In an extract from his book Away With the Fairies, author William Henry tells the origins of one of
Ireland’s most feared legends, the Banshee.


The Banshee (from the Irish name Bean Sídhe or Bean Sí) is one of Ireland’s best-known supernatural manifestations. She is said to be a fairy woman who signals a warning of death by screaming or wailing.
There are two different descriptions of her and they are in total contrast to each other. Some people described her as a young beautiful lady dressed in a long medieval style dress, while others say that she looks like a very old decrepit woman.

In most traditions the Banshee has fiery red eyes and long hair that blows in the wind. It is said that the redness of her eyes is caused by her continuous weeping. Some stories mention the Banshee drawing a comb through her long hair.

In places where ancient battles have been fought her sadness can be heard as she washes blood-stained clothes in nearby streams.

It is said that she haunts the ancient families of Ireland. Prominent among these are the O’Brien, O’Neill, O’Donnell and O’Flaherty families. However, many other families also claim to have heard her cry before a death in the household occurred.

Some families claimed to have several Banshees associated with them. These include the O’Flaherty family of Galway, for whom a chorus of Banshees could be heard when one of them died.

Anglo-Irish families such as the Fitzgeralds, Burkes and Butlers are also included in such hauntings because they adopted Irish ways and customs.

The author, John O’Donohue, mentions the Banshee in his wonderful book Anam Cara, where he said that in the old Celtic tradition the physical and the eternal world are woven together. He said that his father once heard her cry and two days later a neighbour died.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own