959). If you remember the film, it featured leprechauns and one fell in a river and was rescued by fish. The leprechaun granted him a wish and the fish just wanted a place where he could share a pint with his new friend and that is the story of O'Gill's."

The guide didn't wait for questions ... but I had several. I was indeed familiar with the Disney film Darby O'Gill and the Little People. In fact, I wrote about it in a column for MousePlanet in 2008.

I can assure you there was no episode in the film, or in Darby's fanciful stories, where a leprechaun was rescued by fish, let alone given a public house for drinking.

So, I did what I always do when I hear something I never heard before. I kept my mouth shut, but decided to do some investigating. I have seen people terrified when they recognize me on a tour but I have never corrected someone who shared bad information while they were giving a tour.

I have given tours and know how tough it is and how easy it is to have a slip of the tongue where 200 pounds can become 200 tons if you are thinking about the next place to go or studying your audience. I have sometimes gone up to the person after the tour and said, "You know, I never heard such and such. This is the way I heard it."

After the tour, I went back to O'Gill's and, sure enough, there was a cartoonish painting of a pipe-smoking leprechaun standing on a bank near his pot of gold clinking glasses with a sleepy-eyed, smiling pink fish in a black derby and tie standing upright in the nearby body of water. This painting is just to the left of the entrance and to me it was a good sign that the story I had just been told had some basis in fact.

I also thought that it was clever that name of the pub referenced the leprechaun stories of Darby O'Gill and that a fish would have gills and the expression "drunk to the gills" fit in as well. Drunk to the gills was an expression that meant you were so full of alcohol that you were swimming in it "up to your gills."

Then I talked to the bartender about the story. He had never heard it before. When I pointed out the painting, he replied, "There are a lot of things in here. That's what Disney does. The place has been called all sorts of things over the years."

He was right. When the Disney Magic cruise ship launched in 1998, this bar was called "Off Beat." In 2003, it was rethemed and renamed "Diversions."

So I asked another bartender and got the same basic response. In an attempt to satisfy a disappointed Disney guest, they called in somebody from the back who had worked on the ship for many years. He had no idea why the bar was now called "O'Gill's." If the story had been covered in training, it had made no impact and the crew working the area had no curiosity about it.

So when is a story not a story? When no one seems to know the story or understands it or supports it. Perhaps it is different on the Disney Fantasy, where the O'Gill's Pub originated.

According to the official Disney Cruise website: "O'Gill's Pub is a spirited Irish bar located on Deck 4, Aft in the Europa district on the Disney Fantasy. From the whimsical to the cosmopolitan, each venue in Europa is distinctly inspired by the very best in European travel.

"Dark woods and brass accents are reminiscent of the friendly neighborhood pubs throughout Ireland—and flat-screen televisions give O'Gill's Pub a welcome modern-day twist. Exclusively for Guests ages 18 and older, O'Gill's Pub is a great spot for adults to unwind after a fun-filled day, catch the big game and kick off a night exploring the entertainment of Europa."

By the way, O'Gill's offers a red lager draft made especially for the pub, as well as its own private label Irish Cream and vintage Irish whisky.

O'Gill's fits in quite nicely in theme on the Disney Fantasy After Hours adult club area as a collection of European bars, but with just minimal removal of a few items, it could just as easily be a Chicago sports bar.

Apparently, its popularity on the Disney Fantasy prompted its inclusion on the Disney Magic for its After Hours adult club area. O'Gills does not theme in as well with the other two venues: Keys (an Art Deco piano bar meant to suggest the Golden Age of Hollywood and similar locations on Sunset Boulevard) and Fathoms (a generic ocean themed dance club space with overhead jellyfish lighting fixtures that light up—thanks to 400 strands of fiber optics and 250 different colors created by Impact Lighting of Orlando, Florida).

No official Disney website has the "story" of "O'Gill's" that I could find.

However, with some further digging I was able to come up with the story devised by some Imagineering show writer, and here it is:

The Legend of O'Gills

This is the legend of O'Gills the lucky fish, who saved the Leprechaun and was granted a wish.

