Tuesday, 27 June 2017

The family banshee defended in wartime.

The Premier's reference in the House to the "banshee howlings" of the air-raid sirens called forth hilarity from honourable members. Honourable members had better be careful, lest they offend a 75 per cent neutral country. We Irish are very sensitive on the subject of the banshee. Moreover, the banshee does no howl, as any Irish man or woman will tell you. It wails.

The banshee, in fact, is a different kind of ghost. It is different because unlike other ghosts, it appertains not to a particular house or locality, but to a family. Wherever that family - the genuine strain - goes throughout the world the banshee follows. It is the family spectre, and that is the reason why we are so sensitive about it. Moreover the banshee is always feminine, and very Celtic. The name, as you will find in the folklore, is the Gaelic bean-shith, i.e. bean, woman, shith, fairy.

And what does the banshee do? It wails for death, and for death only. Seriously, I wish the Premier had not used the word in relation to the sirens. It is not descriptive, becuase the sirens are happily not proclaiming death but calling for care, watchfulness, and the safeguarding of life.

I belong, on my mother's side, to a very ancient Irish family. My late uncle, who spoke with authority, used to declare that no family in Ireland was more ancient than ours. The name, now almost extinct, runs back a thousand years and has regal and saintly associations. And we have our own banshee, a circumstance always well understood among us, and handed down by tradition.

Not for many years now has the fairy woman been heard. My mother, who owned that she herself had not at any time heard the mournful cry of doom, related circumstantially that her mother had. This was on the night when an ancient scion of the house passed away. My grandmother and her sister were sitting by the fire downstairs in the house where the sufferer lay when, declared my mother, there came to them a strange chilling waft, and from the chimney-top a voice, as it were, of a bird taking flight, uttering as it went the Celtic lament, "ochon-ee." That incident must have been well nigh a hundred years ago.

There was, however, a later claimant to banshee honours. My aunt, who died about a dozen years ago, affirmed that she heard the same lament, in the same form, in the field adjoining my grand-uncle's house - he had lived there all his life, as his forebears had - on the night the old man died. Nothing was said about my grandfather's clock.

Now whether these affirmations were supported by fact or not it is not for me to say. I know they are genuine. It may be that those who heard or believed they heard, the strange midnight wailings were overwrought in mind at the time, and imagining things.

On the other hand, it may not. I do not know how our family fairy woman keeps her "who's who" up to date and how she knows which individual to wail for, but I am rather proud of her, and certainly do not intend to demobilise her even if M.P.s laugh. It is no small thing to have a banshee in the connection. Besides, this kind of ghost is considerate - not coming frightening people at midnight like the clanking-chains variety, or the headless-man-with-sword-stuck-through-gizzard kind.

Still, I am in no hurry for a visit from our banshee, per siren or otherwise - no hurry at all.

In the Yorkshire Evening Post, 7th September 1940.

Christianity and Banshees collide

Until the Old Age Pension came to kill off the old people and cut short the span of human life in the mountains, there was no more fruitful subject of conversation among the shanahies of the mid-Donegal Gaedhealtacht on winter nights than Scariff Hollis. The name has burned itself into the imagination of the Tirchonaill peasantry. Many are the traditions connected with that fatal mid-summer day over two hundred and eighty years ago.

We are told that three score men crossed the Swilly two days before the battle, each carrying a sack of corn, how the corn was hurriedly ground, and how milk instead of water was used in the baking of the oat-cake. And we are likewise informed of the plan adopted to keep the corn dry when crossing where there was neither bridge, ford, nor stepping-stones. The legends tell us too that there was a stormy discussion in the Irish camp upon the advisability or otherwise of [making] a battle. A friar whose name is not mentioned counselled retreat for a mile or two into a more hilly district, but his advice was unheeded.

Then there is the story of the red haired woman, the banshee of Doon. This fairy lady came into the camp or the Gael on the night before the battle, and, facing Bishop MacMahon, warned him against risking battle on the morrow. "Sun, wind, and water will favour the Gall to-morrow," said she. The Bishop laughed. "Look at that hillock," said the fairy again. "There the women of the shee and the women of the Gael will keen together to-morrow night." Next day Scariff Hollis was fought and lost. And the following night and for many nights afterwards there were great lamentations heard at the hillock indicated by the banshee. And sure enough it is called Ard an Chaoi ever since.

In the Derry Journal, 23rd June 1933.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Muff banshee

The Muff "Ghost".

It is nearly three weeks now since I first heard of Muff's midnight apparition. In fact, I was invited to go down and investigate it, but I was compelled to decline, because I'm not a psychist, and besides, I've enough to do with people and things in this world without interfering with the comings and goings of the inhabitants of the next. Since then, I heard a lot more about the mysterious visitant, but I refrained from mentioning the matter until now, lest it might interfere with the attendance at Mr. J. P. McIvor's dance in aid of the funds to help the Foyle fisherment to uphold their right to fish in their own territorial waters. One of my informants laughed at this, and remarked that it would take a queer ghost to frighten away the dancers of to-day. He even suggested that the prospect of a ghost hunt would provide an additional attraction. [...]

Back, however, to the visitant. She, or It, was exactly similar to the apparition Coolock in the County Dublin about Christmas time, save that in Muff she was heard, not seen. In Coolock some people saw her - a small, wizzened, old lady in the dress of generations ago, who drove residents almost crazy with the sad, weirdness, of her wail. In Muff there was only the wail, piercing, melancholy, eerie. It started at midnight at the Customs Post and proceeded slowly to the farther end of the village and back again, and all the time nothing was seen. The Civic Guards, as well as other inhabitants, were brought to the door of the barrack by its dreadful, hair-raising, appeal, but could find no one either to help or apprehend.

The cry passed up the centre of the street and down again, but nothing was visible. One gentleman, more daring than his fellows, actually followed it, but received no reward for his pains but its mournful, beseeching cadences. Some asserted it was the bean sidhe, but, as nobody died, that belief was soon discredited. For the past ten days it has ceased to be heard. What the people want to know is - was it the same ghost woman who visited Coolock, if so, why was she not visible in Muff, and why did she skip all the intervening country to renew her lonely wailing in this pretty Border village?

