We are all in the destination business 

You could only get it in Kerry.

To rent an elephant, that is.

It was the September of 1980, and Reilly and Tarps were still celebrating Galway winning the hurling All Ireland hurling final for the first time in fifty four years.

After an idyllic week they decided for the sake of their livers to get out of Galway and cool down below in ‘The Kingdom.’

When they saw the sign on Castlegregory beach advertising an hours ride on an elephant for a fiver they saw it as a total no brainer

‘We’ll hire an elephant Tarps and mozie across to Spillanes Pub in the Maharees. We’ll park the Nellie outside and retire within to enjoy a few contemplative bevies in a convivial ambience. Better than any taxi and no worries about being breathalysed on the way back,’ says Reilly decisively.

Tarps, being an accomplished horseman, took the reins and off with the lads astride the elephant.

Things went swimmingly until they attempted to turn right to the Maharees where the beach met the main road.

Despite Tarps vigorous exhortations the elephant heedlessly turned left in the direction of Castlegregory Village.

Reilly sensed trouble.

Tarps was the strongest man he’d ever seen and he now had his arms around the elephants neck trying to turn the elephants head around but to no avail. 

In desperation he resorted to his hurley that had been signed by the entire Galway hurling team and that he’d slept with every night since they won. But the more he pounded the elephants head the faster the elephant ran – in the wrong direction.

There was nothing for it but to surrender to fate and enjoy the ride.

The elephant stoically marched along the beach road and off in to the village of Castlegregory. At the bottom of the village it took a right turn and came to an abrupt halt outside Fitzgeralds pub. It politely bowed to its knees enabling the two lads to dismount.

‘Is it yourselves that’s in it lads,’ welcomes Maurice Fitz jovially. 

‘You’re just in time for the celebrations.’

‘What celebrations,’ says Reilly following Maurice into what was a vast beer garden behind the pub.

‘Winning the Football All Ireland again this year,’ says Maurice.

‘But it hasn’t been played yet. It’s not on until Sunday week,’ says Reilly authoritatively.

‘That’s true,’ says Maurice ‘but the thing in Kerry is that we always celebrate winning the All Ireland before it takes place at all.’

‘It’s called psychology. 

‘If you can see it in the mind you can hold it in the hand.’

Every table in the beer garden was full of people dressed in the green and gold jerseys of Kerry. And they were giving it socks. Singing and cheering and celebrating. It would have been impolite of Reilly and Tarps not to participate wholeheartedly.

Many hours later Tarps enquired from Maurice if he knew if the elephant would take them back to the beach.

‘Of course he will,’ says Maurice. ‘All you have to know is how to motivate him.’

‘And how’s that,’ asks Tarps.

‘It’s called psychology. 

‘The secret is lads that elephants have a notoriously sweet tooth. Over the last few hours we’ve been feeding your elephant a two gallon bucket of the slops from the porter from the bar. All you have to do is hang a small bucket of slops in front of him in the direction you want to go and he’ll happily bring you there.’

On September 21st, 1980, Kerry beat Roscommon by three points in the All Ireland final. Maurice put it all down to psychology.


It’s unknown if the American academic, Jonathan Haidt, ever visited Castlegregory but he wrote a compelling book called ‘The Happiness Hypothesis.’ 

In it, he too used the analogy of a rider and an elephant. The analogy suggests that everyone has two sides—a rider and an elephant. The rider represents the rational thinker, the analytical planner, the evidence-based decision-maker. 

The elephant, on the other hand, is an emotional player, full of energy, sympathy and loyalty, who stays put, backs away, or rears up based on feelings and instincts. The elephant is often on automatic pilot. It is the part of the brain that tells us to go ahead and eat the ice cream, after the rider has decided to put us on a diet.

Although the rider holds the reins and appears to lead the elephant, the six-ton elephant can, at any time, overpower the rider and the rider, although he may not know this, can’t force the elephant to go anywhere unless he appeals to him and motivates him in some sustainable way.

You can help someone change their behaviour using the following steps:

  1. Give the rider (the brain) clear directions.
  2. Motivate the elephant (by tapping into our emotions).
  3. Shape the path and show the way to change.


‘Most of us are all too familiar with situations in which our Elephant overpowers our Rider. You’ve experienced this if you’ve ever slept in, overeaten, dialed up your ex at midnight, procrastinated, tried to quit smoking and failed, skipped the gym, gotten angry and said something you regretted, abandoned your Spanish or piano lessons, refused to speak up in a meeting because you were scared, and so on. The key to effective change is getting the Elephant and the Rider moving together.

—Chip and Dan Heath


  1. How can you get your rider and elephant moving better together?
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