Since it’s Halloween week I decided to look at Ireland’s best known and most feared spirit, the banshee following on from our article on Did Halloween originate in ireland? The banshee is a female spirit and is considered to be an omen of death.
The banshee roams the countryside and can be heard wailing when she predicts a death. The word banshee comes from the Irish bean sí (pronounced ban-shee) which translates as woman of the fairy mounds. She can appear in a number of guises, as a young beautiful woman, a stately matron or as an ugly frightening hag. She is usually dressed in a grey or white hooded cloak. While not always seen, her mourning cries can be heard usually at night when someone is about to die. Those who claim to have seen her describe long hair which she runs a comb through, similar to tearing the hair out in anguish.
It is believed by many that she only appears to select number of families, namely the main Irish families the O’ Neills, O’ Connors, O’ Briens,O’ Gradys and Kavanaghs although this list varies depending on who is telling the story!
Coincidentally, I heard of an O’ Connor who had a brush with the banshee. He was cycling between Ballylongford and Tarbert in Co.Kerry when he heard the cries of the banshee by the ruins of Lislaughtin Abbey. I created a custom silver pendant of the Lislaughtin Abbey Window you can see that reminded me of the story.
While the banshee will not harm the person she encounters there is another Irish female spirit who isn’t nearly as benign! The Lianhan Sídhe (pronounced lan-hawn shee) is a beautiful woman who attracts men but this love will lead to their downfall.
W.B. Yeats described her in his book Fairy and Folklore of the Irish Peasantry
The Leanhaun Shee (fairy mistress) seeks the love of mortals. If they refuse, she must be their slave; if they consent, they are hers, and can only escape by finding another to take their place. The fairy lives on their life, and they waste away. 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.
You might also want to read our article Spooky Creatures Irish Mythology.