You see, the Leprechaun was kind of a slacker, and carrying his pot o' gold made him quite knackered.

He stopped for a drink from the loch, when a crab pulled him underwater in a shock.

The Leprechaun was about to drown, but luckily our hero, O'Gills, was around.

With a puff of his pipe, O'Gills tipped his hat, and used his tail to give that crab a deadly whack.

The Leprechaun swam away and thankful he was, and then offered a wish to O'Gills without pause.

The Leprechaun expected a wish for riches or a yoke; he says wishes are never quare, and usually a joke.

But O'Gills puffed his pipe and remained nonchalant, because he knew exactly the kind of wish he wants.

O'Gills smiled and said "gargle" to the Little Man, and then asked him if he could give him a hand.

You see, O'Gills didn't need stuff or riches to spend; he just wanted to share a pint with his new little friend.

So let's raise our glasses for O'Gills wish, and drink to new friends and a lucky fish.

No there is no apostrophe on this official version and apparently the name of the fish is "O'Gills."

Also notice there is no apostrophe in the last sentence when it should be possessive. This seems a careless slip.

My good friend, Werner Weiss (the author of the popular Disney history website) will be gritting his teeth reading that last sentence because he is a stickler for correct punctuation and proper nomenclature, and I have learned a lot from him and his high standards.

Even more frustrating is that the official Disney Cruise Line website lists both "O'Gill's Pub" and "O'Gills Pub" as the name of the location, switching back and forth several times on the same page from using an apostrophe.

Even more incredible is the fact that there is an official song for O'Gill's Pub, and here it is. I suppose the intention was that if the group that night was inebriated enough that the bartenders might lead everyone in the pub in a rousing rendition of this song.

Again, this may happen on the Disney Fantasy, but there seemed little hope it would occur on the Disney Magic, if for no other reason than the fact that the crew was completely unaware of the Imagineering backstory.

The Ballad of O'Gills

O'Gills, O'Gills the lucky fish, O'Gills, O'Gills Please make a wish.

Let's tip our hats and have a chat, With O'Gills the lucky fish!

O'Gills, O'Gills The fighting fish, O'Gills, O'Gills You are Irish

Let's join the group And have some scoops With O'Gills the lucky Fish!

O'Gills, O'Gills The drinking fish O'Gills, O'Gills Please make a wish

Let's share a glass With a fine Irish lass And O'Gills the lucky fish!

O'Gills, O'Gills the lucky fish, O'Gills, O'Gills Please make a wish.

Let's tip our hats and have a chat, With O'Gills the lucky fish!

O'Gills, O'Gills The fighting fish, O'Gills, O'Gills You are Irish

Let's join the group And have some scoops With O'Gills the lucky Fish!

O'Gills, O'Gills The drinking fish O'Gills, O'Gills Please make a wish

Let's share a glass With a fine Irish lass And O'Gills the lucky fish!

Not every thing on Disney property needs a story. Often a popcorn cart should just be a popcorn cart, just with nothing conflicting with the rest of the story being told in the area. For instance, a popcorn cart on Main Street U.S.A. shouldn't have a tiny spaceman figure turning the small crank.

Speaking of Dave Smith, I remember being a bit shocked when he told me that the Disney Archives didn't keep a copy of all the stories for Disney locations that popped up after Michael Eisner became CEO.

One of Eisner's famous dictums was that "Everything Speaks!" which was his version of Imagineer John Hench's more sophisticated "Language of Vision" philosophy.

Hench felt that everything that affects the five senses should reinforce the story of the location, and there should be no contradictions.

On Main Street U.S.A., everything a guest sees and touches should look and feel like the turn of the century (one of the reasons the steam trains are on a high berm is so that guests looking back do not see the entrance kiosks and signage), the music and other sounds (for example, horses, train whistles and bell) should recall the turn of the century, everything you smell—from popcorn to fresh bakery goods—should remind you of the turn of the century, and eating those things (and the candy) would also support the turn-of-the-century storyline.

