What is a Banshee?
Banshee (Bean-Sidhe) means ‘Faerie woman’. A Banshee is known in Ireland as a female spirit who wails outside a home to warn of the imminent death of a family member. Often heard before she is seen, her wailing is so high-pitched that nobody would dare willingly attempt to witness this terrifying spirit.
In Ireland, the Banshee does not bring or cause death. The ghost warns loved ones that death is near, giving the family a chance to prepare. Some myths say she acts as an escort to ensure that their loved one passes safely to the other side.
Legends of the Irish Banshee
Stories of the Banshee in Ireland have been passed down generation by generation for centuries. Some legends say the Banshee is the ghost of a young woman who was brutally killed. Her death was so horrible that she now watches families and loved ones warning them of impending death.
According to Legend, the Banshee can also take on many forms. However, in Ireland, she has been most commonly seen as either a beautiful, young woman with long, flowing silver/white (sometimes red) hair or as an old woman in rags with dirty grey hair, long fingernails, and sharp-pointed rotten teeth. Both descriptions also give the Banshee eyes which are noticeably red from crying so much.
Here are some appearances that the Banshee is said to take:
- An old woman dressed in black with long grey hair and covering her -face with a veil.
- An old woman with long white hair, red eyes and dressed in a green dress.
- A deathly pale woman with long red hair dressed in a white dress sometimes a shroud.
- A beautiful woman wearing a shroud.
- A beautiful woman with silver-white hair wearing a long shimmering silver dress, carrying or using a silver comb.
- A headless woman naked from the waist up and carrying a bowl of blood.
As you can see there are a few variations on the description of how the Banshee actually looks. However, the fear she instills in people who have the bad luck of hearing her is always the same. What all witnesses of the Banshee agree on is most terrifying wailing.
The Banshee is famous for her long, melancholy keening, which is an Irish word that is used to describe the lament that women used to do over the body of a deceased person to ward off evil spirits.
Originally it was said that the Banshee only keened for the families; O’Grady, O’Neill, O’Brien, O’Connor, and Kavanagh. However, there are stories from various other families and that she particularly favorites those with an ‘O’ or a ‘Mc’ in the surname such as O’Brien or McNeill for example.
A personal account of the Banshee
Stories have been passed down through generations of Irish families with their personal experiences and meetings with the Banshee and this family was no different.
“I remember being told as a young child of an Uncle who was walking home on a cold and blustery night. He was probably three sheets to the wind after partaking of a snifter to keep the cold out. On arriving home he told my grandmother that he had tried to comfort an old woman he had met along the way. Describing her, he said, “the old woman was dressed in black with a veil over her face, was crying and wailing outside the house.” Every time he went over to her she moved away but all the while kept pointing at the house.
My Grandmother, with all her knowledge of the old Irish Mythology & Legends, knew straight away what this old lady represented and hurried my Uncle to bed reassuring him that she, herself, would have a look for the old woman. Needless to say, she didn’t dare do such a thing. Then, sure enough, only three days after this strange encounter, my Grandmother’s brother died peacefully in his sleep. As children, we used to plague my uncle to recount the story of the night he tried to invite the Banshee in for tea!”
Last updated March 1, 2020.