My husband, Dermot Kennedy, wrote a story for Edmond Manning recently. The inspiration for the story was the green elephant in the picture and both of us are very glad both the elephant and the story safely made the journey across the Atlantic. Edmond has gracefully allowed me to share Dermot’s story here. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did and both of us would love to hear what you think.
Humphrey the Last Elephant in Ireland
Thousands of years ago, at the end of the last ice-age, Ireland was still connected to the main landmass of Europe. Elephants roamed freely in the southern part of the country that was split between the ice-locked northern half and the temperate lush south.
When Humphrey was born, it was very evident that he was different. For one, he had less hair than his parents or any of the other elephants in his herd. His mom told him that this was because the general temperatures had been increasing for years now, and god was just trying to make him more comfortable. And secondly, he didn’t have the small hump on his back that all the other elephants had back then, and this is why he was named Humphrey (Hump free).
But as he grew up, Humphrey became lonelier and lonelier. The other elephants of his age group didn’t play with him, and always resorted to whispering whenever he came within earshot.
So Humphrey began taking long hikes into the countryside. He was a very inquisitive elephant and liked to find out everything he could about all the other animals that lived in Ireland. Humphrey discovered something about himself in those days; he discovered that if he stayed listening to another group of animals for a long time, he would begin to understand what they were saying to each other. He loved listening to the conversations of birds, foxes, badgers, wolves and even bears. He never feared any of them because he knew from early on that they were intimidated by his mammoth size, but sometimes this made him sad because all he wanted was to chat with them and be friends.
Humphrey’s favorite group of animals, were the man-things. He loved listening to them most of all, because they had the most interesting things to say. He would often meet them down by the edge of the river, where they came to clean things and fetch drinking water. They didn’t fear him for they knew Humphrey was a herbivore, he was also sometimes a herb after but mostly he was a herbivore.
After a few years had passed one of the man-things started to talk to Humphrey. Just random topics about the weather or how the crops were growing, but Humphrey liked the fact that the man-thing would actually take the time to talk to him. Every day when he saw the man-thing he would trumpet a “Helloooo” with his long trunk. The man-thing seemed to like this because he would laugh before imitating the “Helloooo” in response.
One day while Humphrey was walking through the woods, he came upon a small herd of man-things who seemed very excited about something. They were shouting and gesticulating to each other in a very serious manner. Humphrey’s friend came over to him and explained that a huge old tree had toppled over and trapped one of his herd under it. He asked Humphrey if he could help them and because Humphrey knew exactly what his friend was saying, he did.
Humphrey walked over to the fallen tree, wrapped his trunk around it, and lifted it enough so that the other man-things could free the one who was trapped.
All the man-things were very happy and clapped and shouted their thanks. The man-thing, who was Humphrey’s friend, came over to him and thanked him profusely, to which Humphrey replied, “you’re welcome”.
A stunned silence descended on the herd. They all stared at Humphrey as if they’d never seen an elephant before. Their faces were shocked.
Humphrey’s friend said, “You can speak! You can speak our language! How is this possible?” Humphrey looked at him and shrugged his massive shoulders.
“I just opened my mouth and the words were there. I didn’t know I could speak your language until just now. Although I do remember every word you’ve ever spoken to me for all the years you have been my friend, because, as the whole world knows, an elephant never forgets.”
“My name is Amergin,” said Humphreys man thing friend (which is going to make writing about him a whole lot easier for the rest of this story).
“Helloooo Amergin, my name is Humphrey, I am very happy to be your friend.”
After the initial shock had worn off, all the other man things started to laugh and dance with joy. Amergin said “We must celebrate this amazing event, we shall have a feast tonight and you, my friend, will be the guest of honor.”
This pleased Humphrey enormously and he followed the man-thing herd back to their village where a mighty feast was held. Everyone came up to Humphrey to thank him for saving one of their own, but really they all just wanted to hear Humphrey talk.
As luck would have it, all this happened on the middle day of the week and thereafter all the man things called it “happy Hump day”, and thus a phrase was born which still survives to this day (even if the meaning has been lost over time).
In the months that followed, Humphrey made his way to the man-thing village every day to help out the man-things in various chores such as moving heavy trees or boulders or uprooting tree stumps from fields planned for growing crops. But Humphrey’s favorite thing was to talk with anyone who wanted to. He let the children of the man-things ride on his back and squirted water at them with his trunk, when they all went down to play in the river. And every day, when all the chores were done, he and Amergin sat down by the campfire and told each other stories about their perspective herds.
Amergin was the chief Druid of all the villages in this part of Ireland and was famed for his wisdom and knowledge. One day he told Humphrey that all the other Druids were coming together for their annual moot and this year it was to be held in Amergin’s village. He wanted to introduce Humphrey to the other wise men, for he was the first non-man-thing who had discovered the secret of their language.
A week later (on Hump day as it happened) all the other Druids of Ireland were introduced to Humphrey. They sat in a circle around the campfire as Amergin told them how he met Humphrey, the rescue in the woods, and how they discovered that Humphrey could understand and speak their language. One by one they questioned Humphrey about the history of his herd, why he looked different from all the other elephants in Ireland and, most importantly, how he learned to speak their language. Humphrey answered their questions as best he could, but as to how he knew how to talk, he was just as mystified as they were.