Another question is - where has she gone now? On the last occasion on which she was heard she did not retrace her steps. Did she proceed northwards through Inishowen, and if so, why has she been silent since, and in what place and under what form may she be expected to make her next appearance? I make no attempt to answer any of these questions that have been put to me, because, as I have said, I leave psychic matters to the psychists. I know some people in Muff who are very anxious to carry their investigation further, and would be grateful for information of the next locality in which the mysterious midnight wail is heard. I leave it at that.


From the Derry Journal, 9th February 1931

Banshees dragged into rubbish predictions about Peace in Europe

There's nothing like being optimistic. But we were at war six weeks later.

"Fuehrer Coming to Britain"
Special to "The People": "I dreamed that I saw Herr Hitler entering the foreign office in Whitehall with Lord Halifax..."

These words, spoken by an Irishwoman living in Dollis Hill, London, have caused intense interest. Not only her friends, but hundreds of local people who know her reputation as a prophetess who has foretold world events with amazing accuracy, are taking seriously this account of a strange dream. Mrs Bridget Driscoll, a Belfast woman, the widow of a distinguished Irish Civil Servant, is to-day the central figure in a remarkable little drama.

Already she has intrigued and interested many people in her locality by her accounts of "Banshee" warnings followed by visions which have almost invariably foreshown events of international importance. Mrs Driscoll is a firm believer in the existence of that queer spirit known as the Banshee.

"Ever since I was a child, living with my parents on the outskirts of Belfast," she told me, "I have had implicit faith in these warnings. I have heard so many stories of how these unhappy spirits have foretold things, and how their predictions have been carried out to the very letter, that I have no doubt as to their genuineness."

The Banshee is the "domestic" spirit which is supposed to be continually watching over certain Irish or Highland Scottish families. This spirit is credited with taking an interest in each member of the family, and to wail immediately before a member of it passes away. The word is the old Irish, ben side, meaning a woman of the elves, or fairies.

The first public intimation of Mrs Driscoll's powers of prophecy was given about two years ago. In the Willesden church of which she is a member, grave anxiety was felt concerning the Rector, who was seriously ill. With her fellow-members of the congregation, Mrs. Driscoll was offering up prayers for the padre's recovery. "Then one night, in the silence of my room," she declared, "I was awakened by the plaintive, unmistakable wailing of the Banshee. I had not heard that sound since the night six years before when it echoed in my ears to fortell the passing of my beloved husband. He was ill, and he died two days later. This time, however, I had the feeling that something pleasant would follow the crying of the Banshee. I cannot tell you how or why this conviction impressed itself upon me, but it was there. And when I slept, after listening to that sad wailing, I dreamt that the Rector, Mr. Wadham, was completely restored to health. Next morning I told many of my friends about my experience. I added that I was certain that Mr. Wadham would recover. And this despite the fact that his doctor had said his case was hopeless. Sure enough, the next thing we heard was that Mr. Wadham had turned the corner. Three weeks from the date of my 'warning' he was well enough to get up and walk about."

Long before this occurrence, Mrs Driscoll had another experience of her startling prophetic "voice," the strange wailing that seems always to be ready to lift for her the curtain of Fate. "In 1922, just before the Irish Treaty was signed," she went on,"I awoke one night to hear the cry of the Banshee. Later, when I fell again into a restless sleep, I saw in a vivid dream a little party of men stepping off the Irish mail boat at Holyhead and being greeted by another party. In the midst of the disembarking party I saw Michael Collins. Now up to this time there had been no hint that any Irish leaders would come to London to arrange peace terms. Yet there it was - the signing of the Irish Treaty had been foretold to me by the Banshee."

The crying of her "familiar spirit" followed by another dream, made Mrs Driscoll certain that a terrible sea disaster would be enacted. Shortly afterwards came the news of the lossof the Thetis. "Twelve months before the Royal visit to Canada and the United States was decided on," she continued,"I dreamt that I saw the King and Queen shaking hands with President Roosevelt. I didn't know what to make of this, because I was aware that an English Sovereign had never visited the United States, and at that time it didn't seem at all likely that such a thing could happen. Yet in the end the tradition was broken. I was proved to be right!"

Can it be wondered at that Mrs Driscoll's description of her "Hitler warning" has created excitement and anticipation in the ranks of those who regard her as an oracle? She interprets this dream as an indication of the coming of a lasting peace in Europe. That the possibility of a London visit by the German leader is not such a remote possibility is borne out by this story which has just been published of Herr Hitler's reported proposal to come to London at the time of the September Crisis. "I don't quite know what to make of this dream," Mrs Driscoll said. "I can only hope that it may prove to be a good omen. Please don't make it appear that I am trying to make a reputation for myself as a 'prophetess'. I am merely telling you of some things that have happened to me, and of this curious dream, which was so clear that I felt I must mention it to my friends."

Ah well Mrs Driscoll, better luck next time. But it is quite unusual to interpret the Banshee as a good omen. That may be where you were going wrong.

In The People, Sunday 23rd July 1939.

Some light-hearted derision

Popular Superstitions.

There does not live a man or woman (says a writer in the Philadelphia Weekly Press) who is not superstitious regarding something. You may not believe that to dream of seeing a red cow committing burglary is a forerunner of financial loss, or that meeting a cross-eyed lawyer on the steps of a church is an indication that you will have trouble with a blonde female in the near future; yet, if you examine yourself, you must acknowledge that when certain unusual things happen, a feeling of impending disaster takes possession of you.

[...] When I was a boy I heard a banshee. Our family was the sole owner of a banshee that was far from gregarious in its habits, and was of a very taciturn disposition. It sometimes kept its mouth shut for years, and during that time continued to accumulate a voice that it only used before a death. It always howled in a weird and woeful way a few nights before the death of any member of the family. On the night that I heard the banshee my favourite brother was lying ill in the next room. The moment I heard the first fiendish moan of the thing I knew that my brother was doomed - that it was all up with him unless the banshee was some other family's spook that had made a mistake in the number of the house.

