Lancashire Anomalous Phenomena Investigation Society
The Dalby Spook
aka Gef the Talking Mongoose
Simon Pegg Stole Our Mongoose
Searching For The Eighth Wonder Of The World
(Not the one in Sri Lanka).
Part two - Those, of whom, we must not speak. By Gayle Fidler
Those of whom we must not speak.
If you have been to the Isle of Man before you will know it is a special place. If you haven’t been, it is worth booking a trip. It truly is a very mystical and spiritual land. Even the most sceptical of Team Gef agreed on one thing. There is something very magical and a little bit odd about Ellan Vannin (the Manx name for the Isle of Man).
When we left the Island after our first trip in 2022, Paul from Team Gef sent us a quote from legendary TT rider John McGuinness MBE, that had been written after he left the Island. “I felt like I had found my perfect playground but had been dragged away before I had chance to try everything.”
My eyes filled up when I read it. Although McGuinness was referring to the end of the TT. I knew exactly how he felt. The sense of turning your back on something very special. We had not originally planned to go back for a 2023 expedition. But the minute the 2022 trip was over, most of us agreed, we simply had to go back. Our perfect mystical playground was waiting for us.
One of the things that makes the Island so magical, it that folklore is deeply intertwined into everyday life. In England’s modern-day society, we spend so much time worrying about material things and rushing from place to place. We never really take time to stop and look around us. We rarely follow the traditions and superstitions of our ancestors. Even if we do, we scarcely make it publicly known, for fear of ridicule and humiliation. I cannot imagine, getting on a bus in the North East mining town where I live, and loudly greeting the fairies, for all the other passengers to hear. I am not sure exactly what would happen to me, but it probably wouldn’t be pleasant.
The Manx people are the complete opposite. Folklore and superstition are part of their heritage. They embrace their beliefs. Many are extremely superstitious, and it doesn’t take much time as a visitor before you adopt their traditions.
Douglas is the capital and the main commercial port on the Island. Team Gef travelled there by ferry on both expeditions. In the 18th century the Isle of Man was well known for its smuggling trade, before transforming into a popular holiday resort in the 19th century. The buildings that line the promenade at Douglas, were once Merchant’s house, warehouses, and slums. Later renovated or cleared to make way for tourist accommodation. Large coastal townhouses, perfect to take in the sea air of a morning. Many still stand. A testament to the rich socio-economic history of the Island.
It is upon leaving Douglas and joining the A5 to Castletown, that you will find the Fairy Bridge at Ballalona.
In his book The Folk-Lore of The Isle of Man (1891) A.W Moore writes that Fairy is considered an impolite term. The otherworldly folk should be referred to in their preferred way. This is “Little People” (Mooinjer Veggey in Manx) or “The Good People”.
The author Jenny Randles in Supernatural Isle of Man (2003) gives an alternative name for the fairy folk. A local term, for local fae is “Themselves.”
Whichever form of address they prefer, the Fairy Bridge has become a popular visiting place to pay respects.
John McGuinness when interviewed on VisorDown website, said of the Little People. "The fairies at Fairy Bridge. You have to acknowledge them every time you go past, it's bad luck not to."
It is one of the first things that you notice as you arrive at the bridge. The adornment and memorials to lost loved ones, many of whom are motorcyclists. It has become customary for some riders to stop there before a race, believing it to bring good luck.
Everyone who crosses is advised to acknowledge Themselves, or risk misfortune being cast upon you. Team Gef’s Paul and Janet were told a story of two English council workers, who refused to say good morning to the Little People, thinking it a load of old nonsense. After crossing the bridge, their vehicle ran off the road into a ditch. We have not been able to verify these events, but it acts as a word of caution to those who think it is silly to believe in the Mooinjer Veggey. Simply don’t mess with them, just in case!
A local tale retold by Folklorist Janet Bord in her book, The Travellers guide to Fairy Sites. (2004) recalls how Manx fairies are well known fighters. There was once a battle at the Fairy Bridge with some Little People that had come from Ireland. The Manx side captured many Irish prisoners and hung them from the surrounding trees.
I asked a young Manx barman if he followed the fairy greeting custom. He laughed and said his friends joke about it before they get to the Fairy Bridge. But they ALWAYS shout an acknowledgement. If you are on the Island and want to ask the local bar staff about the Little People. I highly recommend a visit to The Cosy Nook Bar at Port Erin (The Manx 75 Cocktail is particularly good, and rather potent as we discovered.) Home | Foraging Vintners
The bridge at Ballalona is not the only fairy bridge on the Island, as we discovered. There is another, much older bridge known as “The Real Fairy Bridge” and it really is a magical place. In the parish of Bradden at Kewaigue is an old stone packhorse bridge. Only accessible by foot via an overgrown public footpath. People leave offerings there for the little people and write letters asking for good luck.
