‘Ta scanjoon 'sy cashtal shen! Drogh - cur twoaie da (That castle is haunted! Evil - beware of it)!’ Jimmy, looked down at the old woman who was clasping his arm with her cold, boney, white purple veined hands. Bright blue intense eyes stared into his, piercing like shards of Nordic ice. Her warning in Manx Gaelic was clear and there could be no mistaking that the message was meant to be taken seriously. Not sure about how to respond, he watched as she walked away from the entrance of the castle and across the narrow breakwater that separates St Patrick's Isle (Manx: Ellan Noo Perick) on which Peel Castle (Manx: Cashtal Purt ny h-Inshey) stood from the town of Peel (Manx: Purt ny h-Inshey) on the Isle of Man (Manx: Mannin).
Oh well! That was one thing about the Manx, superstition ran deep within them and always had. After all, he was a born and bred Manxman so he should know. This castle did have stories of ghosts attached to it. But then so did many of the sites they had visited in all of the Celtic lands. Manx views of supernatural entities should not have surprised him really. However, he had been off the Island for many years now and forgotten how deep they were embedded in peoples psyche here. Work had taken him abroad and he had spent the last ten years living in New Zealand. A place of outstanding beauty and perfect for his passion for photography. Mannin always drew him back though. It is the same with all Manx people; a connection to their homeland that could never be broken. Just like with all of the Celtic peoples he had met around the world; a sense of belonging to these ancient lands on the very edge of northwest Europe.
'Who was that', said Eileen, as she walked towards the steps where Jimmy stood. Struggling to hold on to the rest of the equipment that they had brought for this afternoons photo shoot. Her long dark hair shone in the winter sunshine giving it a blue tinged sheen. The accent was pure New Zealand with just that intonation that he had found in so many places in New Zealand. Give away occasional words and phrases, a hint that revealed a Scottish ancestry that was not unusual in that part of the world. She didn’t wait for a response, ‘we’ve left it a bit late you know Jimmy’, she sighed and carefully laid the equipment on the steps leading up to the dark solid imposing metal strengthened thick wooden door of the castle. When she looked up he could see that her pretty little nose had been turned red by the cold wind as it brushed in over the waves of the Irish Sea. It didn’t make her any less beautiful of course. Jimmy was always a bit taken aback by her loveliness. Something about which that she never showed any self-awareness, which of course made her even more attractive. No pretentions with Eileen.
They had met at a Scottish Highland gathering in New Zealand. Watching the tartan clad bands parading past he had caught a glimpse of her. Conscious of staring he had tried to look away when she glanced in his direction, but knew he’d been caught out a couple of times. Suddenly a swathe of pipers in swirling kilts had marched across their eyeline in tight well drilled formation and when they had passed she had gone. As he wandered around the gathering site he had kept looking out for her but was not able to find her. Maybe it was just one of those brief shared moments that happened sometimes, when you caught the eye of a stranger, felt an immediate connection but never met again. Something that sort of stayed with you; a ‘where might it have led if we had spoken’ thought. He’d ended up at the place where all Celts gather-the bar! Tap on the shoulder there she was, introduced herself as Eileen McPherson. No doubting her ethnic origin then! Jimmy Kennaugh, he’d replied. That was it really so started their New Zealand inspired Scottish-Manx romance.
It seemed like so long ago now and they hadn’t been apart since that first meeting. A chance encounter that brought together two people who were obviously made for each other. Luck or destiny who knows? More than shared interests brought them close. They had those of course including love of photography, history and all things Celtic. Their differences were equally important. Her direct approach to life and an unwavering determination to achieve a desire or objective she had set herself. Problems that were there to be solved no matter how insurmountable the obstacles at first appeared. Jimmy was much more prone to dither and brood. She had the power to motivate him, but he equally had a calming influence upon her. Make her see sometimes that certain things were not worth striving for. That problems did not always have to be solved just for the sake of it, like some kind of addiction to completing crosswords. However, there was no doubt that both were determined to make this trip back to the Celtic lands. It had all been like a dream come true; those early summer days in Brittany and Cornwall. Walking in the hills and mountains of Wales and gazing down on miles of long sandy beaches of Ireland as Atlantic waves lapped the emerald coast.
