Home Manx Life Peel – Some Folk Tales

Peel – Some Folk Tales

by Ber Weyde

The various names under which Peel has passed are inseparable from the history of its castled and cathedralled islet, and their consideration must yield first place to matters of greater moment. An old Ballaugh woman knows a good deal about these. She says (in 1927), that “big fairies were seen walking about among the ruins of Peel Castle, and fairies were heard shouting on the broos when the fishing-boats were going out. If a man’s voice was heard shouting it was known bad weather was coming, and they put back. Once they were going out, and the ‘Man at the back of Peel Castle’ shouted to them there was a storm coming and they were not to go out, but they went, and the fleet was lost off the Calf.”

Another tale of warning, from the parish of Patrick, says that “the Peel boats were fishing at the Wart off Spanish Head. The weather was looking bad. A mermaid appeared among them out of the sea and shouted ‘shiaull er thalloo’ — ‘sail to land.’ Some of the boats hauled in and ran for shelter; those that stopped there lost their tackle, and some lives were lost as well.”

Bishop Wilson’s diary records, on the 3rd March, 1721, a very similar incident. Two Ballaugh boats were at sea together, but out of mutual hearing distance. The men in both boats heard a voice repeating very distinctly the words ‘churr hood’ — “weigh anchor” (sic). They obeyed, and thus preserved, in all probability, their lives from a violent storm which arose within half an hour of the warning. The Bishop adds, “This is well attested.”

In other cases the warning has been delivered by the visible shape of a man in the neighbourhood of the boats when at sea. All these anecdotes of apparitions have a strong resemblance to one another, and seem to describe a kind of collective second sight and super-audition.

On one occasion at the least, the kindly guardian of seafarers sent a messenger ashore in a shape which, though long and conspicuously associated with Peel, is not as a rule highly thought of anywhere. The skipper of my informant’s boat was expected by his crew to join them at the harbour one evening for a night’s fishing, but he failed to turn up, and consequently they did not put out. Next day he told them that after leaving his house near the Reservoir he was faced at the top of the town by a big black dog which would not let him pass it. He went back home and got a thick stick, but all his threats were disregarded by the animal, and whatever way he tried to get round to the quay the dog was there before him. Finally he came to the conclusion that it was a “sign,” and returned home for good. Early next morning a heavy gale sprang up with great suddenness, through which the boat, if it had been caught in it, might not have lived.

“The three great losses of the Peel herring fleet” were:

• in the ‘Mooir ny Fuill,’ the Sea of Blood, southwest of the Calf;
• at ‘the Wart,’ a fishing-bank close to Spanish Head; and
• under the landslide of the ‘Garroo Clagh,’ North of Fleshwick.

Each of them was the consequence of neglecting a warning; in the third case the message was not supernaturally conveyed, but was merely a clerical warning against fishing on Sunday. The first and worst so impressed the mind of an old woman who was “not quite right in her head,” or “a bit astray” or “clicky,” and got the best living she could by “going about on the houses,” that she commemorated every anniversary of the disaster by wading barefoot into Peel Harbour at low tide, facing southwest towards the place where it happened, and “saying something to herself” while standing there. The spot where she used to wade in, called “the Gut,” was filled up when the railway station was built.

The calamity which impelled her to this pious act was foreseen by another woman of Peel — a Wise Woman — this in a basin of charmed water. A different account says it was actually caused by some such means, and that the guilty witch was afterwards rolled down the Northern slope of Slieu Whallian in a spiked barrel.

Not only was Peel Castle the abode of a giant who is sometimes said to have been Manannan himself, and to have stridden habitually across the strait between the mainland and his islet, but on one occasion a crew of fishermen leaving the bay had a surprising view of innumerable fairies climbing up and down the Castle flagstaff. Did these bear any relation in a folk-lore sense to the climbers of the pole in the Crammag river?* If not, they are without a parallel in my experience.

Another adventure which befell Peel men suggests that the ‘Man of Peel Island’ sometimes took a trip across to Ireland. The crew of a Peel fishing-boat lying in an Irish port, either Ardglass or Drogheda, but anyway “the nearest port to the Isle of Man,” saw about 10 or 11 o’clock of a clear summer night a man twice the size of an ordinary man appearing and disappearing on the quay; he kept looking down into the water and shouting in a tremendous voice which seemed to shake the buildings, but the men were not understanding what he was saying. (They must have been on the quay themselves, because) no one would dare to go down into the boat to make it fast. At last one volunteered to do it. Afterwards a policeman came along and they told him what they had seen and heard, but he knew nothing of the matter and could not explain it. Nobody but the Manxmen had any knowledge of it. So far as is now known, nothing bad – no accident to the boat or unusually severe weather – followed what is commonly considered to be a warning of impending danger. Possibly it was a practical joke on the part of their protector, whose whimsical nature is portrayed in other island stories.

* …He afterwards told a strange story to the effect that after hooking and losing a fish, as twilight began to gather round him, he saw a red pole slowly erected from the surface of the water, and innumerable small creatures in scarlet jackets climb it and vanish into the air, to reappear a few moments later stained with blood.

(source: A Manx Scrapbook by W Walter Gill (1929)); photograph of Ellan Noo Perick (St Patrick’s Isle) http://bit.ly/1ONCJg7)

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