Janet and Paul visited early one morning. They both said the area was stunningly beautiful and tranquil. However, both described a strange sense that the atmosphere could change at any moment. Neither could explain this feeling. A sense of being watched. They kept their visit short, so not to outstay their welcome.
Ben and I had arranged to meet the pair for coffee in Castletown afterwards. As we left Douglas, Ben decided he wanted to take a coastal route along a winding cliff top road, known as Marine Drive. Therefore, not crossing the Fairy Bridge at Ballalona. We set off in the car, only to discover the road was closed and had to turn back.
After turning the car around and setting off in the direction of the fairy bridge. I heard a loud slapping noise. Ben slammed on the breaks and swore loudly. Being the caring wife that I am, I thought he was having some weird medical episode and ignored him.
“What the xxxxl was that?” he exclaimed. “Something just slapped me across the hand!”
We have no explanation for what it was. There was no sign of an insect bite, or anything that could have fallen from the car and hit him. He said it felt like a hand slapping his and it certainly sounded like one. Had we angered the little people by attempting to take an alternative route and not wishing them good morning?
The Manx fairies are known for usually wearing blue or green clothing, and red peaked caps. They like to play music and dance and are often found near old grave sites. (Moore 1891). The Little Folk have been spotted near to our base of Eary Cushlin, at the ancient keeill at Lag ny Keeilly.
A fisherman once saw a thick grey mist coming in from the sea. Then a fleet of fairy boats appeared each side of the rock. The Fisherman heard a fairy voice call out in Manx “Poor times and dirty weather, and herring enough at the people of this world, nothing at us.” (Bord, 2004).
The Island is riddled with stories of the mischievous activities of the little folk. Whilst some are known to be helpful by granting wishes and curing illness. Others are not so kind, abducting people and causing misfortune. It is wise not to linger to long if you come across the fairy folk, or you may get trapped in fairyland forever (Moore 1891).
It is not just the little people whose name must be spoken in preferred terms. A trip one day to the House of Manannan, a heritage museum in Peel gave Team Gef another insight into a local superstition.
The House of Manannan, (House of Manannan - Thie Vanannan : Manx National Heritage) is possibly is one of the best museums I have ever been to. Interactive exhibits give an interesting account of the history of the Island. From Viking raiders to the 19th Century fishing industry (It even has a realistic smelling kipper yard!) There is something there for all the family. But it was a chance conversation with one of the staff, whilst she persuaded my husband to buy me a necklace from the gift shop that we found out about the rats.
The Manx have a well-documented superstition about large furry rodents. Breaking superstitions with a 'longtail' infestation - BBC News. So ingrained into the culture, that they will not speak the word rat. To utter the name is considered bad luck. Instead, they are known as longtails or joeys. There is some debate as to where this superstition originated from. Most likely it stems from old sea faring traditions.
So superstitious are the Manx about the R word, that when Sir Bob Geldof and his band played at the 2022 TT, they changed the band’s name out of respect. Becoming The Boomtown Longtails for one night only (Boomtown Rats change name for gig in nod to Manx superstition - BBC News).
As our adventures on Ellan Vannin continued, Team Gef began to embrace the Manx superstitions. We always greeted the Little People and tried our hardest to not say the R word (although failing on several occasions, to be met with harsh reprimands from the rest of the group!)
On our second to last day in 2023, Ben and I decided to pay our own visit to the “Real Fairy Bridge” at Kewaigue. We walked down the winding overgrown path, leaving the village behind. It felt as if we were entering another realm. No other human in sight. Overhanging trees brushed our faces. Brambles and nettles prickled our legs, the air damp from morning rain. As we ventured further, we came across a dead rabbit lying across the track. Insides ripped out, soulless eye sockets staring up at us. There are few rabbit predators on the Isle of Man. Could it have fallen foul to a stoat (or Mongoose!) we wondered. Or had the Little People become hungry and been on a murderous rampage? We would normally consider ourselves as fairly rational people, but Paul and Janet had been right. There was something uneasy about this place, and it played tricks with our imaginations.
All this disappeared the minute we reached our destination. Hidden in a small woodland glen, Ivy clambering over the old stones. Is the most wonderful bridge. The river bubbles under it, tree roots twist in the undergrowth around it in strange humanoid shapes. A great sense of awe washed over me, and I became a little emotional. It really is magical, like something from a fairy tale.
“Do you still feel uneasy?” Ben asked.
“Quite the opposite.” I replied. “It’s simply magical. I feel like I could stay forever.”
“Then it is definitely time we left.” my husband said nervously.
To be continued.