In the early 1930s, a remote farm in the west of the Island received an unusual visitor who left a mystery which lasts to this day…
A Visitor to Doarlish Cashen
Jim Irving was a former commercial traveller who decided to farm; to that end, he settled at Doarlish Cashen (Cashen's Gap) in Dalby with his wife Margaret and daughter Voirrey. It was a tough existence: the isolated farmhouse had no electricity or running water, and the farm did not do well.
In 1931, they were suddenly joined by a most unusual visitor. Scratching sounds from behind the house's wooden panelling turned out to be the work of a mongoose. One possible explanation for the creature's appearance is that in 1912, a nearby farmer had supposedly introduced mongooses to his land to control the rabbit population.
This was no ordinary mongoose, however. At first elusive, he attached himself to Voirrey, who was 13 years old at this time, and began to mimic human speech.
He then began to talk of his own accord. Gef, as he introduced himself, claimed to be 'an extra, extra clever mongoose' who had been born in Delhi on June 7, 1852. He soon had a fine command of English, not to mention a smattering of other languages and a repertoire of songs. A capricious character, he could be highly disruptive and rude at some times; playful and affectionate at others. Gef would catch rabbits to 'earn his keep' and make forays to neighbouring farms to spy on their affairs. He also enjoyed riding on the buses around the Island and would return with the latest gossip from fellow travelers. His hiding place was above a boxed-in partition in Voirrey's bedroom and it was to the young girl that he remained closest. He also spoke with Jim but his relationship with Mrs Irving seemed to be a little cooler.
Gef In the Spotlight
News of Gef reached the local papers, who reported on the case in a rather tongue in cheek fashion. A visit to the farm left local reporter J. Radcliffe in no doubt that 'Gef's' voice in fact belonged to Voirrey.
Undeterred, Jim Irving pursued the matter. He wrote to the English ghost hunter Harry Price, asking him to come and investigate. Initially, Price was too busy and sent his friend, a Captain James McDonald, in his stead. McDonald had no sightings and was unable to proved that the voice he heard was Gef's. A sample of fur supposedly left by Gef but proven, under analysis, to belong to a dog, turned out to have come from Mona, Voirrey's sheepdog.
In July 1935, Price finally came to the Isle of Man, accompanied by Richard Lambert, the editor of BBC magazine The Listener. Unfortunately, much to the Irvings' distress, Gef did not make himself known to either man, only reappearing after their departure. Irving forwarded Gef's paw and tooth prints pressed into plasticine to Price, who in turn sent them to the British Natural History Museum. They reported back that while one print was a dog's and another, possibly that of a North American Raccoon, none belonged to a mongoose.
Price and Lambert co-authored a book called The Haunting of Cashen's Gap, which did neither supported the Irvings nor went as far as to say they were perpetrating a hoax. As a result of his input, Lambert led and won a slander case after it was suggested that he was unfit to sit on the board of the British Film Institute.
The last person to conduct an investigation was a Hungarian journalist, Nandor Fodor, who was also a Research Officer for the International Institute for Psychical Research. While Fodor, perhaps predictably, also left Doarlish Cashen without a sighting of Gef, he refrained from stating that the mongoose did not exist. Initially suspecting that Gef was a poltergeist - in his interpretation, the product of a conflict within the subconscious mind - Fodor eventually decided that he could not reach a definitive conclusion.
What Happened Next?
Was Gef a poltergeist? A product of Voirrey Irving's lonely imagination? Or was he exactly what he claimed to be? The story has never been solved. The Irvings left the Isle of Man for the UK in 1937 and Doarlish Cashen was taken over by a farmer named Graham. In 1947, Graham trapped and killed an unusual animal which was neither stoat, weasel or ferret. Was this Gef? In time, Doarlish Cashen was left empty and eventually demolished. In 1970, the paranormal magazine FATE ran an interview with Voirrey Irving, who was tracked down by journalist Walter McGraw. She was reluctant to discuss the episode which had caused such upheaval in their lives but still insisted that Gef had existed.
The Haunting of Cashen's Gap: A Modern Miracle Investigated - Harry Price with R.S. Lambert (Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1936)
Confessions of a Ghost Hunter - Harry Price (Putnam & Co. Ltd., London, 1936)