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Alternatively Banshi, Benshee and Bean-nighe.
An Irish supernatural being of the wraith type which, according to legend, attaches itself to certain ancient families, and is regularly seen or heard before the death of one of its members.
The word Banshee is supposed to be derived from the Old Irish ben sidhe, a woman of the fairy folk, or 'woman of the fairy mound', but it is translated by different scholars in a variety of ways, including Female Fairy, Angel of Death, Lady of Death, Woman of Peace, White Lady of Sorrow, Nymph of the Air, and Spirit of the Air, amongst others.
The Banshee is not limited to Ireland, since she is also the subject of folktales in the highlands of Scotland, where she is known as Bean-nighe, or ‘'little-washer-by-the-ford'. She is said to be seen by the side of a river, washing the blood from the clothes of those who will die. The name is sometimes also used to denote a sort of demon, but in Nordic folklore the Banshee is always benevolent.
Allegedly one of the household spirits of certain Scottish Highland or Irish families, the Banshee is a female creature said to wail — yielding a sound thought to resemble the melancholy moaning of the wind — at or before the death of a family member. Oftentimes she is not seen but only heard, yet she is supposed to be always clearly discernible to the person upon whom she specially waits.
T. F. Thistleton Dyer in his book The Ghost World (1898) wrote about the Banshe:
‘‘Unlike, also, many of the legendary beliefs of this kind, the popular accounts illustrative of it are related on the evidence of all sections of the community, many an enlightened and well-informed advocate being enthusiastic in his vindication of its reality. It would seem, however, that no family which is not of an ancient and noble stock is honored with this visit of the Banshee and hence its nonappearance has been regarded as an indication of disqualification in this respect on the part of the person about to die.
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‘If I am rightly informed,’ writes Sir Walter Scott, ‘the distinction of a Banshee is only allowed to families of the pure Milesian stock, and is never ascribed to any descendant of the proudest Norman or the boldest Saxon who followed the banner of Strongbow, much less to adventurers of later dates who have obtained settlements in the Green Isle.’
Thus, an amusing story is contained in an Irish elegy to the effect that on the death of one of the Knights of Kerry, when the Banshee was heard to lament his decease at Dingle — a seaport town, the property of those knights — all the merchants of this place were thrown into a state of alarm lest the mournful and ominous wailing should be a forewarning of the death of one of them, but, as the poet humorously points out, there was no necessity for them to be anxious on this point. Although, through misfortune, a family may be brought down from high estate to the rank of peasant tenants, the Banshee never leaves nor forgets it till the last member has been gathered to his fathers in the churchyard. The MacCarthys, O’Flahertys, Magraths, O’Rileys, O’Sullivans, O’Reardons, have their Banshees, though many representatives of these names are in abject poverty.’’
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