There was no mistake, however, for I soon recognised the hiccough in the voice that was said to be the characteristic of our banshee. You may not believe it, but it is a fact that, three days later, on Sunday morning, as I was on my way to Sunday school, my poor favourite brother overtook me, ripped my jacket down the back and nearly basted the life out of me because I wouldn't lend him my catechism. He lived to thrash me many times afterwards. The fact that he didn't die is no reflection on the banshee; but shows on my brother's part a lack of consideration for a hard-working banshee that was trying to do its duty in faithfully bansheeing for the large family that owned it.


Reprinted in the Fifeshire Advertiser, 6th July 1888.

General descriptions of the Banshee

It is a matter of no small difficulty to discover an exact and compendious definition of the word "banshee." Although, without doubt, derived from the Gaelic "bean sidhe," which literally means "female fairy," interpretations, such as the Lady of Death, the Angel of Death, the White Lady of Sorrow, the Nymph of the Air, and the Spirit of the Air have been given by various scholars. Such a variety of meanings is distinctly confusing, and though a dissertation as to the relative merits of each and every definition might prove of deep interest to the philologist, it would be sheer waste of time to enter upon such dangerous and thorny paths in an article of limited length. We must, therefore, rest content in the assurance that, although a generally accepted definition of the word "banshee" is sadly lacking, the sprite herself, her personality, and her ways are well and precisely known in Ireland and in other countries where the sublime and far-reaching imagination of the Celt has not been wholly crushed out of existence by the advancing tide of the nineteenth century materialism.

For the older Irish people, of course, it is quite unnecessary to give any description whatever of the banshee; but for the benefit of the young and those of my readers not personally acquainted with the White Lady the following definition, culled from one of Miss Edgworth's works, may be of interest and help:-- "The banshee is a species of aristocratic fairy, who, in the shape of a little, hideous, old woman, has been known to appear and heard to sing in a mournful, supernatural voice under the windows of great houses to warn the family that some of them were soon to die. In the last century every family in Ireland had a banshee who attended regularly, but latterly their visits and songs have been discontinued."

The banshee is of the spirits who take more than a passing interest in earthly affairs. In some cases, however, her interest is far from being appreciated, her appearance on the occasion of approaching death being for the purpose of aggravating instead of softening the calamity. Here we have an example of the conduct of the Spirit towards her enemies - "howling with delight over the coming death agony of another of her foes." When her song is inspired by motives of friendship however, the character of the white lady undergoes a considerable change. She is then a kindly and sympathetic warner, who calls in a low, soft chant, with a tenderness of tone that reassures the one destined to die and comforts the surviving relatives. It is in the latter role that she is a genuine success.

The song of the banshee has been variously described, ranging through a vocal compass which would do credit to a prima donna of Italian opera. Some people define her cry as a weird wail, others as a wailing shriek, while a considerable number manifest a decided preference for fiendish scream, demoniac howl, and mournful ditty. An Irishman who had the honour of hearing her in his own cabin assured me that her cry was an ear splittin' yell that nearly burst the dhrum av his ear and made him put a dint in the tatch wid his head, so great was the fright. An old Wexford Woman had quite a different story. Her banshee had a soit, cooin' voice, for all the world like that of a wood quest.

The wail is generally  heard one or two days before a death. This rule seems to hold good everywhere in Ireland, though there is a great uncertainty as to the exact position taken by the banshee while her crying proceeds. miss Edgworth states that her location is usually under the windows, but instances have been known (I have this on the best authority) where the banshee was seen on the public road, in the fields, or making her way through the atmosphere. Her appearance through the latter medium would tend to confirm the opinion that she is a genuine spirit of a light, and possibly gaseous , composition, as becomes all supernatural compositions.

Night is the time usually chosen for crying, although a few fugitive cases of daylight, performances have been reported. Darkness seems to be highly suited for all supernatural businesses, and the fact that the banshee prefers it is another proof of her connection with the spirit world. One peculiarity of her voice, which has not been mentioned, is of surpassing interest to all students of sound. Under certain circumstances her note of warning is inaudible to all save those for whom it is intended. The consideration shown by the banshee in not breaking the sad news to the relatives is highly commendable, and places her in the front rank as being keenly alive to the necessity of minimising human suffering and sorrow.

Before concluding, a tribute must also be given to the patriotic qualities of the banshee. However much she may be devoted to a family she will not go abroad to lament the death of any member who may have settled in a foreign land, although she invariably gives notice of the misfortune to those at home. Linguistic difficulties may probably account for her intense distrust of foreign countries, but even so, I, for one, venture to compliment the White Lady upon her unswerving attachment to her native land. Long may that attachment continue; for here in London there is at least one scion of a "noble and ancient ould Irish family" who lives in fear and trepidation lest on his flitting from the world of tears his English landlady should be transfixed with fright and horror at the appearnace and conduct of the spirit guardian of the line to which he belongs.

P.J. O'Reilly, in the "Weekly Sun".

Reprinted in the Kildare Observer and Eastern Counties Advertiser, 30th December 1899.

A bit of derision

Jottings. By 'Casual'.

There have been ructions in the local Workhouse lately, and all over the alleged appearance of that very undesirable personage - the "Banshee". For some days past weird wailings and cries had been heard, and the officials were at their wit's end to discover what was up.

In the middle of the night the inmates were aroused by the most unearthly sounds. No one could tell what was the matte, and search after search was instituted, but without avail. The "Banshee" ruled the roost for some days, but eventually the disturbance was found to be due to the lack of water in the gas meter. Thus we are brought from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Tyrone Constitution, 20th January 1905.

The Banshee's Death Cry.

By Ossory.

I am among those who [truly?] believe in the existence of the Banshee, though it must be admitted that her appearances chanting her weird melodies are not now by any means so frequent as they formerly were. To people who are not confirmed sceptics on the subject of the genuineness of this supernatural being's visitation immediately preceding a death in an old family, a satisfactory explanation of the rarity of the [?s] on which the Banshee is now heard may be found in the fact that the "old stock" in the country are reapidly disappearing, and that our resident noblemen, to whose families they were specifically attached, are not now so numerous in Ireland as we would desire them to be.