When they reached Scotland Eileen had been determined to research her family history in that no holds barred way that only she could. Armed with memories, stories and locations from elderly family members in New Zealand. Dragging from them half forgotten tales passed through generations and hidden childhood memories from a time before emigration and a voyage to the other side of the world. Church records, gravestones, dusty library and town hall archives. The mapping of a family tree that linked one clan to another through marriage. Piecing together overwhelmingly sad stories of English persecution, poverty, Highland clearances. That day they went to a remote Scottish church where those driven from their lands had gathered and etched their names on the glass of the windows. A poignant memorial to their suffering and feeling of total desperation and loss. Reconnecting to this homeland was for her a homage to those that had been driven from this land. It had all affected her very deeply and though she was never one who found it easy to show her emotions he could see that she had moments of almost unbearable sadness. However, she was here, their descendent; a validation of their struggle and a victory of sorts.
In amongst all of this they visited old castles, houses, Iron Age brochs, ancient standing stones, cairns all over Scotland from the northern and western isles down to the borders. The last leg of their Celtic journey was the Isle of Man, his home and land of his ancestors. By the time they prepared to return to New Zealand in early January they would have been away for nearly nine months. So they had made their way over to the Isle of Man. Again they toured and photographed the ancient sites that had been the focus of the tour around the nations. In some ways easier here in that everything was concentrated within one island. It had made then a bit lazy really, thinking that they could just hop from one place to another without too much planning. That was Eileen’s take on it anyway but Jimmy knew different. He had felt it as soon as he had arrived back on the Isle of Man. Some kind of spell that said ‘relax, take your time there is no hurry’. In Manx Gaelic he knew the words only too well ‘traa dy liooar’ (time enough). How many times had he heard that over the years before he had left. An antidote to impatience but frustrating to others, like Eileen who had not yet acclimatised to this attitude.
They had met up with Neil, who was going to let them into Cashtal Purt ny h-Inshey (Peel Castle). A special agreement to undertake photo shoots around the place when it was deserted on this December day. Jimmy pushed on the big castle door at the top of the steps and it swung open with a laboured creaking groan like an angry giant being awoken from his sleep. From the office just inside the door he was greeted by Neil ‘at last I was giving you up. You haven’t left yourself much time though, it’ll start to get dark soon’.
‘Sorry Neil, we got delayed but we’ll make it as quick as we can.’
Eileen came up and stood next to him. She was already getting things prepared ‘come on then lets get going. What is it about you Manx and never getting a move-on.’
‘As you can see’ he said to Neil. ‘No such thing as “traa dy liooar” about Eileen’ and laughed.
The shared joke was interrupted by the sound of two loud cracks. It was the rocket signal that called the local volunteers who manned the lifeboat that they were needed. The lifeboat station was situated outside the castle walls close to the stone pier that came out from St Patrick’s Isle and protected the mouth of Peel harbour.
‘Damn’ said Neil, ‘it’s a call out and I’m part of the crew’. He thought for a second ‘look why don’t I just leave you to get on with this. I’ll close the entrance door but won’t lock it. Nobody will think of coming in at this time of year. If someone does just tell them it’s closed. Just let yourself out and I will lock up when I get back. Why don’t I meet you later on in the Creek Inn next to the harbour say at around 8.30pm to 9pm. I hope we will be back by then’.
‘OK, thanks Neil’, Jimmy tried to reassure him that they would be OK ‘don’t worry we will be fine and just get on with things. See you later in the pub and we will just close the main door after us.’
The solid large door clanged shut after Neil and Jimmy and Eileen set off around the outer walls of the castle. Thick solid mostly sandstone walls enclosed the whole of St Patrick’s Isle and within them was contained the buildings of the impressive fortress. Tall ruins that stood out proudly on this clear cold winters day. Bold stone structures whose shapes were framed by the light blue December skies. Small dark grey balls of cloud sped overhead in the strengthening wind, suggesting that somewhere over the Irish hills to the west a storm was brewing that at some stage would reach Mannin.
As they walked to the furthest westerly point of the defensive castle walls they looked down at the sea crashing against the rocks below them. Cold white spray brushed their faces and they could taste the salt on their lips and feel it stinging their eyes. Those waves breaking against the rocks were not prepared to be deterred by this natural first line of defence. Another objective awaited them, the castle itself. Foaming and stirring the water seemed annoyed; maybe it did not like this man made structure that stood out against its power. Smashing against the castle walls in a centuries old battle to remove an unnatural barrier. A sea when it is angry, though beautiful and mesmerising, also brings home to you its threat and power. Neil’s call out to join the crew of the lifeboat was a reminder of the very real dangers that faces the marine communities scattered along the Celtic coastlines of western Europe. As Jimmy and Eileen and looked out across the Irish Sea towards the darkening clouds building over the Irish coast in the distance they both seemed to be thinking the same thing. Change was on the way. A slight feeling of unease increased by a bone chilling wind whipping over the white topped waves.
