Wednesday, January 21, 2009


The Banshee is an anglicization of an bean-sidhe. This roughly translates as 'Fairy woman' or 'woman of the mounds'. She is generally acknowledged to be an ancestral spirit appointed to forewarn members of certain ancient Irish families of their time of death. According to tradition, the banshee cries for five major Irish families: the O'Neills, the O'Briens, the O'Connors, the O'Gradys and the Kavanaghs. Intermarriage has extended this select list over generations. Although she is not always seen, her mourning call is heard, usually at night when someone is about to die.

Fuelled by my grandparents stories as a kid and wanting to know more about the subject, a few years ago i read a book called 'The Banshee-An Irish Supernatural Messenger of Death' by Patricia Lysaght.

The banshee chiefly appears in one of three guises: a young woman, a stately matron or an old crone. These three images represent the triple aspects of the Celtic goddess of war and death: Badhbh, Macha and Mor-Rioghain/Morrigan. She usually wears either a grey, hooded cloak or the winding sheet or grave robe of the dead. She has been appeared to people calling and brushing her hair.

Her cry or call varies from place to place. In parts of Leinster, she is referred to as the bean chaointe (keening woman) whose wail is piercing and unnerving. Her call has also been described as low sweet singing or a thin screech similar to that of a bird. The banshee may also appear in a variety of other forms, such as that of a crow, stoat, hare and weasel - animals associated in Ireland with witchcraft.

I found the following on YouTube and thought it was beautifully shot. It's from a documentary called 'Glenafooka: The Glen of the Ghost'. It was directed by Mary Sue Connolly and shot in Co Waterford. This documentary explores folk traditions, superstitions, and cultural beliefs as they are practiced from the past to the present. It reveals traditions and beliefs of rural Ireland and provides insight into how these traditions have influenced the daily lives of the people who preserve their memories.

At the risk of sounding sentimental it captures a side of Ireland that is nearly extinct; nowadays the notion of the Banshee is considered a fairytale or a myth. The pace of life is hectic, the emphasis is on material goods and certain parts of our heritage and folklore are lost forever as we become more cosmopolitan.

Director of Glenfooka:

Images via Occultopedia
and Kyxbanshees


Sean Jeating said...

Why, having dropped by via the Doubtful Egg, would I feel the 'urgent need' to stop reading here and leave a com(pli)ment?
Well, I enjoyed reading this post, and when you mentioned Patricia Lysaght my heart even rose like a falcon up to the sky, as once during a congress of the International Society for Folk Narrative Research (ISFNR) she gave me the pleasure of interviewing her.
And right now in front of me lies her essay 'Perspectives on Narrative Communication and Gender: Lady Augusta Gregory's Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland (1920)'.
Now, if this is no coincidence. Or should I say 'serendipity'? :)

Green of Eye, Sharp of Claw said...

@Sean: Thanks for stopping by and for commenting!

I'm so jealous that you've had the opportunity to meet and speak with Patricia Lysaght. Oh and in my world there is no such thing as coincidence! :)

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