The Screaming Banshee
History by Donald Burleson
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
antidotal 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
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
ancient 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.