When I was a kid, maybe around 5 or 6, my dad used to tell me that a banshee used to live down my Nan’s back garden.
I always remember the garden being overgrown. It was also long and it dipped a bit towards the back, so there was always a blind spot.
It was here that the Banshee (one of the most terrifying Irish mythological creatures!) was said to live… That story scared the sh*t out of me for years. I must give my dad a good boot in the arse when I see him next!
Anyway, in the guide below you’ll learn everything there is about the Irish Banshee myth, from the origin that’s linked to the Keening woman to her association with impending death.
Table of Contents
What is a Banshee?
Depending on who you ask or what you read, the true form of the Banshee tends to change. Some will tell you that Banshees take on the form of a spirt, while others say that it’s a fairy, of sorts.
There are two things that everyone tends agrees on:
- It appears in the form of a woman
- The Banshee is one of the most terrifying creatures from Irish folklore
It’s believed that the scream of a Banshee is an omen of death. It’s said that the scream or wail is a warning that there is death approaching.
Some believe that if you hear the scream of a Banshee, a member of your family will pass away shortly. Others believe that each family has its own Banshee.
The Origin of the myth in Ireland
Now, I hadn’t heard of ‘Keening’ until I went about researching for this guide. ‘Keening’ is a traditional form of expressing grief for those that are dying and for those that are dead.
The word ‘Keen’ comes from the Gaelic word ‘caoineadh’, which means to cry or weep. Here’s where things get a little crazy – this practice was carried out by either one or a number of women and it’s believed that they were regularly paid to do so.
It’s believed that much of the legend of the Banshee stems from this. However, the main difference between Banshees and Keening women is that the Banshees can predict death, which is why they spark fear in many.
What does a Banshee sound like?
The Banshees sound is one that causes fear in Ireland and in parts of the UK where the myth also extends to. The sound is said to be a loud wailing that can be heard for miles around.
Some say that the Banshee also sings, but that appears to have come from the link between the Banshee and the Keening women (see above).
What do they look like?
The Banshees appearance is something that causes a lot of debate online. Some say that she takes on the form of a short old woman with long dirty hair. Others say that she appears as a tall woman wearing a grey cloak over a bright green dress.
One feature of her appearance tends to remain the same in many accounts of what she looks like – her eyes. A Banshees eyes are said to be roaring red, caused by her constant tears.
The description that always terrified me was that of an old hunched woman that would appear outside your home in the darkest of night. Her face veiled, her hair long, black and billowing in the wind and her clothing old and tattered.
Regardless of whether she’s young or old, a fairy or a spirt and whether she decides to appear to someone at night or during the day, her appearance is one that is said to strike fear in all those that lay eyes on her.
Are they real?
Like many of the tales from Irish folklore, the existence of the Banshee is… a grey area. Some will swear blind that they saw the spirit of a female wailing down their garden and that death followed soon after.
Others will tell stories of a terrifying wailing that they heard but that they couldn’t find where it came from. One theory is that many people mistake the scream of a rabbit or a fox for the Banshee.
In particular, the sound of a rabbit ‘screaming’ is particularly frightening if you’ve never heard it before. Now, belief in the Banshee has dwindled rapidly over the years.
A hundred years ago, things were different, naturally enough. People were more superstitious, for one thing. Personally, I think this one’s a Celtic myth… I hope it is, anyway!
Other stories about the Banshee
There are several other stories and tales about the Banshee that I’ve heard over the years. Many years ago, an elderly relative told me a story that this spirit, fairy or whatever you want to call her appears only to someone from a particular family.
The story went that only those from the O’Brien’s, the O’Connor’s, the O’Neills, the Kavanagh’s and the O’Grady family could hear the cry of the Banshee.
Now, this person went on to say that if a person from a different family married someone from one of the families mentioned above, they’d also be able to hear the spirit.
Another story appears to link the spirit / fairy to the Morrigan (another popular figure in Irish and Celtic mythology).
If you enjoyed learning about the Banshee, you’ll enjoy the many other tales and legends from Irish mythology.