THE SCREAM OF THE BANSHEE
In Celtic lore, Banshees are female spirits
or wraiths. These ghostly wailing women
often appear to people as an omen of impending
death and, are often heard wailing loudly
at their funeral. Most often a Banshee
will appear as a young women with pale
bluish skin and long hair that floats
Ghost-like on the wind.
A female spirit whose wailing foretells
a death. A harbinger of someone's death.
By Myles Ferguson, Artwork Ricardo Pustanio
I was a child my family always talked
about the howl of the Banshee. The tales
I( heard were often told at family gatherings
at Saint Patrick's day. Often an aunt
or uncle would relate to us the story
of how the heard a Banshee shriek and
the neighbors was found dead the next
comes from the Irish words "bean,"
woman, (ban) and "sidhe," fairy,
(shee.) It is said that Banshees come
to only those with a strong Celtic lineage.
If your last name begins with Mac, Mc
or O and your family originates from Ireland
this could apply to you.
In Irish legend, a banshee
wails around a house if someone in the
house is about to die. There are particular
families who are believed to have Banshees
attached to them, and whose cries herald
the death of a member of that family.
I grew up in a strong Irish community
in New York and the stories of Banshee's
and their activities were heard more then
too, to often.
a citizen of an Irish village died, a
woman would sing a lament at their funeral.
These women singers are sometimes referred
to as "keeners".
Legend has it that,
for five great Gaelic families: the O'Gradys,
the O'Neills, the O'Briens, the O'Connors,
and the Kavanaghs, the lament would be
sung by a fairy woman; having foresight,
she would appear before the death and
keen. When several banshees appeared at
once, it indicated the death of someone
great, powerful of respect and station
in life or reknowned. Thestories told
to ne sometimes recounted that the woman,
though called a fairy, was a ghost, often
of a specific murdered woman, or a woman
who died in childbirth would or could
become a Banshee if she did not recieve
a good Catholic burial.
Banshees are frequently
described as dressed in white or grey
clothes of the garve, and often having
long tangled, fair hair which they brush
with a silver comb, a detail scholar Patricia
Lysaght attributes to confusion with local
mermaid myths. This comb detail is also
related to the centuries-old traditional
romantic Irish story that, if you ever
see a comb lying on the ground in Ireland,
you must never pick it up, or the banshees
(or mermaids - stories vary), having placed
it there to lure unsuspecting humans,
will spirit such gullible humans away.
Other stories portray banshees as dressed
in green, red or black with a grey cloak.
These creatures as told
to me by my grand mother are nothing but
shadows, floating amongst our realm with
no purpose but that of their master The
Lord of Death. They feed on humans grief,
their emotions and their own strength,
without these they would cease to exist.
The classic depiction of a Banshee is
identical to the image of a tall, humanoid
figure shrouded in a black cloak, under
which no face can be seen except by the
one or family of the soon to be deceased.
I have also been tod
that Banshee's is a warning spirit for
one to get their affairs in order that
they come to a place several nights. The
first night only the person who is to
die hears a loan moan, the second night
the family hear her wailing for an hour
or more at midnight, the third night she
comes and shrieks so all in he vicinity
know a death will occur that night.
It is also said that
the cry of the Banshee will set one to
have cold sweats and a great sense of
fear when heard. The sound echo's in a
mysterious way. when the death is in a
few days it is low when near it is loud
and piercing to the ear.
In 1437, King James
I of Scotland was approached by an Irish
Banshee who foretold his murder by the
instigation of the Earl of Atoll.
of the strangest Banshee stories of all
had its beginning in Dublin - at 2.30
am on 6th August, 1801, when Lord Rossmore,
Commander-in-Chief of the British forces
in Ireland, died at his home.
The evening before he had attended
a vice-regal party in Dublin Castle.
To the people he met there, including
Sir Jonah and Lady Barrington, he seemed
in the best of health, and stayed at
the party until near midnight. Before
leaving, he invited the Barringtons
to join a party he was holding in his
house at Mount Kennedy, Co Wicklow.
In fact for a man of his background
and position, he had spent a fairly
ordinary evening - one that seemed to
contain no hint at all of the strange
things to come.
At two o'clock in the morning,
Sir Jonah Barrington awoke and heard
what were described as 'plaintive sounds'
coming from outside the window, from
a grass plot underneath it. He was to
remember the Banshee-like sounds all
his life. Lady Barrington heard the
sounds, too, and so did a maid. Finally,
at 2.30 am., Barrington heard a voice
call 'Rossmore! Rossmore! Rossmore!
and then there was silence. Next day,
the Barringtons were told that Lord
Rossmore was dead. His servant had heard
strange sounds coming from his room,
and rushing in, found him dying. He
died at 2.30 am.
'Lord Rossmore was dying at the
moment I heard his name pronounced',
Sir Jonah wrote later.
It was a most terrifying experience
from Sir Jonah. To the Irish staff,
however, it was no mystery, for they
knew it was the Banshee Barrington had
Banshee tales in the
United States are often heard of and spoken
about in cities like New York New Orleans
and other cities as such with high percentages
of Irish or Scottish people. The stories
are often passed down through the generations.
But as of lately new tales of screaming
or wailing banshees emerge.
In 1840 New Orleans
was the third largest and most wealthy
city in the nation and the largest city
in the South. Its bustling port and trade
economy attracted numerous Irish, German,
and Italian immigrants.. the intermingling
of the Banshee became part of the New
Orleans Voodoo Pantheon and the Cajun
bayou tales of these crying or yelling
specters are still told and said to be
encountered to this day.
