On 13th Sept 1931, on the remote Isle of Man, James Irving bore witness to a creature that would slowly become one of the most reputable, paranormal experiences of all time – something so difficult to disprove, and fascinating that people would be gathering for conferences and singing songs about it 90 years later.
James lived with his wife Margaret and his youngest daughter, Voirry, in a foreboding, gray-brick farmhouse named Cashens Gap on a desolate stretch of rolling green moorland on the West side of the island, just outside the tiny hamlet of Dalby. There were no neighbors, no telephones, not even any electricity. Jim was a stern, intellectual man whose previous job had been selling pianos before, as a family, they decided to move to Man in order to settle down and retire into a life of quiet solitude. A combination of poor soil, little agricultural knowledge, and a property that required near constant upkeep meant James, Margaret and little Voirry lived an austere life in a place already acclimatized towards asceticism.
Gef, the talking mongoose, first appeared in the family garden. He was a small, light brown animal with a remarkable habit of being able to imitate other animals. He could meow like a cat, then, seconds later, bark like a dog. While this is obviously a major talent for something as physiologically basic as a mongoose, it is in itself merely that. A talent for mimicry. But over the coming days and weeks, the mongoose invaded the family home, crying like a baby in the walls, screaming at Margaret to bring it breakfast (bacon, with the fat removed) and eventually conversing with Voirry, whom it seemed to prefer over the adults. Gef told her that he had been born in Delhi, nearly 80 years ago that he had been brought to the Isle of Man 20 years prior, alongside hundreds of other mongoose, in order to help curb the rabbit population.
And so, any hopes of a quiet life were shattered by this spirit, this creature that had attached itself to the family and was steadfastly refusing to let go. Gef showed a talent for shape shifting, appearing as a large cat, a bulldog and many other creatures. As so often happens with these otherworldly events, people became extremely interested in the farm and the family. Gef was nicknamed ‘The Dalby Spook’ and would regularly perform for islanders, sometimes throwing rocks at them before hurtling off through the house, cackling like a madman.
News travels slower over the vast expanse of the ocean, but eventually Gef became a newspaper article, then two, then several more. People flocked to see this remarkable animal that could dance and sing, that could count and change the very shape of its body. Unlike many such paranormal experiences, whereby the onlookers gather and are inevitably disappointed by the lack of action, Gef enjoyed performing for the people who came to see him. The newspapers claimed it was a poltergeist, an evil spirit brought from overseas. But Gef didn’t seem evil. Maybe bad tempered and constantly hungry, but not evil. On the contrary, although Voirry would claim throughout her life that she wished Gef had never appeared, at the time the animal was a good influence on her.
Although many have tried to debunk Gef as a trick, a family desperate for attention, this goes against the very nature of the Irving family and everything James in particular stood for. He was not a man for whom this sort of trickery came naturally, rather he was possessed of a standard mind not receptive to the paranormal. However, at every turn he asserted that Gef was not only a real creature but one possessed of remarkable, supernatural talents. Why would he do this, if the end result was going to be contrary to what he had spent his time on the island trying to achieve?
Ultimately, the story of Gef is easy to mock but difficult to explain, and this is what makes it such an intriguing case. A paranormal entity, seen by many people, some of whom went to the island with the express purpose of finding fault. Unlike several high profile cases, such as Amityville or the Enfield Hauntings, there is little or no reason to disbelieve the story of Gef, unless you count the high strangeness of the case as a negative. The Dalby Spook will most likely stay unexplained, with all the major players now long dead. But the world needs cases like this. A chance to glimpse under the weighted blanket of reality that we are forced to digest. The possibility that there is something more than waking each day, going to work, sleeping and eating. The idea that perhaps when we pass on, our spirit remains, or alters. A kind of cosmic life insurance. For me, these cases are something to cling on to. When I lie in bed at night, unable to sleep because my mind is occupied by thoughts of death, of eternal darkness, of a life simply switched off and an awful slow decay, it is cases like this that gives me a reason to believe things might just work out. Maybe if we are good people, we will be reincarnated as a passive aggressive mongoose who loves bacon. Maybe there is a God, and we are truly working towards something. The other reality, that we are simply a clot of cells, pushed out of our mothers due to an astonishing feat of mathematics, does nothing for me. I need the stupid, breathless hope that there is something after, and in this case hope is a mongoose named Gef.