I have just returned from a hugely enjoyable visit to the Isle of Man having been invited to attend the third annual Literary Festival to promote The Ghost Hunters.
It was great to take some time out from working on book 2 (news on that soon).
As well as giving a few talks about The Ghost Hunters, a book signing in Waterstones, and participating in the tour of a haunted castle, I took the opportunity to travel the island with the Mobile Family Library, meeting readers along the way. And of course, I took some time to investigate the stranger side of the Isle of Man.
From Douglas Harbour to Sky Hill, the Isle of Man boasts an impressive supernatural history which is dominated by a breed of strange beings popularly referred to by locals as ‘Themselves.’ The influence of these supernatural creatures is felt wherever you go and whoever you talk to. There are fairy mounds, fairy cottages, even a fairy bridge.
But there is one story on the island I knew about before coming...
Gef the Talking Mongoose
The spot where the relevant events played out is rather remote spot in Glen Maye village. Here, on the side of a steep hill, once stood a nineteenth century farmhouse constructed of slate, concrete and iron roofs. This was Doarlish Cashen, home to James and Margaret Irving, and their twelve year old daughter, Voirrey.
Voirrey was a lonely child; her only friends were the chickens, dogs and sheep on the farm. But she soon acquired a new friend in the form of a strange, weasel like creature, about the size of a rat.
From September 1931, strange events began to unfold at the Irving’s residence: rapping sounds were heard on wooden doors and odd sounds echoed through the house at night. Those sounds turned to voices. “I am not evil,” it spoke. “I could be if I wanted...I could kill you all if I liked.”
In February 1932, a local woman who heard the story took matters into her own hands and wrote to the protagonist of my novel, Harry Price, who was by now famous for his investigation of the haunting at Borley Rectory. Price lost no time in communicating directly with the Irvings, quickly establishing that the weasel now came and went as it pleased, communicating with a high pitched voice.
Soon word got around that ‘Themselves’ had come to Doarlish Cashen, or that the house was haunted by the spectre of a talking weasel. But as time went by it was it was equally clear that the mongoose shared a great deal in common with young Voirrey. The entity rarely spoke unless Voirrey was present.
Visitors flocked to the farmhouse. The weasel now claimed to be a mongoose called Geoff, though peculiarly insisted on different spelling. It was also capable of shape shifting, stealing food and singing songs.
In 1952, theories emerged suggesting that the “mental starvation” of life in a remote farmhouse probably caused the manifestation of Gef, a “split off part” of Jim Irving’s personality.
Was it a hoax?
Others in the area had encountered Gef, including a bus conductor who claimed that the creature had eaten his sandwiches. The Irvings were considered too sincere and simple to perpetrate a hoax, and many concluded that on balance Gef was real.
My own view? No one is “too simple” to perpetrate a hoax. Especially Voirrey. By all accounts, she was a precocious child with a talent for ventriloquism....