In New Orleans and the
surrounding areas it is called the irish
Shreiker, the Cajun wind demon, and the
Voodoo Death Screamer or Soul Taker.
The same goes for cities
like Boston, Philadelphia, New York City,
Chicago, and San Francisco, Charleston,
and Savannah. each has a tale or two concerting
the Banshee and it's hold on the irish
descendents in the United States.
The annual celebration
of Saint Patrick's Day is the most widely
recognized symbol of the Irish presence
in America. In cities throughout the United
States, this traditional Irish religious
holiday becomes an opportunity to celebrate
all things Irish, or faux Irish. The largest
celebration of the holiday takes place
in New York, where the annual St. Patrick's
Day Parade draws an average of two million
people. And in questioning a person or
two the Banshee is always talked of in
You can't stop a Banshee
or control one is what the majority states.
unless you place a Celtic cross or a four
leaf clover over your door and under your
pillow. but all say this has a minimal
effect for when it is your time nothing
can stop the Banshee from waling or crying
out the name of the person who will die.
say the cry of the Banshee sounds like
the shrill screams of a screech owl others
like the low moan of dog or wolf in pain.
The cry has also been likened to that
of a moaning or shrill wind heard on a
Banshees are common
in Irish and Scottish folk stories such
as those recorded by Herminie T. Kavanagh.
They enjoy the same mythical status in
Ireland as fairies and leprechauns. Banshees
continue to appear in modern fiction that
deals with mythology, folklore or the
supernatural. Sometimes the name "Banshee"
is given to a character or object in a
comic book, role-playing game, or video
game, usually when part of the character's
or object's power is based upon making
a loud, screaming noise.
In European pagan beliefs, the wraith
or Banshee is seen as a spirit of evil
vengeance. They are said to be ghostly
figures with long, sharp fingers. Wraiths
are considered rare amongst the spirit
realm, for they consist of pure revenge;
yet not all wraiths will be truly vengeful,
in that some are merely enraged to the
extent of destroying anything they encounter.
In other corners of the world, the wraith
is considered to be the reflected image
of a person, seen immediately before death.
This side is supported by elders' stories.
The shamrock, a three-leafed
clover, has long been symbolic of Irish
culture. According to legend, the shamrock
was called the "seamroy" by
Celts, was a sacred plant to the Druids
of ancient Ireland symbolizing the rebirth
of Spring. Legend also has it that St.
Patrick used the shamrock in the 5th century
to illustrate the doctrine of the Holy
Trinity as he promoted Christianity in
In the 19th century the shamrock became
a symbol of rebellion with the risk
of death by hanging for anyone found
wearing it. This let to the now popular
phrase "the wearin' of the green."
With its deep Irish history, the shamrock
is now the most recognized symbol of
the Irish. This is especially true on
St. Patrick's Day, when everyone is
Irish for a day.
While the classic shamrock
has three leaves, occasionally a fourth
leaf will appear, making a "four-leaf
clover," believed by many to bring
good luck to the person who discovers
Banshee's are seldom seen but always
heard by the family or community where
the person of whom it comes to foretell
their death resides.
A Banshee wraith is also described as
an image seen immediately before one dies,
as if it were a premonition of the "Grim
The word "wraith" is first
attested in 1513, with the meaning of
"ghost or spectre" (that is,
an apparition of a living or once-living
being, possibly as a portent of death).
In 18th century Scotland it was applied
to aquatic spirits. Over time, it came
to be used in a metaphoric sense to refer
to wraith-like things, and to portents
The bean nighe (Scottish Gaelic for "washer
woman"), is a Scottish fairy, seen
as an omen of death and a messenger from
the Other world. She is a type of bean
sìth (in Irish bean sídhe,
anglicized as "banshee").
As the "Washer
at the Ford" she wanders near deserted
streams where she washes the blood from
the grave-clothes of those who are about
to die. It is said that mnathan nighe
(the plural of bean nighe) are the spirits
of women who died giving birth and are
doomed to do this work until the day their
lives would have normally ended.
In the ancient Celtic epic, The Ulster
Cycle, The Morrígan is seen in
the role of a bean nighe. When the hero
Cúchulainn rides out to war, he
encounters the Morrígan as a hag
washing his bloody armour in a ford. From
this omen he realizes this battle will
be his last.
A bean nighe is described in some tales
as having one nostril, one big protruding
tooth, webbed feet and long hanging breasts,
and to be dressed in green. A mortal who
is bold enough to sneak up to her while
she is washing and suck her breast can
claim to be her foster child. The mortal
can then gain a wish from her. If a mortal
passing by asks politely, she will tell
the names of the chosen that are going
to die. While generally appearing as a
hag, she can also manifest as a beautiful
young woman when it suits her, much as
does her Irish counterpart the bean sídhe.
The Morrígan ("terror"
or "phantom queen") or Mórrígan
("great queen") (also known
as Morrígu, Morríghan, Mor-Ríoghain,
sometimes given in the plural as Morrígna)
is a figure from Irish mythology who appears
to have once been a goddess, although
she is not explicitly referred to as such
in the texts.
In the later Irish version she is usually
seen as a terrifying figure. She is associated
with war and death on the battlefield,
sometime appearing in the form of a carrion
crow, premonitions of doom, and with cattle.
She is often considered a war deity comparable
with the Germanic Valkyries, although
her association with cattle also suggests
a role connected with fertility and the
In modern times she is often interpreted
as a triple goddess, although membership
of the triad varies: the most common combination
is the Morrígan, the Badb and Macha,
but sometimes includes Nemain, Fea, Anann