Peel Castle and The Ghost Dog
A blog post by Greg
I think that having a look through just some of our travel adventure videos, whether it is Mexico: Mayan Mystery and Marine Majesty, Turkey: Fairy Chimneys and Underground Cities or, perhaps most obviously, Romania, Seeking Dracula’s Castle, will give you the impression that at least one of us is fascinated by historical buildings, castles, temples and towns.
Whether they are the jungle ruins and temples of the Maya in Mexico, the Ancient Greek cities of Hierapolis or Laodicea in Turkey, or the various castles and fortresses which we visited across Romania following the legend of Vlad Dracula III, I always relish the opportunity to be in a place where the past can be seen around you. A place where you can pause and almost conjure up the ‘ghosts of the past’ in your mind’s eye.
I can remember very well sitting atop the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan, looking down past the temples below and along the Street of the Dead. I’m not sure that I had initially sat down to look at the view so much as I had to catch my breath. We had gone from one morning waking up at sea level on the Isle of Wight in a cold February, to the following morning, quite early, climbing steep and uneven pyramid steps at an altitude of over 7000 feet in the hot Mexican sun.
The shock from a change in conditions, added to the fact that we were just coming out of the winter – so Christmas binge eating and being a lot less physically active than I usually am during my main show seasons or while we are travelling, meant that climbing up and down the various pyramids was a struggle, and so, having reached the top, a sit down was a necessity… but I digress.
Sat at the top of the Pyramid of the Moon, and looking down the ‘Street of the Dead’, with a few tourists and traders milling about below, it was quite easy to start to imagine the whole site back in time a couple of millennia and get images of the site at its peak. To imagine the pyramids not as ruins, but as freshly built and maintained places where the gods were honoured. It is easy for a person sat where I was, in their mind’s eye, to see the tourists fade and ancient people moving around the site, each with their own purpose. Dashing to a temple to thank the gods for something good in their lives or to to offer up a prayer for a sick relative – or maybe something as mundane as dashing home so that they were not late for a cooked meal.
In this blog post, however, I did not set out to talk about the metaphorical ghosts conjured up by the imagination, nor did I originally intend to write as much as I have about Mexico and Teotihuacan. When I sat down to write I was focused on our Isle of Man travel adventure, ‘The Isle of Man – Railways, Castles and Seals’, and in particular about the ‘Ghost Dog’ of Peel Castle.
I have found a number of websites which recount the legends of the ghost dog of Peel Caste, but, in order to be thorough, I am going to base this blog post on the oldest written account I can find, that recorded by George Waldron in ‘The History and Description of the Isle of Man’, published in 1731. For anyone wanting to dive into the source material, the entire book has been scanned and made available through Google here (complete with beautiful old fashioned ‘s’s which look like ‘f’s, and can make for some interesting reading), and for those interested, a little more background about the publication of the tome and it’s author can be found here.
We begin, therefore, the tale of Mauthe Doog, the ghostly dog of Peel Castle. Take a moment, either in reality or in your mind, to prepare yourself for a ghostly tale. Turn off the lights, light a campfire (only if you are outdoors, or have a fireplace, obviously – if not, find a video of a fire on YouTube), pause for a moment to cook some marshmallows on the fire (this will take longer if you only have the fire on YouTube). Once you have the appropriate atmosphere created, the story can begin, with George Waldron’s own words.
They say, that an Apparition called, in their language, the Mauthe Doog, in the shape of a large black spaniel with curled shaggy hair, was used to haunt Peel Castle; and has been frequently seen in every room, but particularly in the Guard-Chamber, where, as soon as candles were lighted, it came and lay down before the fire in preference of all the soldiers, who at length, by being so much accustomed to the sight of it, lost great part of the terror they were seized with on its first appearance.
I must admit that I had read various accounts of the ghost dog, many of which mentioned Waldron as a source. Many of them referred to a large black dog, or even a ghostly hound. The word which few of them saw fit to include was ‘spaniel’. The idea of a group of hardened soldiers garrisoning a castle being ‘seized with terror’ by a giant black ghost dog or large ghostly hound I consider to be the makings of a good ghost story. Add in the word ‘spaniel’, however, and it presents to me as more of a comedy sketch than a ghost dog.
Especially as it was in the reign on King Charles (both King Charles II was king in England and Charles, King of Derby, was king in Mann), I now can’t help picturing a ghostly black King Charles Spaniel, its ears flopping around somewhat comically in the way that the ears of King Charles Spaniels tend to do, and all of these soldiers screaming and standing on chairs – like the lady in the Tom and Jerry cartoons every time she sees the titular mouse. It even suggests to me a possible origin for the ghost story.
Let us assume for the moment that there was a black spaniel living somewhere in Peel, who had become lost. It found it’s way to the castle, where, dark and cold, it sought out the heat of a fire. This bumbling little spaniel wanders into the Guard-Chamber and flops down by the fire.