I will begin my story by mentioning that in my early boyhood, while residing with relatives in a [?ed] part of the County Down. I undoubtedly heard the wailing of the Banshee, not once, but several times. Its cadence, melancholy in the extreme, could not be mistaken for anything human - now shrill enough to be heard for miles, and sufficiently weird at the midnight hour to freeze the marrow in one's bones, anon sinking to a low and mournful dirge such as was familiar to country folk long ago when "keening" for the dead was the practice at rustic "wakes."

My first experience of the Banshee was not a pleasant one, arousing me from a peaceful sleep to listen in fear and trembling to the death cry, which was felt by all in the household of which I formed a part to be the forerunner of dissolution for some one in the immediate neighbourhood.

Close at hand, an old family whom I will call Lacy - one of the best in that part of the country - had their mansion, and generation after generation of them had lived and died there, respected and esteemed for their good qualities by men of all denominations and conditions for miles around their residence. There is no vestige of them there now, the Encumbered Estates Act of many years ago having enabled them to dispose of their extensive but ruined property, with the proceeds of which the family removed elsewhere.

At the time to which my story refers old Mr Lacy - De Lacy the country people called him - had been for a considerable time ailing from the results of an accident in the hunting field, and though the best medical assistance available was in constant attendance upon him, he made no progress towards recovery. Although confined to bed for many months, no member of his family entertained any apprehension that his ailments would end fatally, and so little did he dream of such an eventuality himself, that a few days before his death he insisted on his wife and family sending out invitations for a ball to the surrounding gentry. Of course, he could not participate in the festivities, but he derived pleasure from listening to the enjoyment of others, and in receiving visits in his bedroom from some of his more intimate friends, who cheered him with the news he loved - the flight of horsemen, horses, and dogs after the wily fox.

Directly at the back of the De Lacy mansion was a grass mound of great extent, this being thickly planted with laurel, which grew to a considerable height, and with yew trees, which gave an air of sombreness and repose to the place. the old gentleman's bedroom looked directly on this plantation, and a week after the festivities referred to, just as the witching hour arrived, the wail of the Banshee, coming directly from the mound, startled Mr Lacy from a light slumber, as it startled his whole household, as well as my relatives and myself. Men from the mansion started to explore the place, some of them believing that it was a trick being played upon the old man, while others were of a very different opinion, and were fully satisfied that it was the Banshee giving premonition of an approaching death. As they moved through the laurels, the melancholy wail preceded and followed them alternately, and having explored every vestige of the ground they were obliged to give up the quest and return to the house, the dirge continuing uninterruptedly for the space of an hour afterwards.

This supernatural "keening" was continued for the two following nights, to the consternation of the Lacy family, who regarded it as the sure forerunner of the death of the head of the household, after which it was heard no more for a couple of weeks, at the end of which time Mr Lacy died. Among the better class of people "wakes," in the ordinary acceptation of that term, were not observed, but for several days after the sad occurrence the gentry of that part of the county flocked to the mansion to offer their condolences to the bereaved wife and family, while the servants assembled in a spacious outhouse, and paid due respect to the melancholy event, and to the memory of a kind and indulgent master. While only whispered words were spoken, and the remembrance of the Banshee's visitation brought fear and trembling on the group, the wail again broke on their ears shrilly, sharply, unnaturally, commencing as if in the adjoining plantation, and gradually approaching the outhouse in which the servants were assembled until it seemed to emanate from the window-sill of the place in which they stood trembling and alarmed.

By and bye the melancholy strains ceased, and the courage of these humble people was again in a measure restored. But nothing could induce them to repeat the experiment of spending another night in the outhouse, or of even venturing near the plantation after darkness had set in. Mr Lacy  was buried in due course, and the Banshee disappeared for a time.

That disappearance may be reckoned at a period of five years, during which the eldest son had succeeded to the partimony of his father. Harold Lacy was a keen sportsman, especially when a fox was in question, and he had more "brushes" to his credit than any other member of the Hunt. He was, besides, a dashing and fearless horseman, and on several occasions won large wagers by leaping his hunter "Rory" over distances that would now in sporting circles be regarded as impossible, and as an act such as a madman only would attempt. These feats were frequently attempted and performed, but knowing people who were more careful in their runs through ploughed fields and grass lands shook their heads at the dare-devil recklessness of young Harold, and predicted that he would some day come to grief. They endeavoured to dissuade him from these dangerous practices, for he was a universal favourite with all who knew him; but, confident in his own horsemanship, he laughed at their fears, and smilingly assured them that they had not yet seen all that he could accomplish in this respect. "Rory" was admittedly the finest and cleanest jumper in the county, and once in the saddle Harold feared no obstacle that could come in his path.

In the month of October a grand meet of the Hunt was arranged, and the gathering was to be honoured with the presence of a number of lords, ladies and honourables, who were promised a  magnificent run. Foxes were numerous in the country, and splendid sport was fairly anticipated. Just a week, however, before the day arranged for the meet, the Banshee was again heard in the plantation, chanting her dolorous wail, and striking terror to all who heard the weird cry - all but Harold, who attached no importanc to it, and who could not be dissuaded from joining the Hunt in the run. For two consecutive nights the Banshee repeated her awe-inspiring dirge, after which it ceased.

The day of the meet at length arrived. The weather was everything a sportsman could desire - a southern wind and a cloudy sky, which is regarded as betokening a hunting morning, and in due course the gay party started off. A Jack fox was soon found which gave them plenty of play. By and bye nearly the whole of the field fell off, leaving Harold and a few of the hounds close on the fox's track. But Reynard disappeared over a rock which stood at the head of a precipice, and Harold, his good steed, and the hounds that followed him were dashed to pieces on the rocks below. Thus was the Banshee's warning verified.

The Weekly Irish Times, 27th October 1894.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Cork Banshee in English Nunnery?

