Legend of the Banshee: Death Messenger of the Irish Jul 5, 2014 4:10:31 GMT -5 madeline likes this
Post by Joanna on Jul 5, 2014 4:10:31 GMT -5
The Legend of the Banshee
In Ireland, the banshee, who is believed to be a fairy woman (bean - woman; sidhe - fairy), wails and cries when members of certain families are about to die. It has never been established, however, why this phantom spirit follows some families.
In Old Gaelic legend, music and poetry were said to be gifts of the fairies and to possess such was thought to indicate a fatal kinship with the Duine Shee (people of the spirit race). According to legend, Carolan, the great Irish harpist, obtained some of his wildest and most beautiful music from listening to fairy music while sleeping in the moonlight atop a fairy mound. In Ireland, some believe those who have the gifts of music and song are protected by the spirits. Those watched over by the Spirit of Life are said to be “fey” and they are blessed with the second sight. On the other hand, the Spirit of Doom reveals secrets of misfortune and death, and for this dreaded messenger is known as the banshee.
It is well to remember that the banshee belongs exclusively to the Celtic race. She is never heard bewailing the approaching demise of a member of others comprising the population of Ireland or other former Celtic lands. The families with the old names of the chieftains of the Gaels, such as the O’Neills, O’Donnells, the O’Connors, O’Learys, O’Tools and O’Connaghs, each had their own banshee whose cry – when heard by any of them – was a forewarning of death. The banshee is believed to be an unearthly attendant to the ancient families of Ireland, the true descendants of the noble Gaelic race – those who have “Mac” and “O” in their names:
By Mac and O
You’ll always know
True Irishmen they say.
But if they lack
The O and Mac,
No Irishmen are they.
The wail of the banshee is a peculiarly mournful cry that resembles the melancholy sound of the hollow wind, having the tone of a human voice and distinctly audible at a great distance. The banshee often presents as a small, though beautiful, maiden, dressed in a shroud-like garment. Her cry is mournful and melancholy as she bewails the misfortune about to befall the family to which she is attached..
In years past, it was believed the banshee was the friend of the family she followed and that at one time, she walked the earth in the light and shadow of loveliness and immortality. The fact the unearthly creatures cry their sweet, sad song of sorrow at some misfortune bears this out, for if other than a friend, why should her song not be one of rejoicing instead of lamentation? When the caoine of the banshee was heard in the vicinity of the house of any old Gaelic family, it was accepted that misfortune or death awaited one of the family members. There have been cases in which an entire family was in vigorous health when the cry of the banshee was first heard, but before a week had elapsed. someone had accidentally drowned or been killed or met sudden death in some fashion.
An old Irish poem refers to the appearance of the banshee in the morning:
Hast thou heard the Banshee at morn,
Passing by the silent lake,
Or walking the fields by the orchard?
Alas! that I do not rather behold
White garlands in the hall of my fathers.
While it is on record that the banshee has wailed at noon, she is rarely seen or heard by daylight. Night is the time generally chosen for her visits:
The Banshee mournful wails
In the midst of the silent, lonely, lonely night,
Plaining, she sings the song of death.
A great chamber that overhangs the wild Atlantic waves in the old ruined castle of Dunluce (above), where it sits upon its rock above the green sea water of the Antrim coast, is said to be the home of the Banshee of the O’Donnells. Here, on winter nights, through the old, dark, roofless ruin, above the roar of the great storms that come raging down from the far north, some say the mournful wail of the banshee can be heard lamenting the fallen fortunes of the great house and the scattered Chieftains of the Gael.
By Lough Neagh’s shore, hard by Edenduff-Carrick, the Black Brow of the Rock, the ruined walls of the castle of the O’Neills still stand above the grey lake water where once in all his pride of power and ownership dwelt one of Ireland’s most powerful chieftains, the great O’Neill. Here, from time immemorial, when any misfortune threatened a member of the grand old race, the cry of the Banshee of the O’Neills would ring throughout the dark woods of Coile Ultagh away over the grey waters of Lough Neagh and along the walls of the old castle, echoing in the great vaults underneath and wailing over the graves of the great O’Neills. Maeveen was the name given the Banshee of the O’Neills. She was sometimes seen as well as heard and the form she usually assumed was that of a very old woman with long white tresses falling over thin shoulders.
Most of the time, however, the banshee shied away from mortal eyes. The slightest human sound borne on the breeze of twilight drove her from sight and she vanished like a thing of the mist. Moore, in his beautiful song, asks:
How oft has the Banshee cried
How oft has death untied,
Bright links that glory move,
Sweet bonds entwined by love?
One of the strangest banshee stories of all time had its beginning in Dublin on August 6, 1801, when Lord Rossmore, Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in Ireland, died at 2:30 a.m. The evening before, he had attended a vice-regal party at Dublin Castle. To those he met at the gathering, which included Sir Jonah and Lady Barrington, he appeared to be in rude health and it was near midnight before he departed for home. Before leaving, however, he invited the Barringtons to join him for an affair he was holding at his home at Mount Kennedy, County Wicklow. In fact, for a man of his background and position, he had spent a fairly ordinary evening – one in which there was no hint at all of the strange events that would transpire during the darkest hours of the night. At 2 o’clock in the morning, Sir Jonah Barrington awakened and heard what he described as “plaintive sounds” that seemed to be coming from a grassy plot beneath his window. He remembered the keening sounds for the remainder of his life. Lady Barrington heard the noise, too, as did a maid. Finally, at 2.30 a.m., Barrington heard a voice call “Rossmore! Rossmore! Rossmore!” followed by silence. The next day, the Barringtons learned Lord Rossmore was dead. His servant had heard strange sounds coming from his master’s room and rushing inside, found him in the throes of death. He died at precisely 2.30 a.m. “Lord Rossmore was dying at the moment I heard his name pronounced,” Sir Jonah wrote later. It was a most terrifying experience for Barrington and his wife. To the Irish staff, however, there was no mystery: they knew it was the banshee announcing Rossmore’s death.
Sources: Leo Bowes, MovilleInishowen; The Banshee: The Irish Death Messenger by Patricia Lysaght; and ItMustBeIrish.