According to my own family legend, the Banshee is a
friendly mournful spirit whose mournful wailing heralds an impending
transition within the family, a spirit that has followed the family
since the dawn of recorded history. As a child, I lived in close
proximity to my elderly grandmother and great-Aunt, and they both made
sure that I was exposed to all of the proper understandings of our Irish
history and legend.
It’s easy to hear tales of the Banshee in Ireland,
once you convince them that you are not going to mock them. The
modern Irishman will usually say that tales of the Banshee are
“rubbish”, but if you take a minute to “scratch below the surface”, you
will often get the whole truth.
I’ve heard the plaintive cry of the Banshee myself,
and I want to start my noting that she does not “scream”, contrary to
popular myth. There have been documented reports where entire
villages hear the Banshee,
books are published on the Banshee, and there is far too much
evidence for the Banshee to just be a
More likely the banshee should be thought of
as the "spirit of the family", a spirit who attends to the family in
a time of transition. The banshee is described as a wee woman with
long white, blond or even auburn hair who appears in the vicinity of
the birthplace of the soon to be deceased. When seen, she is wearing
the clothes of a country woman, usually white, but sometimes grey,
brown or red.
Research show that the ability to
hear the Banshee runs in
families, and not all Irish can hear the Banshee. Technically,
the Banshee is an
Irish Household Spirit, who is said to follow families from
generation-to-generation, wailing mournfully in anticipation of a death
in the family.
The Banshee sound drifts off, as-if it was being
carried by the wind.
Her sharp, cries and wails are also called
'keen'. The wail of a banshee pierces the night, it's notes rising
and falling like the waves of the sea, it always announces a
mortal's death. She is solitary woman fairy, mourning and
forewarning those only of the best families in Ireland, those with
most ancient Celtic lineages. . .
The Banshee is an
Irish phenomenon, and it was not until a visit to Ireland many years
later that I realized the source of the strange sounds. I was
talking to an Irishman, hearing him tell of how the Banshee sounded, and
it made my skin crawl and the hair on the back of my neck stood up, when
he described a sound that was exactly like my own experience:
I heard the Banshee crying not long ago, and
within three days a boy of the Murphy's was killed by his own horse
and he bringing his cart to Kinvara. And I heard it again a few
nights ago, but I heard of no death since then. What is the Banshee?
It is of the nature of the Hyneses. Six families it cries for, the
Hyneses and the Fahys and I forget what are the others. I
heard her beside the river at Ballylee one time. I would stand
barefooted in the snow listening to the tune she had, so nice and so
calm and so mournful.