There shouldn't be songs from Miley Cyrus or Kanye West piped into the street to destroy that illusion. Streetmosphere characters shouldn't be carrying iPhones. Guests shouldn't be able to see Space Mountain from Main Street U.S.A.

Eisner simplified Hench's concept to the dictate that everything should have a story even if it was just a McDonald's fry wagon in Frontierland. Suddenly, everything had to have a story; often an intricate and convoluted story like Pleasure Island.

The result was that cast members couldn't remember or understand the story and, so, didn't support the story.

Cast members started to make up their own stories, from a Cinderella horse on the carousel to "Master" Gracey being the master of the Haunted Mansion. Those stories continue to this day because they are simple and seem to make sense even if they go against the original intent of the Imagineers.

Imagineers call these stories "logical erroneous conclusions," meaning that the cast members legitimately saw a vacuum and filled it with something that seemed to make sense, like chess pieces on top of the Haunted Mansion. Now, if you look to the roof, it is hard to imagine that they were never intended to be chess pieces, but are inspired by architectural elements from the time period.

The bottom line is that no Disney guest is going into O'Gill's Pub to be enthralled with the story of a leprechaun and a fish. In fact, after a drink or two, they probably have even less interest, especially if a live sports game is playing on the big screen television.

Nor should a guest have that elaborate backstory shoved down their throats either, because it will not increase their enjoyment of the location. Stories should be sensed instinctually and naturally discovered.

I later talked with the tour guide while she was performing another role on the ship, and it became apparent that she simply memorized a prepared script she had been given.

Unlike the training in the Disney Adult Discoveries tour programs for guests and convention groups at Walt Disney World, she had been given no additional information or interaction with anyone in authority (that is, Imagineers, artists, or even prominent area managers who had been given access to information) to help her understand what she was saying.

As long as she said it with a smile and enthusiasm, that was enough to supposedly satisfy guests for an hour, most of whom would defer to her expertise because she was a crew member and should know.

I did not attempt to offer "this is how I heard it" because in our conversation I saw she had no desire or curiosity to learn anything else.

I have seen cast members so passionate that they want to know the smallest detail that they could add to their library of knowledge and share with others. She was quite content to merely parrot the script, even if she was unsure what some of the things really meant or how they originated.

So, at least on the Disney Magic, the story of O'Gill's Pub is a nonissue—but for those who read my columns and want to know more, perhaps you should look for items I missed in the pub.

Do the clovers in the green carpet hide a magical four-leaf clover? Is there some other clever reference Imagineers have hidden on the walls to the O'Gill's legend? Is the O'Gill's Pub experience significantly different on the Disney Fantasy?

I shared this story because I think it is important to record it for future researchers. Someone put in a lot of time and effort to devise a story that is completely ignored. I was, however, appalled at "The Secret of Castaway Cay" fabricated four-page story in the on-board book.

Not only was it inaccurate, but it showed no glimmer of cleverness. For instance, castaways did not build an airplane runaway in hopes that others would drop by and visit and maybe stay. In truth, that runaway was built by businessman Alvin Tucker and later used by real drug smugglers before Disney purchased the island.

I doubt anyone on the cruise even read the story in between all the advertisements for expensive jewelry, although I did hear guests who loved the Disney Magic Fun Facts in the final issue of the "Personal Navigator" newsletter. I have found that Disney guests are very responsive to the real story.

The true story of Castaway Cay is especially fascinating, including the fact that the scene of Tom Hanks meeting a mermaid on an island cove in the Touchstone movie Splash (1984) was filmed at the location.

In the 1950s, a handful of Spanish treasure was located on the beach by treasure hunters: three coins and a 72 pound silver ingot.

Markings showed that they belonged to Spain's King Philip IV and probably came from the San Pedro, a Spanish galleon hauling treasure back to Spain that was sunk in 1733. This was not surprising since in the 1700s, notorious pirates roamed this area and reputedly even landed on the island.

