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.