A report that an aged relative of the late Lord Mayor of Cork saw the banshee on Saturday  night has roused interest in stories of the banshee. In this country, as in Ireland, there are many highly intelligent Irishment and Irishwomen who give clear accounts of the appearance of the banshee foretelling a death in the family of the person who sees or hears it.

It was an aunt of the late Lord Mayor of Cork, resident in an English nunnery, who saw the banshee on Saturday night, and who called for a priest to whom she reported her fears.

Dundee Evening Telegraph, 28th October 1920.

 This article fails to mention that the Lord Mayor of Cork, Alderman Terence McSwiney, died in Brixton Gaol after hunger-striking for seventy four days - his hunger strike and death drew worldwide attention to the actions of the British government in Ireland.

In the Leeds Mercury (30th October) the aunt is described as 80 years old, in a Chertsey Nunnery, and having seen the banshee on Sunday night, with the Lord Mayor dying the following day.

The Weekly Freeman's Journal (6th November) repeats:

The "Waterford News" publishes a letter from Mr. T.A. Flynn, Weybridge, stating an aged aunt of Lord Mayor MacSwiney is dying in a convent there. "It appears," says Mr Flynn, "that for the three nights previous to Sunday last she had heard the Bean Sidhe. She did not know that her nephew had died: in fact she is altogether in ignorance of his imprisonment. Consequently the Bean Sidhe's warning she took as a personal premonition of death."

 This is a different take on the story - "Chinese Whispers"?

Ulster Folklore

Parents' Educational Union Lecture in Belfast.

"What this part of Ireland needs is a Sir Walter Scott to rescue our folklore and traditions before it is too late," said Mr. Geoffrey Garrod, M.A., headmaster of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, presiding yesterday at a public meeting of the Northern Ireland branch of the Parents' National Educational Union, held in the Grand Central Hotel, Belfast.

He was expressing the sense of pleasure he had experienced in listening to a lecture on Ulster folklore delivered by Mr. E.J. McKean, KV, who dealt with his subject in a most able manner, describing the various spectres, banshees, and ghosts of ulster tradition, and touching also upon the believed influences of 'the evil eye,' or 'blinking' as it is still known in country districts.

Mr McKean said that Ulster folklore was very clear and definite in its outline. There were, for example, the well-known spectres of the "Gray Man," who haunted Fair Head, and "Button Cap" of Carrickfergus Castle, which appeared as an indication of trouble to come. Several of the banshees, the little, old women, believed to have red hair, and who were identified by their highly-pitched voice, were mentioned by the lecturer, particularly the banshee of Shane's Castle. This banshee occupied an attic of the castle, and the bed was made up for her daily, but, according to the legened, when the then Lord O'Neill decided to put the room to another use and to eject the banshee, the castle was destroyed by fire.

The stories of the ghost of James Haddock, Malone; the Beresfore ghost in County Tyrone, and Lord Castlereagh's "Radiant Boy" were also related by Mr. McKeen. Speaking of "blinking" and the counter-spell, he said they were mentioned quite recently in a court case at Dungannon.

Belfast News-Letter, 13th November 1931.

Irish Folk Lore

There is now living in Bristol a Mrs. Linahan, an old Irish woman, who has not seen her own country for forty years. She is old, poor, bed-ridden, and suffering, but patient and cheerful beyond belief. Her strongest feeling is love for Ireland, and she likes talking to me because I am Irish. Many a time, sitting in her little close room, above the noisy street, she told me about Banshees, and Pookas, and fairies - especially the first. She declares solemnly that she once heard the cry, or cooing, of a Banshee.

"It was when I was a little young child," she told me, "and I knew nothing at all of Banshees or of death. One day my mother sent me to see after my grandmother, the length of three miles from our house. All the road was deep in snow, and I went my lone - and didn't know the grandmother was dead, and my aunt had gone to the village for help. So I got to the house, and I see her lying so still and quiet I thought she was sleepin'. When I called her and she wouldn't stir or spake, I thought I'd put snow on her face to wake her.

"I just stepped outside to get a handful, and came in, leaving the door open, and then I heard a far-away cry, so faint and yet so fearsome that I shook like a leaf in the wind. It got nearer, and then I heard a sound like clapping or wringing of hands, as they do in keening at a funeral. Twice it came, and then I slid down to the ground, and crept under the bed where my grandmother lay, and there I heard it for the third time crying, "Ochone, Ochone!" at the very door.

"Then it suddently stopped! I couldn't tell where it went, and I dared not lift up my head till the woman came in to the house. One o' them took me up and said, "It was the Banshee the child heard, for the woman that lies there was one of the real ould Irish families - she was an O'Grady, and that's the raison of it."

And then seeing I was rather grave - though my family are of the humble modern race, only two or three hundred years old, so we don't keep a Banshee - Mrs Linahan went on to tell me, in her poetical south-country language, about catching a leprachaun.

"Did you ever here tell of a leprachaun, dear? He's a little ould man, as cute as a fox, and as hard to grip hould of. But if ye can catch him and keep him as safe for a year and a day, he'll tell ye where the fairy gold is lyin', and ye'll be rich ever after. Well, there was a foolish man away in Connaught - they're mostly fools there, my dear - and he catched a leprachaun sleeping under some white clover, and carried him home, and then he was bothered intirely where to keep him. So he put him in a wicker basket turned upside down, close by the fire, right forenest where himself would be always sitting on his creepy. "Faix! that'll do for ye now," said he, and went to get his supper. But the leprachaun set up such an hullaboloo, "Let me out! let me out, let me go to my wife and dchildher," and kept up the same, day and night, till the poor man was nigh crazed, and went into a tantrum and turned up the wicker basket. "Musha! go'long out of that," ses he, and the leprachaun was up and away out of the door. but wait till I tell ye dear , of another man I knowed myself that catched a leprachaun. He was an Ulster man, and they knows the ways of the world better nor them o'Connaught. So he never heeded the leprachaun's crying, but just said "Whist, ye cripple, be asy now, as asy as ye can," till the year and the day were out. And then the lepracahun cried out in his little small voice, "The north side of the hill, undher the great big stone. Let me out, let me out." So the Ulster man let him out, and went to the north side of the hill, and what he found there nobody knew; but he grew a rich man, and go to the very top o' the tree.'"

