Irish Folklore: The Banshee

The Banshee (bean sidhe) was probably the first creature of Irish Mythology, or Mythology in general, that I remember hearing about. All my friends at the time claimed to have seen her sitting on their back wall combing her hair. Their version was a haggard old woman with long grey hair and skeletal features under a long ragged grey dress. I was told that if I met the eyes of the Banshee, she would become enraged and throw her comb at my throat, slicing my head clean off. Naturally, as a 7-year-old, I was terrified!

As I grew older, I became less scared of the Banshee and more fascinated by the legend of her. I began researching, discovering what I could. I wasn’t surprised by just how many variations of the legend there are. In some she is seen in the guise I described above, in others she’s a beautiful young woman with long white hair and dressed elegantly in a silk gown. She is seen as an escort to the other side, or she is seen as a creature who relishes inflicting death on an individual. Whatever her purpose, what everyone can agree on (in Ireland, at least) is that she is always present before death.the_lady_of_shalott___banshee_by_tenshi_naelle-d3g8ahr

Her keening (an Irish word for wailing) is heard, usually at night, and can go on for several nights before the death. Some resemble her keening to the barn owl, the fox and the cat (if you’ve heard cats mating, you know what I’m talking about). Her keen is described as a soft sobbing sound, or as a piercing scream that is designed to torture the souls of the living.

According to legend, the Banshee attaches herself on to families with O and Mc/Mac in their names (eek!), but intermarriage may have extended her reach beyond those names.

Where did she come from? Legend has it that she is a victim of a violent crime e.g. murder, or she died in childbirth. Contrary to the assumption regarding the particular family names, she is said to attach herself to her own family, warning them of a pending demise.

Whatever her story, the Banshee, for me, is one of the scariest and most fascinating pieces of Irish Mythology.



Love Animals/Hate People

When we watch our favourite programmes, we may not be too surprised or upset when one of the main/supporting characters is killed in an act of violence. For example, when poor Dale was gutted at the hands of a walking skeleton, we were upset to lose him but we didn’t flood AMC with complaints regarding their nerve to display such violence. To put it simply, we are used to it.

An Irish drama, entitled Love/Hate, recently came under fire when its season four premiere opened with a cat being gunned down by a kid, who subsequently found it funny. The show was flooded with complaints, and animal rights groups quickly stepped out to voice their disgust. Suddenly the Irish public were divided. On one side, you had people who thought it was absolutely disgraceful to show such violence to an innocent animal on-screen. On the other side, you had people who basically said, ‘it’s not real!’ cat-halloween

Personally, I don’t like seeing violence towards animals on television, fact or fiction. But it’s got me thinking about the real issue as to why some may consider it unacceptable, when television is full of fictional murders of men, women and children. What makes animals so special? Animals have limited rights in practically every constituency. Murdering an animal in cold blood is either seen as sport, or slapped with a minimal fine. On the other hand, the killing of men, women and children can take away your entire freedom if committed. Perhaps people feel that this is a hindrance to the work of animal rights groups who are trying to discourage such horrible acts.

What has also been considered is the show’s concept of timing. Showing a cat being gunned down on television so close to Halloween was probably not a good idea. Cats are made to suffer most around this time of year, when the sale of fireworks is greatly increased. Each year, animal shelters and fire departments publish pleas for cat owners to keep them inside on Halloween. For strays, they are not so lucky. For any animal lover, cats especially, Halloween is a horrible time of year. And the violence that will be displayed this year may end up coming back on Love/Hate.