The guards, who had been sat by the fire (perhaps even scaring each other with ghosts stories) freak out at the sight of a black creature suddenly bursting in, perhaps casting large shadows from the fire. When their commanding officer rushes in to see the commotion – which has scared the poor dog off in the meantime – the men, not wanting to admit they had been scared by a spaniel, modify the story slightly to bring in a supernatural element.
Let us ignore my meagre attempts to rationalise this big, scary, ghostly hound into a case of mistaken identity with a floppy-eared spaniel for a moment, and delve into the darkest part of the legend of the Mauthe Doog.
Despite the soldiers becoming accustomed to the ghost dog, it appears they never got over their fear entirely as none of them wanted to risk being alone with it. One passage in particular was its haunt, and it was the passage a guard must pass through at night after locking up the castle gates in order to take the keys to the Captain in his apartment. The men always did this duty in pairs so that they did not have to go alone… until one fateful night! I shall let Waldron pick up the story here:
One night a fellow being drunk, and by the strength of his liquor being rendred more daring than ordinary, laugh’d at the simplicity of his companions, and tho’ it was not his turn to go with the keys, would needs take that office upon him, to testify his courage. All the soldiers endeavour’d to dissuade him, but the more they said, the more resolute he seemed, and swore that he desired nothing more than that Mauthe Doog would follow him, as it had done the others, for he would try it if it were Dog, or Devil.
After having talked in a very reprobate manner for some time, he snatched up the keys and went out of the guard-room.
In some time after his departure a great noise was heard, but nobody had the boldness to see what occasioned it, till the Adventurer returning, they demanded the knowledge of him; but as loud and as noisy as he had been at leaving them, he was now become sober and silent enough, for he was never heard to speak more: and tho’ all the time he lived, which was three days, he was entreated by all those who came near him, either to speak, or if he could not do that, to make some signs by which they might understand what had happened to him, yet nothing intelligible could be got from him, only, that by the distortion of his limbs and features, it might be guess’d that he died in agonies more than is common in a natural death.
So there we have it, a man so terrified by his encounter with the Mauthe Doog that he died in agony over a period of three days. The ghost dog, apparently, was never seen by the soldiers after that time. This (say the critics of my brilliantly formulated ‘the Mauthe Doog may have just been a lost spaniel’ theory) surely proves once and for all that not only is the Mauthe Doog truly a ghost hound, but also that the soldiers in the castle were right to fear it… or does it?
The first, and arguably most noticeable, problem with this story of the Mauthe Doog is that it doesn’t actually feature the ghostly creature at all. I will admit, had the man returned from his task and spent the remainder of his life babbling incoherently about the black dog and its floppy ears, that we would then have a strong case that in some way the black dog could be associated with this man’s death – but he actually never said a word. Had the story been that the man vanished and was discovered the following morning in the passageway and covered in bite marks like a dog’s, but too big for any ordinary dog, or perhaps immediately cauterised by the dogs devilishly hot teeth, we would definitely have a case for Scooby and the Mystery Machine to investigate. Even if they eventually discovered that the Mauthe Doog was merely the creepy janitor in a mask, at least there was a mystery to solve.
There is, however, no mention of the Mauthe Doog. Let us look over the evening’s events one more time and, like Poirot, engage our ‘little grey cells’. The salient facts of the evening are as follows:
- A soldier gets incredibly drunk.
- The soldier walks out in the dark across an unlit Peel Castle with uneven ground.
- A loud noise is heard.
- The soldier returns, looking the worse for wear and unable to speak.
- The soldier dies in agony three days later.
Let us agree that one possible explanation of this series of events is that our poor soldier encountered a ghost dog, and that ghost dog did something which put such fear into this soldier that he not only never spoke again, but was so terrified that he dies of fright three days later.
I would like to propose another possibility. What if the man wandered out drunk, and while he was out and about he slipped or tripped on some of the stone around the castle, and managed to bang his head on one of the many stone walls around a castle. Having hit his head hard enough to cause some serious damage, and to give himself concussion, he sought out his comrades. The remainder of the soldiers, also drunk and with little medical expertise, assumed that this must relate to the ghost dog they had been talking about before and so no medical attention was sought for the man’s head, leading to his death three days later, and a poor floppy-eared spaniel (who by now had returned to his owner in Peel and was by this time curled up on a hearth rug in front of a fire and chewing on the 17th Century equivalent of a ‘Bonio’) took the blame.
Here’s the thing, though. Despite having looked into this story and the other possible explanations, you will still find Mauthe Doog, brilliantly animated, within our documentary on the Isle of Man when we came to visit Peel Castle.
This is because often, when we are travelling around the world, we find that local legends and local stories can be even more interesting than the actual history of a place!
I think this blog post is now more than long enough, so it only remains for me to say thank you all for reading, and please do take unbelievably good care of yourselves, and of each other.