Spooky Irish Legends: The Wailing Banshee

Legends of the wailing banshee have been passed down for centuries and part of the fascinating mythology that is embedded in Irish culture. The Banshee is the famous female spirit of Ireland who wails outside the homes of the dying. This ghostly legend has been said to warn of death in a household.

The name banshee comes from the Irish bean sí which means fairy women. Stories passed through the generations tell us that she is normally dressed as a frightening hag with long hair in a hooded cloak. In Ireland there is a long history of singing by the graveside. Historians have traced stories of the Banshee to medieval times where a women would be paid in alcohol to mourn in song at someone’s graveside. This women was known as a Keener and sang songs of mourning, called ‘caoineadh’. As they were said to be sinners they were doomed to become banshees in the after life.saint-patricks-cathedral-halloween-ireland-the-wailing-banshee

W.B. Yeats mentions the banshee in his book ‘Fairy and Folklore of the Irish Peasanty’ “Death is no escape from her. She is the Gaelic muse, for she gives inspiration to those she persecutes. The Gaelic poets die young, for she is restless, and will not let them remain long on earth – this malignant phantom”.

According to the stories, the banshee can only cry and warn death in certain families, mainly: the O’Neills, the O’Briens, the O’Connors, the O’Gradys and the Kavanagh. Her crying seems to be only at night and the screeching is said to be similar to the scream of a fox or a vixen.

Many spooky Irish banshee tales and legends have been passed down through the ages and if you want a halloween scare you can read some stories of the banshee’s many appearances from the Claire Library. While the banshee doesn’t harm people herself you certainly don’t want to hear her at your door.

Happy Halloween All!


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