An Unknown Country, by the author of John Halifax.
Reprinted in the Leicester Chronicle, 3rd September 1887.

The Irish Peasantry

Interesting Lecture by Mr. Justin McCarthy, M.P.
This evening, under the auspices of the Irish Literary Society, London, Mr Justin McCarthy, MP, delivered an address on "The Irish Peasantry" in the hall attached to the premises of the society in Bloomsbury Mansions, Hart stree, WC. Mr Alfred Percival Graves presided, and there was a large attendance of members and their friends.

[...] The belief in the banshee existed in his days in Ireland. He did not know whether it existed now. He rather hoped it did. He had an affection for the banshee. The McCarthy family retained theirs, and they did not retain anything else (laughter). In her they had a property which could not be appraised in any court of law. Years ago a member of the McCarthy clan died in a Liverpool hospital from the effects of an accident, and the nurses declared that his death was accompanied by a wailing sound which disturbed the dying man. That he knew to be a fact, and at least it was a very remarkable coincidence.

Some of the superstitions of the Irish peasantry were ridiculous, such as the idea that there was no good making a journey or an expedition if one met a red-haired woman at the outset, but the mass of them were elevating and refined. They formed a vein of poetry in the nature of the Irish peasantry just as similar ideas did in the nature of the ancient Greeks. He did not know whether such noble feelings could endure against the rough feelings of the prosaid, but he did declare that if civilization was going to banish the fairies from the raths and valleys, to get rid of the banshee, and to suppress all the other forms that belonged to what was called superstition, he for himself would rather that the Irish peasantry did not get too wise all at once.

In Freeman's Journal, 14th December 1893.

The Mullinavatt "Banshee".

Some short time since the inhabitant of Mullinavatt were startled for a few nights by a strange wailing sound, supposed to be the "banshee." The circumstance was noticed at the time in the Waterford Standard. Much speculation took place as to what was the origin of the noise. Some said it was, without doubt, a real ghost; others said it was an old woman who used to be crying during the night-time, fearing the "Permissive Bill" would soon pass the House of Commons, and consequently, regretting the departure of the "good old times." It was also supposed to be a dog, suffering from a sour stomach. But, whatever it was, it took a wonderful effect for a short time; many of the boys used to go through the village after dark amusing themselves by producing strange unearthly sounds, causing terror to the credulous. Five wags, who wanted to take a "rise" out of a farmer some few miles distant, went outside his house one night at eleven o'clock, and began to cry "a la banshee," with great effect.

The farmer asked his wife to peep out through the door, but she declined; at length he persuaded his eldest son - a lad about 16 years of age - to look out of the window. Just at that moment the moon shone out faintly, and the night being cold, the five banshees thought it would not interfere with the "sport" if they had a game of leapfrog, especially as no light had yet appeared in the farm-house, nor had any sound come from it. After each jumpt the jokers stood a moment and cried afresh. The boy went back in terror.

"Well, Patsey," said the farmer, "is it a rale banshee?" "A banshee, is it you're askin'? Why, daddy, if there's one there's about a dozen in it, leppin' about like frogs, and 'bokeenthecawnin'' wid might an' main." "Saints presarve us," said the wife, "are we all goin' to die, or what is it at all! " "I'm afeared," said the farmer, "that the rent is goin' to be raised, or the 'tatoe crop gettin' a blast." To their astonishment the sounds continued long past midngiht, when the farmer and all his family and servants got up, lit fire and candles, and began to get really frightened. They commenced praying vigorously, but to no apparent purpose, as the "banshees" were now evidently crouched under the kitchen window and outside the keyhole of the door, and certainly there must be another singing out high up in the chimney! At last the boys got tired of their fun, and went home, not before the poor farmer and a servant boy got "fits" from terror, which, however, gradually wore off. Next morning the farmer found no one dead, and no greater loss than the loss of his night's rest.

The Waterford Standard, 19th May 1875.

From this I suppose we're to take that all banshees are rubbish and people who believe in them are stupid.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Family Ghosts... relations of the banshee, surely.

By James Hannay.

What is the reason why ghost-stories have a peculiar charm at this period of the year? Is it that the long nights naturally recall our thoughts to the shadowy beings of whom night is the peculiar time? Or is it that we want to increase the relish of the Christmas fireside by tinging our comfort with a little imaginative fear to make it more piquant? For if there was no fear - or suggestion of fear, at all events - even to minds thoroughly incredulous about ghost stories, there would be no pleasure in them. The lurking enjoyment as the lurking sentiment of pain to the enjoyment of a tragedy. You know that the tragedy is only a play, and you know that the ghost story is only a yarn. Nevertheless, the half-conscious coming and going of pain and fear, in both cases, is an indispensible element of the admiration and the joy.

I am going to deal on this occasion with a special class of ghosts, and a class, let me tell you at once, of the highest respectability. There are ghosts and ghosts. We are not to deal just now with our plebeian apparitions - your murdered misers, haunting old tumble-down places, and that kind of thing - but with spirits boasting the entree into the best houses in the kingdom. There are parvenues among them to be sure, but they are parvenues whom the highest people are obliged to receive - to receive, ay, and to treat with great respect into the bargain. They make themselves quite at home, indeed, and find their way to rooms in the highest mansions, where none but members of the family are in the habit of dwelling.