Actually, there are two Disney-approved versions of the "legend" of Castaway Cay. The one that is pure hogwash and no magic that appears in the current hardcover Guide to Your Disney Cruise that appears in the staterooms on pages 48–51 and an earlier much more interesting, but no less fanciful, version (including the story of May B. Tamara "maybe tomorrow," the postmistress on the island whose name still adorns the post office, so this is the Imagineering attempt to create characters and events like the history of Pleasure Island.)

The tale of Castaway Cay may be a story for another time if only to demonstrate that a true story can contain more magic and wonder than a fabricated one.


  1. By wwwdrich


    You didn't need to do all that much "digging" for the story of O'Gills, it's hanging on the wall in the club. I'll need to dig through my pictures to find it, but if I remember correctly both the song and the story are hanging on one of the pillars on the right-hand side of the pub.

    Here's a link to someone else's blog with a photo of the story and song (just under half-way down the page):

    Honestly, it sounds like you just had a bad tour. When we have taken the ships tours we usually have had cast members who are engaging and interested in both learning and sharing stories about the ships. One of my friends who works on the ships (not in Entertainment) is the same way. The entertainment staff did get to spend time with Imagineering during dry dock, so I'm guessing the fault was more with the individual you dealt with rather than anything else.

  2. By Jim Korkis

    Many, many thanks for the additional information and the link to the story and song. I missed seeing it completely and as I pointed out, the bartenders were no help at all. I was able to get a copy through some friends in Imagineering. I love getting more information or even corrections to the material I write because it is important for the real story to be out there for current Disney fans and future Disney researchers to access. As I tried to make clear, I certainly don't know everything but I do know some things that are not always common knowledge.

    Now, thanks to you, people know more.

    You are right that I may just have gotten a poor tour guide. That happens sometimes even on the Disney tours on land. Since I had not been on the Disney Magic for a decade, I was eager as a little kid to learn about the changes because when Disney does something right, nobody does it better. I was also disheartened when I met with the tour guide later and she was so completely uninterested in things she shared during the tour.

    I have been a Walt Disney World tour guide as have many of my friends and they all were great at engaging an audience and sharing accurate information. In addition, they had "back up" information in case a guest like me had further questions. I wish Disney Animation had made a half hour St. Patrick's Day special about O'Gills, the lucky fish, and his leprechaun friend.

  3. By fifthrider

    As time goes on and newer generations come around, I find less and less people knowing Disney history when working for the mouse. Rather unfortunate, but as was pointed out there's just too much to know. Still, it helps to know about the attraction you're assigned to or the tour you're giving. Sorry about your tour guide, you're a gentleman for not calling her out by name.

    This O'Gills story ( I'll use the non-hyphenated when referring to the non O'Gill's canon ) sounds like a total fabrication of the marketing department with the belief that no one will care about backstory details and that it just doesn't matter. Just make up any story and put a bow on it, done! John Hench told a story with background details so attentive that words weren't necessary. the Eisner influence on storytelling reads more like the backstory of a restaurant chain mascot as told on the placemat of the children's menu. I hope "The Secret of Castaway Cay" was in black and white and included a box of crayons for the kids.

  4. By disneykaren

    Quote Originally Posted by MousePlanet AutoPoster View Post
    The Mystery of O'Gills the Lucky Fish by Jim Korkis

    Jim Korkis looks at the fishy tale of the origins of the pub

    Read it here!

    Thanks again for all your hard work with trying to keep Disney history free from myths and mistakes. We really enjoy the "real" story rather than a fabricated one. We find that the truth behind it all makes for a much more interesting tale. We had a "Walk in Walt's Footsteps" tour with a brand new guide in Disneyland and even though she really tried hard, it was obvious that she was just beginning to learn about the park's rich history. Our group was followed by another guide with a clip board who was obviously critiquing her. It was never stated until the end of the tour that she was brand new. If we had known that at the beginning, we would have asked for a different guide. Having grown up in Disneyland area, we already know so much about the park we were looking for a more in-depth experience, and she wasn't able to provide it yet. No doubt, she will do very well in the future, she made no glaring errors in the tour which was ok, but she couldn't provide anything beyond the surface material.
    Anyway, thank you again for digging deep to find the real stories that we love!

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