‘OK lets get on with this’ said Eileen ‘there is a chill to this place that might not just be due to the weather’.
‘Well’ Jimmy laughed ‘all castles have their history and ghosts.’ It was certainly the case in Scotland, every site they visited had a dark tale of hauntings and spectres. He loved it because he could sense it when he went into these old places. Secrets contained in the very fabric of the structures. Tales of lonely pipers gliding along the battlements at the dead of night. The sound of long lost voices whose conversations could be heard long after those that had spoken lay in their graves. Of course it was also the case with Peel Castle. He had heard many stories over the years, so the warning given by the old woman when they arrived at the castle did not shock him. How could this place not have its secrets? As they walked from building to building taking photographs, looking for interesting features against spectacular backdrops he gave Eileen a potted history of what he had read about the castle, the settlement of Purt ny h-Inshey and its place in Manx history. The name can be translated into English as Harbour of the Island. To emphasise the significance of St Patrick’s Isle, it is this small islet on which they stood, at the mouth of the River Nebb (Manx: Awin Neb), that is referred to in the name ‘Island’. The name Peel seems to have been a later invention that may have come from a defensive fence or 'paling', or maybe the keep at the castle's main entrance, a type of building known as a 'peel tower'.
As for the name St Patrick’s Isle? Jimmy told Eileen it was because this was supposed to be the first place that Christianity was brought to the Isle of Man by St Patrick. However, it is now thought that the Irish missionaries who came here about the year 550 AD were disciples of St Patrick and probably not Patrick himself. More likely it was St Carmane (or German). Anyway, he told her, that’s what led to the establishment of the Celtic monastery here. The stonework and ruined buildings you can see spans many centuries. From the Celtic monastery, dating from the 6-8th centuries, through Viking times into the 13th,14th 15th centuries and later. The castle was originally constructed by the Vikings in the eleventh century under the rule of King Magnus III Olafson, also known as Magnus Barefoot/Barelegs. Called that because he took to wearing Gaelic type clothing leaving the legs bare. He was King of Norway from 1093 to 1103 and King of Mann and the Isles from 1099 to 1103. The Viking castle kept some of the older monastic buildings like the present round tower we are going to in a minute he told her. Then we can go to the ruins of thirteenth century Cathedral of St German. Beneath the walls are passages to dark hidden rooms used to hold people captive, but also for other purposes that are now no longer known.
As they went on taking photographs Eileen listened to Jimmy telling stories of the castle. She could have stopped and asked him more, for clarifications of this or that point. However, she was conscious that the light was fading quickly and they really needed to make the most of this golden opportunity of wandering the castle undisturbed. So she listened, but guided him from one location to the other so that the flow of his conversation and their work was not disturbed. Eileen loved listening to him talking about this place. It brought everything to life and, like her, he had a passion for history and all things Celtic. He spoke of this river estuary, sheltered and ideal for the Mesolithic nomadic hunter/gatherers. The Neolithic ancestors of the Manx and the evidence of the stone tools found on St Patrick's Isle and Peel Hill. Post holes found during excavations of St Patrick’s Isle that indicated circular dwellings, dating from about 650 BC until about 600 AD, the period referred to as the Celtic Iron Age. It was this unbroken history that she found fascinating. Of course where there is a history of human settlement there is death and he told her that there were ancient graves on this small island. Jimmy spoke about the excavation of the 10th century grave of ‘The Pagan Lady’. With her there was a beautiful Viking necklace and close by was a cache of silver coins dating from about 1030. He talked of the strategic importance to the Vikings of the Isle of Man and the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles that existed between the 9th and 10th centuries stretching up to the Hebrides and the islands of the Firth of Clyde.
Eileen was starting to get a bit alarmed about how late it was getting, so she told Jimmy to put his history lesson on hold until they had finished what they had come to do. It was to the round tower that he and Eileen now went. It was an outstanding building. Mostly these round towers are located in Ireland and were constructed between the ninth and twelfth century. They had visited some there and she particularly remembered the one at Glendalough. But there are three such buildings outside of Ireland, two in Scotland, at Abernethy and Brechin. Then this one on the Isle of Man. There is some dispute about their purpose; maybe to protect goods or even people from threat. Maybe as some form of veneration. They can vary in height from about 50 feet (16 meters) to 130 feet (40 metres). This one stands at around fifty feet. Typical of such building the door stands high above ground level. In her imagination Eileen could see the early Christian community taking refuge in the tower from Viking raiders who came to loot the monastery, but if this ever really happened no one now knows.
