The Moddey Dhoo

The Black Dog of Mann

Somewhere between folk tale and legend, the Moddey Dhoo  haunts the lore of Ellan Vannin from ancient times.  Black Dogs have a special place in many Celtic and European legends as both guardians of the sacred and profane; theurgic messengers from the Otherworld.  Different localities have given them different names, many are known as Ghost Dogs and their apparitions are often harbingers of death and doom to the person that encounters them.

Peel Castle is a beautiful red stoned ruined castle on a wee island off of the main town of Peel.  This island is now called St. Patrick’s Isle, but it was once a holy isle of the ancient pagan peoples of Ellan Vanin, the Druids, cunning folk and of course the early Vikings.  We all know that the  Christians appropriated all the sacred sites that they could in their thirst for dominion and power and they renamed everything under the names of their Saints, hoping that time would at some point wash away all memory of the Old Religions.  In many places, it did… but not on Mann…

Now the Old Moddey Dhoo as I’ve said, was a guardian of the sacred isle.  He watched over the graves of the pagan ancestors and protected their bones and sanctity.  When the Christians came, and took over everything, bringing with them their hierarchy and military institutions, their greed and their disrespect for the land, sea and sky… well, you can imagine, he was plenty worked!

And when in the 16oos Peel Castle became the garrison of the damned Earl of Derby’s soldiers, well the Moddey Dhoo just about had enough of them and their drinking and farting and carrying on!  So he kept a close eye on them to keep them in line and in their quarters.  He would wander into the guard room, and lay his big Moddey Head down by the fire, just as sun set to the west.  Every soldier knew he was no man’s dog.  He was that kind of otherworldly guest which makes the hair on your arms stand on end and your back prickle.  So every last one of them stayed sober around the Dhoo and not one uttered a curse word for fear of him.  Some even thought he was the Christian Devil, but we know better.

Each night, a pair of soldiers had to lock the great gates of the castle, venture through a dark passageway in a church which, as you know, was built on an ancient holy site, and leave the keys in the Captain’s Quarters.  And every time the soldiers went to leave the room, the Moddey Dhoo would rise from the hearth fire to follow and keep the fellows in line.  So scared were the soldiers to head out that they would roll dice to see who were the unlucky fellows of the eve to do the job.  No one walked alone with the Moddey Dhoo!

He prowled behind the key carriers, panting mist and smoke.  His seemed to grow larger in the dark and he made a sound like a low rumbling growl.  Some nights he just stood there baring his ivory teeth and scowling with his eyes the size of saucer plates ablaze.

And he would return with the soldiers to the guards room, lay down by the fire, and disappear at dawn without a trace!

Goodness he was a good guard dog, that black phantom!

And as it is with the world of men, they get familiar even with the uncanny after a time.  A miracle of childhood is only a sunrise in middle age.  Likewise, some men began to question their instinctual fear of the Moddey Dhoo and they started to think that he might just be a big ugly dog.  Well, you know, some people can talk themselves into any belief despite the natural wonders around them!

One soldier in particular had a real problem with the Moddey Dhoo and thought he would do best to show off that he was braver than the rest of them.  Now he was a most foul man, and it wasn’t just his smell, it was his very air and the Moddey Dhoo had been keeping one coal glowing eye on him at all times.  After calling on John Barleycorn for ample courage, this man began to boast that he wasn’t afraid of no Black Dog.

“Come on” he challenged “let’s see if you’re really a Devil or just a wee ugly pup.”

Well, what I can I say, the ancient immortal phantom just looked up and grinned like a Hell Hound.  And this drunken wanker picked up the keys and dared the Moddey Dhoo to follow him!  Some of the wiser soldiers tried to stop him but he was a big brute, drunk and was alreadypissed down at the gate.  The Moddy Dhoo just looked at the soldiers, got up from the hearth fire, sauntered out the door and prevented every last one of them from following with a haunting glare.  This set a few soldiers to all get down on their hands and knees for the foolish fellow and mutter prayers and weepings while others waited in quite fear for the outcome.  Either way, not another soldier left the guard room that night.

And there was silence.

Then from the dark came the shrieking.  The horrid screaming of the braggart guard.  A most agonizing sound in the dark to be certain.  Still not one soldier ventured out of the safety of the guard’s quarters.  They paled in fear, frozen in a grip of terror and stared wide eyed at one another.

Then, the door to the guard room swung open and standing there, was a man who was man no more.  The braggart soldier!  A man whose face twitched and contorted in dread for he had encountered the wrath of the otherworldly guardian, the Moddey Dhoo.  They helped him to sit down safelyin the room but he shook so uncontrollably that his tongue wagged out of his mouth and he was unable to speak.  He was nothing but a shivering, drooling, madman!  None of the soldiers ever learned what happened to him that night when he challenged the Ancient Guardian of Peel, and like all fools with Immortals,  he died three days later.

The  fearful fellow and the Moddey Dhoo are briefly mentioned by Sir Walter Scott in The Lay of the Last Minstrel

“For he was speechless, ghastly, wan
Like him of whom the Story ran
Who spoke the spectre hound in Mann.”

Some say, the Moddey Dhoo showed him the contents of his own soul.  Whatever the black dog did, he didn’t need to do it again.  The passageway in Peel Castle was walled up and no one was to ever venture in.

Some say that the Moddey Dhoo no longer haunts Peel Castle, but I can tell you it’s a lie.  The Moddey Dhoo is still there and I know many persons who have both seen and encountered him.

Those stories I’ll perhaps tell another day.

But this was the story as it was told to me by a Wytch of Mann.  If you want the boring old regular version of the story, you can go here.  It’ s neither as true nor as good as the Manx Wytch-Tales.

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