Family ghosts, I say, are special class of ghosts. Let me add that they are a modern classs of ghosts. I find no trace of the family ghost proper among the ancients. Like heraldry, family ghosts are essentially feudal - not classical. they belong to a life of castles in the country - to races living for generations surrounded by the same woods, dying in the same bedrooms, being buried in the same church vaults; in a kind of isolation throughout, which made the consciousness of common blood or kinmanship all the stronger. It is to this concentrated sort of existence, with all that it implies, that we must look for the germ of the particular belief under review. the family ghost belongs to the family as a family, though it is not necessarily seen only in certain places. Nevertheless, as the old familie s of Europe have generally lived most of their time at their principal seats, these seats have in most cases come to be considered the peculiar haunts of the family ghost. The White Lady of the Hohenzollerns, for instance, has usually been talked of as loving to appear in Berlin. Her reputation had reached England as early at least as Charles the Second's time, for she is mentioned by Aubrey in his miscellanies. "Also at Berlin," says that quaint old gossip, "when one shall die of the electoral house of Brandenberg, a woman dressed in white linen appears always to several, without speaking, or doing any harm, for several weeks before. The father of Frederick the Great fancied that he had seen this supernatural lady-in-waiting on one occasion; and her appearance was gossiped about in the newpapers during the revolution of 1848; but she has not, I believe, been heard of lately. As the White Lady is associated with Berlin, so the little Red Man belongs to the Tuileries. The little Red Man - a fearful hunchback, with a squint, dressed in scarlet and having a serpent for a crevat - is said by the tradition to show himself in the Tuileries before any calamity which may befall its masters. This legend is sure to live, for Beranger has based on it one of his best songs, "Le Petit Homme Rouge." With admirable philosophical humour, Beranger makes him appear in 1792, in sabots, singing the "Marseillaise;" and again during Charles the Tenth's reign in a big Jesuit's hat. There was an attempt to set going a story that Bonapart had seen the malignant little hobgoblin in Egypt; but this never took root. The Little Red Man belongs to the Tuileries and the Bourbons.

In these two conspicuous instances, the apparitions portend disaster. And this is true of the vast majority of the apparitions which such legends record. Very commonly the family ghost has injuries done in a long past age to avenge; and he comes to predict calamity, because he loves the office. Thus, the Monk of the Byrons, as their descendant the poet tells, was wont to visit Newstead, for no good. He had been expelled by the Byrons at the Reformation from the abbey, and his spirit came to vex those who had succeeded to his order.

The wrongs of the Drummer of the Ogilvies, Earls of Airlie, in Scotland, are more strictly personal. Many generations ago he was murdered and flung out of the windows of their castle, with his head sticking in his drum; having been found, it is said, aspiring to the love of a daughter of the house. Ever since that time, his drum has been heard beating when misfortune has been impending over the race; and it is said that a lady visiting the family during the present generation, and ignorant of the tradition, heard him beating his tattoo while she was dressing for dinner, and startled her host at table by asking who his drummer was? A premature death in the family circle - so runs the story - followed on this incident.

Of a similar kind was the Lad of Hilton, a ghost which was wont to vex the ancient Hiltons, of Hilton, in the county of Durham, one of the first families in the North. A Baron of Hilton - for they were always called barons - whose servant had not been quick enough in getting his horse ready, struck the lad with a hay-fork, and killed him, and the family were haunted by his ghost ever after. What is curious too, and shows that supernatural legends, like globules of quicksilver, run naturally into each other, this Lad of Hilton comes to be mixed up in the popular imagination with a famous Brownie that had for ages attached himself to Hilton Castle. Yet the Brownie, a kindly and useful sprite, is not a family ghost strictly so called. He is a fairy, and the fairies have always been a people by themselves.

All superstition is doubtless more closely related to the passion of fear than the passion of love; ut the Irish Banshee gives her warning to families not in the spirit of hate, but in the spirit of sympathy. She attaches herself only to old houses of her native land; and when her sobbing and her wail are heard on the wind, she is sorrowing, not rejoicing, at the impending doom. The awe, then, that she inspires is mixed with tenderness; and the watching care of a hereditary Banshee adds to the dignity of McCarthy, a Butler, or an O'Neill. The Banshee of the O'Neills was believed to have been heard before a fire which took place not very many years ago at Shanes Castle; and it was affirmied by the peasantry that on the extinction of the legitimate line in the person of the late chief of the O'Neills, the Banshee would drown herself in Lough Neagh. When the race was at an end her mission of centuries was over.

I have heard a Banshee story more striking than any of those in Mr. Crofton Croker's book, and which was a great favourite with my late friend Alexander Smith. An Irish chief, who had heard the Banshee, and wished to escape her, came to London. But her sorrowful cry, mixed with little heart-breaking sobs, rose under his window in Park Lane. He went away to the opera, where, surrounded by all that was brilliant of the modern world's prose, he hoped to shake himself clear from the terrors of the old world's poetic dreams. In vain. No sooner did the orchestra break into the overture, than the fatal mournful cry pierced through the sound of all the instruments. The musical critics, we may be sure, did not hear it. Twas meant for one heart only in all the gay throng, but it knew not how to reach that.

One of the family ghosts I have met with of which the association are cheerful, connects itself with the name of Lord Castlereagh. He was staying on a visit with a friend in the North of Ireland, and walking in an old chamber, he saw a singular vision. It was that of a youngster, beautiful as Cupid, with a kind of aureole round his head and a sheen of light playing about him. Lord Castlereagh, not without some suspicion that a joke had been played upon him, mentioned the apparition to his host. "Indeed," his host said, "that confirms an ancient tradition about the room in which you slept. You have seen the Radiant Boy. His appearance is usually regarded as an omen of good fortune; but let us talk of him no more."

Sometimes the family ghost is himself an ancestor of the race about which his spirit lingers. In such cases he is always seen in the costume of his own age, and the legend about him is most commonly a gloomy one. A myth of the kind sprang out of the career of Alexander de Lindsay, fourth Earl of Crawford, a stormy feudal noble of the fifteenth century, remembered in Scotland as the "Tiger Earl."  "The Tiger Earl," writes Lord Lindsay, "is believed to be still playing at the 'de'il's bucks' in a mysterious chamber in Glamis Castle, of which no one now knows the entrance - doomed to play there till the end of time. He was constantly losing, it is said, when one of his companions advising him to give up the game, 'Never,' cried he, 'till the day of judgment.' The Evil One instantly appeared, and both chamber and company vanished. No one has since discovered them; but in the stormy nights, when the winds howl drearily around the old castle, the stamps and curses of the doomed gamesters may still, it is said, be heard mingling with the blast."