By the time they had reached the ruins of the St German’s Cathedral it was reaching a point where they had to consider calling it a day. The clouds had thickened above and the darkness was closing in around them. They had done well though and were pleased with the shots that they had taken. Jimmy suggested taking the lamps that they had brought with them down into the underground chambers of the castle. They would have needed to do this anyway. The light never penetrated the dark tunnels that ran underneath the ruins. So this would be the final push until they could go and eat and get warm in the pub where they had agreed to meet up with Neil. Moving on down through the dark damp passages made them both feel a bit nauseous. Entering the black underground rooms brought to mind the misery of those who might have been held captive in them over the centuries.
‘OK, I know this is pretty miserable but we will be out of here soon. Just mind your footing’ Jimmy said to Eileen as they trod along the damp stone floors. ‘As long as we don’t meet up with the Moddey Doo, we will be OK.’
‘Why do I get the feeling you’re going to tell me something gruesome here’ Eileen said. Since she had been on the Island she had heard countless tales of mythical beings and creatures that stalked the hills, waterfalls and glens of Mannin. They varied in the degree of threat they posed to humankind; some benign some malevolent. It struck her how much the people here seemed to really believe in these entities. When she had arrived they had driven over a small bridge called the Fairy Bridge and without fail everyone in the vehicle had said hello to the Mooinjer Veggey (Little People). It was made very clear that she had to do the same or everyone’s good luck could be in jeopardy. She had done so, a bit embarrassed that she was part of some big joke at her expense. Nothing could be further from the truth! It was part of local tradition. Eileen had gone over the bridge several times now and was now firmly in the habit of paying her respects to the ‘little people’ who were said to live underneath it.
‘Oh I’m not going to freak you out with that story now’ Jimmy shook his head. ‘Moddey Doo is Manx Gaelic for Black Dog and folklore says that the spectre of a big black hound haunts this castle.’
‘Come on’ Eileen resigned herself to being told. ‘You can’t just mention it and leave it hanging there.’ Really she wanted to be told, hadn’t every castle they’d visited in all of the Celtic nations had some supernatural entity or other attached to it. Although she had to admit, being just the two of them in the dark chambers underneath these ancient ruins gave such stories an added spice.
‘OK’ Jimmy said ‘just think of the Hound of the Baskervilles but more threatening!’ He’d started to tell her now so no need to hold back. ‘Large red eyes, sharp teeth that drip with salivar, menacing, aggressive, stalking, the size of a calf.’ He shrugged his shoulders ‘Oh! Anyone that sees it will meet with death, either on the spot or shortly afterwards. Think they have bricked up the tunnel where he was last said to have been seen.’
‘Fine’ said Eileen ‘thanks for the warning.’ They both stood lit only by the lamps they had brought for the photographs of these dark indoor spaces. ‘Oh well we’ll be out of here soon’.
Thoughts of the ghostly hound of the castle were put to the back of their minds and they carried on. There could be no doubt that they had taken some stunning photographs of these dark underground caverns. Because it was dark down here and so cut off from the cold windy weather above they seemed to let the time slip past unnoticed.
Jimmy looked at his watch ‘hell, look at the time. Surprised Neil has not come back yet. Better just check he is not up there waiting for us. I’ll be back in a second.’
‘Well you’re not leaving me down here while you do’ Eileen grabbed his arm, ‘come lets leave the stuff down here for a minute, go to the gate and if he’s there let him know we will collect everything and all leave together.
They took one of the lamps with them walked along a passage leading to some stairs eventually feeling the cold sea air on their faces. It really was very dark out here now. The clouds had thickened and hung low and dark over St Patrick’s Isle. They could feel spits of water on their faces but were not sure if it was starting to rain or sea water spray thrown up by the waves as they crashed over the castle walls. They made their way to the main gate, but there was no sign of Neil. Thinking he might be outside they pushed at the large heavy wooden doors. No movement. They turned the huge handle and shoved with their shoulders against the wood and metal. It was clear though that the doors had been locked.
‘Bloody hell’ great said Jimmy. ‘Locked in this god forsaken place’. Even the small office and gift shop at the entrance was all secured. ‘Lets go back down get all our stuff and we can use the mobile phone and get someone to let us out’.
‘Err, slight problem’ said Eileen in an apologetic tone, ‘the cell phone is in the car.’
‘Great. Now what?’ an annoyed Jimmy shrugged his shoulders.
