The Banshee is a creature of legend in Irish folklore. It is said to be a fairy woman that visits people, foretelling their deaths. Banshees are known for their blood curdling shrieks that are said to be heard near someone who is going to die soon. Banshees aren’t necessarily evil, at least not the Irish version. It is only American folklore that considers this creature to be a menacing force that preys on human beings.
According to Irish folklore, there are some families that are bound to a banshee. The members have a chance of being visited by a banshee, foretelling their death. According to the legend, the families are either of Irish or Celtic descent, and are usually of a particular name. Family names such as O’Conner and O’Grady for example, are considered more likely to be attached to a banshee. The names with an “O” or “Mc” in them are most common, but it isn’t really a requirement, there can be other surnames. Stories of the banshee are most commonly told by families with these types of names, which may explain why they are most associated with this creature of legend.
The appearance of the banshee varies, but the gender is always female. The way she can look ranges from an old ugly hag with long grey hair, to a young beautiful looking woman. Other details regarding the banshee vary as well; she can have red eyes, long fingernails, a mouth that is permanently open, etc. The slight inconsistency of the way she is described gives way to any number of different depictions.
The legend of the banshee has appeared in many different parts of the world. The oldest and most notable being the Irish version, and the most horrifying and awful being the American version, but there’s more than just these two versions. There’s also a Welsh legend regarding the banshee, which, like the Irish version depicts this fairy as a being that attaches itself to particular families of Welsh descent. In Scotland, the banshee is known as “Bean Nighe”, which is quite different from the versions depicted in Welsh, Irish and American lore. The Bean Nighe is known as a fairy woman, who is a messenger of death from the otherworld (known as a land of the dead in Celtic mythology). What’s so different about this particular banshee is her rather odd features, such as webbed feet and a single nostril. Not to mention her strange behavior as well, as she is said to be washing the blood from clothes, which supposedly belong to those who are about to die. It is this action that she performs which earns her another name, “Washer Woman”.
No good legend is without its fair share of accounts, and this one has a few from centuries past. Cathreim Thoirdhealbhaigh, a historical account of events in the 14th century, includes an alleged sighting of the banshee. Most of the alleged encounters were on the battlefield, where the banshees can be seen surrounded by dead bodies, others include the washer woman as well. Another account would be one by King James I of Scotland around 1437. He purportedly saw a banshee come to him shortly before his death, telling him about how he will die in the future. In The Memoirs of Lady Fanshawe, a banshee is supposedly seen by none other than the wife of Sir Richard Fanshawe, 1st Baronet, Anne, Lady Fanshawe. In 1642 Lady Fanshawe was apparently awoken in the middle of the night by the shriek of the banshee. She claims that she saw a young woman floating just outside of her bedroom window for some time before vanishing. The hostess of the castle that Lady Fanshawe was staying in at the time told her that it’s quite common for this being to appear shortly after someone in her family is dies. Strangely enough, her cousin died in another room the night of the banshee sighting. Baron Rossmore had an experience of his own in 1801. He was attending a party in Dublin at the time, and when it came time for him to go to bed, he was awakened shortly after by the banshee crying his name. About a half an hour later or so Rossmore was dying while laying in his bed.
The banshee has always been a fascinating creature to me, ever since I saw that banshee episode of So Weird about a decade ago. Whether it exists or not is entirely up to you, but the numerous accounts, versions of it, and the general mystery surrounding it is quite fascinating. Even the history surrounding the accounts of the banshee is an interesting read. If only for the fascinating stories you get to read about it, I highly recommend readers here to research the banshee yourselves. It’s quite an interesting legend to learn about.