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Friday, 14 September 2012

The Dalby Spook


The tale of Gef, the talking mongoose

In 1931 a strange creature began to make its presence felt in the Irving household at Doarlish Cashen on Dalby Mountain. The family had moved to the farmstead in 1916. James was reported to be well travelled, having been a piano representative in Canada and then involved in a failed engineering business in England. Margaret, his wife was from a Peel family. Doarlish Cashen was a remote and rundown property. During the first few years they built a new porch, concrete walling and internal panelling. The farm made a promising start and Margaret had their third child Voirrey.

By the 1930s there was decline, the outside staff were paid off and Voirrey was the only child still living at home. One September day in 1931 James heard a peculiar noise coming from behind the panelling in the house, he suspected a long-tail and began imitating cat and dog noises to alarm the intruder; to his surprise the same sounds came back, repeated to him. He became uneasy and keen to put an end to the culprit. Voirrey, then aged thirteen discouraged her father, she explained that the creature was a mongoose with the capacity to copy noises and speak.

‘He’ had introduced himself to Voirrey as Gef, an ‘extra, extra clever mongoose’ born in Delhi, India in 1852. Though he claimed to be able ‘to kill you all if I liked’, the family had an affable attitude and came to accept his company. Voirrey acted as his main intermediary. They taught him to speak. With intensive questioning his vocabulary grew rapidly. Described as humorous with a shrill, high-pitched voice, he signalled his presence with singing (including the Manx National Anthem) squeaks, growls and a strange laughter. On departure he would quip ‘vanished’. Gef was curious and cunning. He roamed the area, slipping into houses to hear what was being said and relating the gossip back to the Irvings. People both hated and feared the ‘Talking Mongoose.’ When it was learned that he liked to stow away under the local motor-bus the driver fitted an electric plate to the spot.

Physically Gef was described as having yellow fur, a bushy tail, a rather curious face with a flat snout (not unlike a small pig) and mongoose paws. He ate food provided by the family and was said to catch rabbits to contribute to his keep. Throughout the four years Gef frequented Doarlish Cashen he became infamous, yet he was only ever seen by the immediate family and even then infrequently.

One local lady recommended Gef for paranormal research. Harry Price, (a leading member of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research) made a field-trip with Richard Lambert (then editor of The Listener) in 1933. Gef was absent throughout their stay. The subsequent book, ‘The Haunting of Cashen’s Gap’ was detailed with extracts from a journal James kept of Gef’s sayings and doings/conversations and activities. Price treats Gef as a case-study to affirm the occurence of supernatural phenomena without examining the premises/plausibility of his existence or the evidence used to illustrate it. The credibility of Price’s thesis was further undermined when letters written to his publisher were found to infer that James was a trickster/fraudster; to quote, ‘I would very much like to tell Irving exactly what I think of him.’

How about Voirrey’s role in events? Young and prepubescent girls are frequently associated with poltergeists and considered to be the most effective conduits of paranormal activity. Voirrey was Gef’s first point of contact, he was said to follow and protect her. However more sceptical observers noted that Voirrey was very effective at assimilating a high pitched tone and projecting her voice; the simultaneous performance of which formed the substance of Gef’s existence. James categorically denied such suggestions. Voirrey maintained an outright refusal to comment right into old age.

Another investigator Dr Nandor Fodor, (a psychologist from the International Institute for Psychic Research) actually stayed with the Irvings’ for a week. He took time study the location and talk to local people. He suggested that James Irving’s ‘subconscious took care of the job and produced the strange hybrid that was Gef’.(James having an able and powerful yet under-utilised mind.) In 1991 a sculptor and screen-writer partnership (Catling and Grisoni) developed the same theme. They spent three years creating a dramatisation based on the occurrences. Gef was portrayed as a ‘product of the family’s collective imagination’ who developed through autosuggestion. ‘Vanished’ was produced in 1991 and shown as part of the ‘ESP: Contemporary Artists Investigate the Paranormal’ exhibition in Birmingham and London.

Gef had headlines in national papers, - ‘Queerest Beast talks to Daily Dispatch Reporter,’ ‘Man Beast’, ‘Dalby Spook’ and more. One American theatrical agent sent a cable offering $50,000, a half in cash immediately for film rights over him. Legally the most outstanding feat was a libel case. Sir Cecil Levita (former chairman of London County Council) had called Lambert ‘unstable’ and ‘hysterical’ for Jef hunting. Lambert claimed £7,500 in damages, there was no proof that a talking mongoose did not exist on the Island.

Reports of Gef and his activities ceased when the Irvings left Doarlish Cashen in 1935. The next owner a Mr Graham snared and killed a funny looking animal in 1947 that was neither stoat, nor weasel, nor ferret, - ‘it answers to all descriptions’ he told the press. A neighbouring farmer had imported a number of Indian mongoose in 1912 and let them loose to keep the rabbit population down.

Doarlish Cashin is located at reference 234784 on the IOM O.S. map – an interesting walk with lovely sea views.

source: (our old website)