The Story of Gef

"That aint me! Looks more like a llama!" retorted Gef when shown this
 sketch drawn from witness descriptions of him

"If you knew what I know, you'd know a hell of a lot!" boasted Gef the Talking Mongoose, the miraculous mammal claimed to haunt the Isle of Man during the early 1930s.

But who, or what, was Gef himself? A poltergeist? A cryptid? Or no more than a bizarre Folie à Deux created by a lonely adolescent girl and her father?

Nearly a century later, the tale still fascinates and frustrates researchers and remains unique in the annals of Fortean phenomena.

Doarlish Cashen

The strange saga of Gef the talking mongoose began in Autumn 1931 in a remote hilltop farmstead on the Isle of Man known as Doarlish Cashen. (Manx for 'Cashen's Gap'). The farm was home to 60-yr-old Jim Irving, his wife Margaret, and their 12-yr old daughter Voirrey.
Doarlish Cashen

Jim had been a travelling salesman before taking up farming in his retirement. But the isolated farm was no dream come true.  Productivity was dropping and the family struggled to make ends meet. They had no electricity, no phone and no radio. Their nearest neighbours lived over a mile away.

The Thing in the Walls

One dull September evening, the family heard inexplicable "blowing, spitting and growling" sounds coming from behind the wooden panels lining the farmhouse walls. Jim thought a rat was to blame and tried in vain to drive it from its lair.

The strange noises persisted over the following days. Jim set traps and laid down poison, but to no avail. In desperation, he tried to flush the intruder out by growling like a dog. To his surprise, it growled right back at him.

The elusive creature proved to be a talented mimic. It ingratiated itself with Jim by repeating his imitations of various animals and birds. Soon he had only to name an animal and it would respond with the appropriate sound. At other times it made a gurgling noise like a baby attempting to form their first words. Then it began to talk...

Gef Introduces Himself

Voirrey, Margaret and Jim Irving
By way of experiment, Voirrey asked the creature to repeat some nursery rhymes. It obliged in a clear (if squeaky) voice. Soon it was speaking freely. It introduced itself as Gef (pronounced 'Jeff') and claimed to be "an extra-clever mongoose" born in Delhi, India in 1852. 

(A neighbouring farmer had indeed imported some mongeese to the island 20 years earlier, hoping to curb the local rabbit population.)

Gef was soon holding regular conversations with Voirrey and her father, though he seemed less friendly towards Voirrey's mother, Margaret.  He began nesting in a boxed partition in Voirrey's room, which the family dubbed "Gef's sanctum".

Although Jim and Margaret both caught glimpses of Gef, only Voirrey was allowed to look at him directly. She described him as being the size of a small rat, with yellowish fur, a flat snout like a hedgehog, and a long bushy tail.

Gef's Habits

Gef soon became one of the family. During the day he would roam the island riding on the back axles of buses and cars. In the evening he would return home to share news and gossip he had picked up on his travels. Sometimes he would also read out items from the local newspapers. When he grew tired of chat, he would call out 'Vanished!' and make himself scarce.

Gef's Sanctum
"It announces its presence by calling either myself or my wife by our Christian names," Jim Irving wrote. "It's hearing powers are phenomenal. It is no use whispering. It detects the whisper 15-20 feet away, tells you that you are whispering, and repeats exactly what one has said."

Gef brought rabbits home for Margaret to cook, that he apparently strangled with his forepaws. In return he was given tidbits such as biscuits, sweets and chocolate. He was also fond of bacon and sausages. The food would be left out for him on the crossbeams near the ceiling, and he would sneak out to snatch it when no-one was looking.

Singalong with Gef

Gef enjoyed singing as much as talking. His favourite tune was Carolina Moon, which he would croon along to the gramophone. (Sometimes he would bounce a rubber ball up and down in time to the music instead.) He could also sing the Manx national anthem, several hymns, and some fragments of a Spanish folksong.

On one occasion he rather offended Voirrey's mother by singing a lewd parody of Home on the Range he had picked up from some bus drivers. "You know Gef, you are no animal!" scolded Margaret. "Of course I am not," retorted Gef. "I am the Holy Ghost!"

Gef's Temper

Like many a poltergeist, Gef had a short fuse. He once suddenly flew into a rage when he thought Jim was being too slow opening the morning post. "Read it out, you fat-headed gnome!" he squeaked furiously.

Voirrey seems to have been quite afraid of Gef when he first manifested. One night, she even slept in her parents' bedroom to escape being alone in the dark with the inhuman noises. "I'll follow her wherever you put her," Gef snapped when he overheard the family discussing this. According to Jim, barricading the bedroom door with chairs and boxes only infuriated Gef further:
"Soon we saw the top of the door bulging in as though some terrific force were thrusting against it. But the door held. Then Gef's queer high voice said 'I'm coming in!' A few seconds later a heavy pot of ointment kept in the room crashed against the bedstead."
Gef seemed to hugely enjoy deliberately provoking Voirrey's parents. One night he made a nuisance of himself by sighing and groaning loudly for 30 minutes without pause, before confessing, "I did it for devilment!"

On another occasion Margaret found herself being pelted with stones as she walked home. "Is that you, Gef?" she called out. "Yes, Maggie the witch woman, the Zulu Woman, the Honolulu woman!" taunted the impertinent mongoose. Gef also delighted in throwing pebbles and sand up at the windows from outside, sometimes late into the night.

Gef's Fame

Voirrey and Jim Irving with Richard Lambert
The Manx papers ran a series of gently mocking articles about the 'Dalby Spook' (as they dubbed Gef) which led to Voirrey being teased mercilessly at school. Gef's fame spread to the mainland after Jim Irving persuaded the psychic researcher (and inveterate self-publicist) Harry Price to take an interest in the case.

But even as Gef's notoriety grew, his visits to the Irvings became fewer and farther between. By the time Price arrived to investigate in person, the marvellous mongoose was conspicuous only by his absence. (See Investigating Gef Pt 2.)

In 1936, Price published the results of his investigation in: The Haunting of Cashen's Gap: A Modern "Miracle" Investigated, a slim book co-authored with journalist Richard Lambert. Although Price did not explicitly accuse the Irvings of perpetrating a hoax, neither did he validate their claims.

Farewell to Gef

Soon after Harry Price's book was published, the Irvings left Cashen's Gap for the mainland. Gef did not follow them there, nor did he introduce himself to the new farm owner, a Mr Graham.

Intriguingly, in 1947 Graham trapped and killed a strange looking animal that seemed to be neither ferret, stoat nor weasel. "It answers to all descriptions," the puzzled farmer told the local press. Eventually Graham too left Cashen's Gap, and the farmhouse was demolished.

In 1970 a reporter from FATE magazine managed to track Voirrey down to interview her about her strange childhood experiences. She proved reluctant to discuss her former life with Gef. "Yes, there was a little animal who talked and did all those other things," she admitted. "He said he was a mongoose and we should call him Gef... But I do wish he had let us alone."

Next: Investigating Gef pt1: Captain McDonald Investigates