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Irish Mythology: The Banshee

Posted on | April 27, 2010 | by Ciara O'Brien | 9 Comments

Irish myths and legends can provide a lot of insight into the people of the Emerald Isle and their unique culture.

One of the most enduring myths of the Irish people is that of…the Banshee.

According to legend, the Banshee floats through the forests of Ireland in the dead of night, wailing and keening…

Traditionally, the Banshee is depicted as a female ghost or spirit, in keeping with the Irish penchant for faeries, leprechauns, and other magical creatures. But who or what is she…and what makes her so legendary..?

There is no one answer…this mystical spirit is sometimes perceived as a faerie or an Angel of Death. She has other names, too, such as The White Lady of Sorrow, or the Woman of Peace.

The Banshee cries her frightening, haunting cries to warn human beings of impending death…to hear her doleful voice is to know that someone will soon pass to the other side…

Sin And Superstition…

In the Middle Ages, the Irish truly believed in the presence of such creatures, who were thought to watch over the families of the Emerald Isle.

A Banshee would stay close to each family until all of its members passed away and were safely buried…

Sin and consequences are also under the domain of the mythical spirit; if a person lived a life of selfishness or decadence or committed cruel acts during their lifetime, it was believed that their soul would remain close to the earth, suffering in penance.

The Banshee would always be there to make certain this punishment was carried out…

Conversely, if a person lived a life filled with kindness and selflessness and good deeds, their soul would dwell in peace and happiness for evermore…although still tied to the earth, the soul would be contented – the Banshee would make sure of that.

The Many Faces And Forms Of The Banshee…

These deeply-rooted superstitions kept the legend of the Banshee alive through the centuries.

As the myth of the Banshee took hold, more details about the appearance of this ghostly apparition were revealed.

Some would see the Banshee as a fearsome old hag, frightful to behold…while others would see a beautiful woman…

In some cases, the Banshee was reported to look like a simple washerwoman or laundress…only the clothes she tended to were blood-stained…another portent of impending doom for an unlucky Irish man or woman…

The Banshee is usually perceived as being quite fair, with long, pale hair that she grooms with a special silver comb…according to superstition, finding a comb on the ground and picking it up is extremely bad luck, because a Banshee has placed it there to lure the unsuspecting and lead them to ruin…

The Roots Of The Legend…

It is believed that the myth of the Banshee developed due to the Irish tradition of the lament; women would sing a lament for the dead at funerals, and for some in the village, this song would carry through the air and become the first signal that someone had died.

These funeral singers were known as “keeners”, and their services were highly prized. From the natural honoring of the dead, the legend of the Banshee began…

As time passed, the myth of the wailing Irish spirit became more colorful and supernatural…

Today, the Irish faerie still appears in art, literature, and music, hearkening back to a very different time…

Ancient Symbols Also Appear On Modern Jewelry Designs…

The culture of the Irish people is very distinct and full of charm, superstition, faith, and magic.

For those of Irish ancestry, connecting with the ancient past through stories, myths and symbols can be very rewarding…

Today, many brides-to-be choose Celtic engagement rings that feature Trinity Knots. These trefoil symbols are also known as Triquetras.

There is no black magic or darker meaning to the Trinity Knot – on the contrary, each of its three segments represents the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Since the sixth century, this homage to the Holy Trinity has appeared on stone work, metal work, and art.

Today, it remains a symbol of faith and eternity, renowned throughout the world for its simplicity and beauty…


9 Responses to “Irish Mythology: The Banshee”

  1. Brighid Carmody
    November 6th, 2012 @ 20:01

    Ciara, did you know that your family (or family name rather)has their own banshee? It’s a little bit of Irish lore, but there are only about 7 or so Irish families that have their own specific banshee, and O’Brien is one of them.

  2. Ciara O'Brien
    November 13th, 2012 @ 10:19

    Thanks Brighid, I didn’t know this. If you know of any sources online that explains about this, I’d love if you could share a link. Thanks again.