‘OK, don’t panic’ Eileen, ever the decisive one took control of the situation. ‘Let’s go back down get all our stuff, bring everything back up here. Then lets use the lamps to start signalling for help across the causeway towards the town. Someone is bound to see a few SOS messages.’
So back down into the dark labyrinth of tunnels they went, finding their way to the chamber where they had left one of the lamps burning. Collecting all of their equipment they started to make there way out again. As they proceeded they reached a fork in the passage that they had not noticed before.
‘Do we go left or right here’ Eileen was half speaking to herself as well as to Jimmy.
‘Pretty sure it’s left but don’t remember having to choose before’ a not too confident sounding Jimmy took them in that direction.
The air was cold. Colder than they had experienced before. One that went through their clothing and chilled their bones. It was not just the unnatural cold that made them shiver now though. Because in that narrow enclosed tunnel they both had that strong sense of not being alone. Clinging to each they made their way forward, the lamp they carried held high but not seeming to penetrate the pitch darkness ahead. At first they heard a soft sound, strange but gentle. Padded paws on stone. Was it behind them or ahead? They said nothing to each other but pressed themselves against the rock of the passage wall. Was this how the stalked animals felt when the big cat was hunting them on the African plains? Confused and almost hypnotised by a predator. In the distance they began to see two shapes emerge. Wide saucers of red light. Staring eyes that either generated their own glow or were reflecting the lamp that Jimmy held out in front of him. Moving forward in their direction, holding them in their mesmerising glow. Then most terrifying of all; that deep malicious growl dragged up from the bowels of hell.
An awful sound that broke the spell and had them running away from whatever unearthly beast was confronting them. The drooling noise of hungry jaws and quickening heavy paws seemed to be getting closer to them with every step. Somehow they reached the fork in the passage and kept running. They hardly saw the approaching light ahead of them and crashed into Neil knocking him off his feet. They all lay on the ground in silence their bags and cameras strewn across the tunnel floor.
Neil was shocked by the state that he found Jimmy and Eileen in. He had to keep shaking Jimmy to get some kind of response. Both he and Eileen just looked behind them, waiting and listening for something, the look of horror in their eyes was unmistakable. Neil got them to their feet, made sure all of their equipment was gathered and pushed them ahead and out of the tunnel. Constantly assuring them that it was all OK and he was behind them protecting and supporting them. Neither said a word and Neil led them to the gate of the castle. Down the steps they went like dazed accident victims and walked towards their car. Neil told them that when the lifeboat had returned everything seemed quiet in the castle. It was late and he had naturally assumed by this time that they had gone and he locked the gates. It was only later in the pub when they had not arrived that he began to get alarmed. There was no answer when he rang their mobile phone. It was only when he got back towards the castle that he had seen their car still parked, partly hidden next to a wall. They had to be somewhere underground within the castle. It was shortly after he began his search that they crashed into each other in the passage.
Jimmy and Eileen sat ashen faced in the pub next to Neil. Now the story started to unfold. How they had taken a turn into the wrong tunnel. Confusing to Neil as he could think of no turning into another tunnel in the place that they had described. Once maybe, but now most of these branch passages had long been sealed off. Reluctantly they started to tell of their encounter with the strange beast. Of course everyone knew the story of the Moddey Doo. Wouldn’t they just have become alarmed at being locked in the castle; after all who wouldn’t be? Dark passages within ancient building fired the imagination and could create self induced hysteria. Neil did his best to calm the still very shaken Jimmy and Eileen but he knew it would not work. Somehow he had found it hard to be convincing when he told them it must have been their imagination and he knew why. On dark moonlit winter nights in the town of Purt ny h-Inshey from across the causeway where the dark ruined castle stood, many had heard the howls of the black hound of hell. Those that heard it did not speak of it. Neil was one of them.
As Jimmy and Eileen left the pub that night they walked homewards along the narrow streets of the town. A door opened and Jimmy saw the old woman who had given him the warning when he had arrived at the castle. ‘Cre honnick oo (What did you see)? Naik oo Moddey Doo ayns shen (Did you see the Moddey Doo there)? Jimmy shook his head, he did not want to speak of it and Eileen and Jimmy never again talked about their experiences of Cashtal Purt ny h-Inshey as yn Moddey Doo.
The history of the Kingdom of Man and the Isles is well recorded
Treisht Eiraght Purt ny h-Inshey. A Short History of Peel by Leslie Quilliam
The legend of the Moddey Doo is well known on the Isle of Man