All the wise men then went into a large meeting hall to discuss all manner of things druidy. Because Humphrey was a guest, he was allowed into the hall too and sat in the corner listening to the druids talk.
Even though they were discussing druidy things, none could stop themselves from sneaking a look at Humphrey every few minutes (And this is where we get the phrase “The elephant in the room”).
At the end of the moot, all the Druids said they were honored to call Humphrey a friend and they looked forward to seeing and talking with him again.
A few weeks later, Maktus, the chief druid of the northlands came to visit Amergin. When he heard the news his friend had come to report, he called Humphrey over to share it with him.
“Maktus has come with important news, Humphrey. You need to hear this too.” The druid nervously moved closer to Humphrey. “The northern druids have been auguring and consulting the stars and the portents are not good. Soon there will be a great increase in the temperatures and the ice that covers the north will melt very quickly. There will be a great flood and anyone or any animal who does not seek higher ground will surely perish”.
Humphrey was alarmed when he heard this. “Thank you for letting me know about this. I have to go warn the others of my herd.”
With that, Humphrey set off to find the elders of his own kind. When he reached them they listened to him with mild amusement. They didn’t believe he could actually talk and understand the man-things. Try as he might, he couldn’t convince them to move to higher ground, for elephants have a fondness for low lying prairies with lots of juicy vegetation to eat, and they do not like climbing mountains.
Humphrey had to leave them in order to save himself. He knew of a mountain called Slieve Ullghlas, which had a not too steep gradient but was high enough to survive the flood.
Not long after, the flood came. First he heard a great roaring sound, then he saw a giant wave of water that stretched as far as the eye could see from east to west. The water washed away everything in its path as it made its way south through the rest of the country.
Humphrey stayed on his mountain for a year and a day. All he had to eat was shamrock as this was all that grew there, but it was enough to sustain him. In order for him to have something to drink, Humphrey had to turn his ear horizontal and form it into the shape of a bowl. When it rained, and it rained a lot, his ear would fill up and he would have enough to quench his thirst (And this is the origin of the saying “copping an earful”).
After a year and a day, when all the waters of the world leveled out, and the land had reappeared, Humphrey left his mountain retreat and went in search of Amergin and the other man-things. He came upon a freshly made lake and decided he needed a drink. When he saw his image reflected in the water, he was stunned! He was green. A year of eating only shamrock had turned his tough skin an apple green color.
About a week later Humphrey found Amergin and his herd. They were shocked when they saw him.
“YOU’RE GREEN!” they all shouted.
Amergin asked “how did this happen to you?”
Humphrey told them how he had escaped the flood, and how all he had had to eat for a year was shamrock.
“Ahh yes, I know shamrock has some special properties. We call it the lucky plant, but I’ve never seen anyone turn green from eating it” said the druid.
At that moment, some of the other man things were busy trying to get a stray cow back into its pen, but they weren’t having much success. When Humphrey turned to have a look, he accidentally bumped into a small tree. The tree fell onto another tree, which in turn hit a third tree. This tree fell onto a bush, which had a bird’s nest in it. In the nest were some eggs, and one of these eggs was thrown far into the air, flew over the village and hit the stray cow on the head. The cow jumped with fright and ran straight back into his pen. Everyone cheered when this happened and thanked Humphrey for his help (And that was the first time the word “Eggstrordinary” was ever heard).
Amergin said to Humphrey “That was amazing, it looks as if you absorbed all the luck from eating shamrock for a year, as well as turning green.”Humphrey smiled but still seemed sad. “What’s wrong, my friend?” asked Amergin.
“Have you seen any of my herd since the waters receded?”
Amergin shook his head “No, I haven’t, Humphrey. You are the only elephant we have seen since the great deluge.”
Humphrey looked into the distance. “I have to go and try and find the survivors of my herd, if there are any”. Amergin asked him “Will you come back to visit us?”
“I hope so, my friend. Goodbye for now.” With that, Humphrey turned and walked out of the village and was never seen again.
For years after, many animals and man-things often heard a distant call on the wind…. “Helloooo”, but when they went to investigate all they found was a big pile of elephant poo. And because they knew it had to have come from Humphrey, they knew it would be lucky. When they spread it on their crops, their harvest was three times more bountiful than before. Potatoes grew so big, one would feed a whole family, one stalk of wheat could make an entire loaf of bread, and one bean would have the whole village farting for days (And this was the origin of the phrase “Windy today, isn’t it”).
Hundreds of years have passed but still legends persist about the last green elephant in Ireland. Many people make small figurines of Humphrey, in the belief that they will bring them good luck and good fortune. These talismans have become treasured items among the people of Ireland and anyone who owns one is considered extremely lucky indeed.
Some folk believe that Humphrey is still out there, searching for the last remnants of his own kind. And every once in a while, a call can be heard on the wind, if one listens very carefully, …. “Helloooo”.