  3. Bridget Gleeson
    December 23rd, 2012 @ 08:31

    The following is a list of families known to have the Banshee keen for them.

    Adamson, Ahren, Barry, Bowe, Brady, Brennan, Browne, Caldwell, Carrol, Cartwright, Carey, Cassidy, Coady, Colahan, Conroy, Conway, Cooney, Coughlin, Cox, Cullen, Culleton, Cuskelly, Daly, Dawson, Dempsey, Dewan, Dillon, Doyle, Dowd, Duggan, Dwyer, English, Ennis, Fallon, Faris, Flanagan, Flynn, Fogarty, Fox, Gaffney, Gallagher, Galligan, Gannon, Gavigan, Geoghan, Geraghty, Gill, Glennon, Griffin, Griffith, Halton, Hanley, Hannon, Hayden, Hayes, Healy, Hegarty, Higgins, Holohan, Jennings, Jordon Keane, Keany, Keating, Keegan, Kehoe, Kenny, Kirwin, Lacey, Lawrence, Lee, Lonergan, Lynch, Lyster, Madden, Malone, Manning, Martin, Meehan, Miller, Monohan, Moran, Morrissey, Mullen, Mulligan, Murphy, Murry, MacBride, MacCarthy, MacCormack, MacDermott, MacDonnell, MacEntee, MacGoldrick, MacGovern, MacGrath, MacGuinness, MacGuire, MacKenna, MacMahon, MacManamon, MacNally, MacNamara, MacNiff, MacPartlan, MacQuaide, Naughton, O’Brien, O’Byrne, O’Connor, O’Donnell, O’Donovan, O’Gready, O’Hanlon, O’Keefe, O’Leary, O’malley, O’Neill, O’Reilly, O’Rourke, O’Sullivan, Peters, Potterton, Power, Quin, Roche, Roe, Rehill, Ryan, Rynne, Scally, Scott, Shanahey, Sherlock, Sinnot, Smith, Stafford, Steward, Strong, Sullivan, Sutton, Sweeney, Tully, Wall, Walsh.

    If your name is not on the list don’t fret about it. Your family may be one touched by the fairy music. If so the Banshee may still cry for you. After all she wailed for Mr. Bunworth in the story above and I don’t see his name on the list.

  4. Bridget Gleeson
    December 23rd, 2012 @ 08:33

    Ironically Brighid Carmody, I’m married to a Timothy Gleeson who’s family is from Kerry and his great, great, great great, grandmother was Bridget Carmody!

  5. Sarah Windley
    December 26th, 2012 @ 02:53

    I don’t really believe in such things as banshees, but I once did, and I am still fascinated by such things.

  6. Gary Nosacek
    November 19th, 2013 @ 00:52

    My mother is a Brady. According to a legend supplied by the folks who run Irishfest here in Milwaukee, The Bradys had a banshee that
    followed them to the new world to keep an eye on them. I’ve never seen it, but my daughters, when they were young, and BEFORE we heard about the legend, complained about being bothered by a smokey ladylike figure who called herself America. Their mom and I dismissed it as an imaginary friend kind of a thing, But When we heard about the legend of the American banshee who watched over Bradys I can tell ya we were a bit spooked by it!!

  7. Ciara O'Brien
    November 19th, 2013 @ 09:55

    That’s pretty spooky, Gary! Thanks for sharing : )

  8. Aine Tierney
    July 30th, 2016 @ 06:35

    Hi Bridget, when my mother died I had the Banshee come and Scream in my ear at 4am, so they still exist. I live in Australia have dual citizenship and my Dad comes from Clare. My mother’s people are German on her dad’s side and on her mothers side French Hugenauts who escaped persecution going the England. There was Irish but we do not know the name on her side. Her Grandmother was a Buckley but I understood that name derived from France. Your thoights?

  9. Tina
    August 22nd, 2016 @ 12:49

    I’m a Banshee

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