In a few cases, one seems to recognise the action of a friendly family ghost, akin to that of the person "good genius" of the classical world. A sea-story occurs to me in illustration of this. During the great war, Sir Henry Digby, afterwards an admiral, was bowling along in command of a frigate off Cape Finisterre. He had shaped his course for Cape Saint Vincent, and was running S.S.W., with a fair wind. He had "turned in" in his cabin, when at six bells in the first watch - eleven o'clock - he heard a voice close to him say, "Digby, Digby, Digby, go to the northward!" It was so distinct that he rang his bell immediately for the officer of the watch, and asked if anybody had been in the cabin. Nobody had been there. He composed himself again, supposing he had been dreaming; and again, at two o'clock in the moring, came the same voice, with the same energetic advice, "Digby, Digby, Digby, go to the northward!" This time Captain Digby acted upon the mysterious suggestion. He ordered the ship to be hauled to the wind; and told the officer of the watch to tack every hour, and to call him at daylight.

Great was the surprise of the lieutenant of the morning watch, when, coming to relieve his mesmate at four o'clock, he found the vessel close hauled. "What does this mean?" he asked his friend. "Only that the captain's gone mad," was the answer. But at daylight a strange sail was seen on the bow. She proved to be a Spanish prize with a heap of dollars and a rich cargo; and that prize money laid the foundation of Sir Henry Digby's fortune. How explain the story, which rests, I may observe, on excellent naval authority? For my own part, I believe that the voice was that of one of the old Digby's  - perhaps of the ghost of the famous Sir Kenelm, celebrated by Ben Jonson and many another wit. Sir Kenelm was a scholar and philosopher; but he had fought a naval action himself, and could not but have a kindness for a Digby serving England afloat.

Here there was not an apparition exactly, only a presence and a voice, and this brings me to another branch of the subject, where supernatural communications, though still of a gentle or family character, are made by other than absolute ghosts in the narrower sense. They are made, we shall find sometimes, through the medium of our humbler fellow-creatures of the animal creation. Our ancestors used to associate these with themselves more closely than we do - nay, they sometimes derived their pedigree from them, and one of the great German families professed to descend from a bear. It was held as a faith in some parts of England that the labouring ox used to kneel at midnight on the night preceding the Nativity, and that the bees used to sing at the same hour. Naturally, then, what we supercilliously call the lower animals were brought by our old sires within the magic ring of spiritual influence and affinity.

For example, there is an ancient stock in the English peerage which receives its warnings from a white bird. A near cadet of these earls was one of my most intimate friends and brother middies on the Mediterranean Station, more years ago than I care to remember. He has since told me that after he became a lieutenant, being again in the Mediterranean, he was sitting in his cabin, at sea, when a white bird flew unexpectedly in at the cabin window. Of course, he thought at once of the family tradition. The very next mail which arrived at Malta brought him news of the death of his nearest and dearest relative - of the worst calamity, except one, that can fall a man in that way. Another old line where a bird was the link with the unseen world, was that of the Kirkpatricks of Closeburne, in Dumfriesshire, from a cadet of which the Empress of the French is said to be descended. Impending calamity was announced to them by the apparition, on the lake before their chateau, of a swan with a bleeding breast. The story went that an ancestor had slain a swan in some cruel and wanton way, and that the unseen power used the form of that bird in which to remind them, by the saddest association, of the wrong.

Since I am talking of birds, I may add that the better sort of West Indian families suppose themselves to receive these premonitions from owls - an ill-omened bird among the negroes, as it was (in spite of its place on Athenian coins) in the ancient world. There are, however, some pleasant associations between birds and old families. It is reported of the Dykeses of Dovenby, in Cumberland, that when a daughter is to be married, the rooks follow the wedding party from the rookery to the church, and swarm on the roof and on the tombstones in the churchyard during the ceremony.

Finally, it may be remarked that apparitions of the genus under review are occasionally apparitions of some inanimate object, like the marble head - spotted, according to some versions, with blood, - which rises mysteriously at intervals, through the dining-table of the noble house of Grey; and on this legend the late N.P. Willis, of America, founded a somewhat picturesque story. He made its chief interest turn on the fact that the head would not be seen by anybody who was not of the blood of the family. And this is in harmony with the general spirit of such legends. They belong to the feudal or aristocratic side of modernlife, which owes no little of its poetry to them. But besides their historical suggestiveness, they are strikingly illustrative of the belief of bygone times; and when are fully thought over will be found pregnant with [moral interest??] into the bargain.

From Cassell's Christmas Annual,  reprinted in the Frome Times, Wednesday 25th December, 1867.


Banshees or winds?

[...] No Celtic Irishman or Gaelic Highlander will admit that there is any connection between the fateful banshee and the nocturnal waif of the wind, but a Southron has his suspicions. In days gone by in Ireland the banshees were very generally believed in. Every family that respected itself had its own attendant sprite - banshee is simply an anglicised version of Irish words meaning fairy-woman - whose office it was to wail beneath the windows and round the roof of the homestead, as a sign and warning that death would shortly enter the household.

An Irish balladist sings:-
To me, my sweet Kathleen, the Banshee has cried,
And I die - ere to-morrow I die;
This rose thou has gathered, and laid by my side,
Will live, my child, longer than I.

A collector of Irish lore noted some years since that in the days of long ago, when old servants who had been born, and would die, in the service of the same family were common, it was amusing to hear a dispute between such a servitor of an old and one of an upstart family. "The latter," wrote the observer, "for his own respectability, would swear he heard the banshee before one of his master's people died, and the other would laugh at the idea of any banshee being so mean as to cry for low blood: 'Arrah, now, Paudeen, don't be trying to come over us; you were drunk, and it was the cat you heard, or a mouse, or a rat in the press; don't try to think we believe that any banshee would so bemean herself as to cry for people who never had a grandfather!'"

It is cheering to know, however, that if "the upstart had good blood, as was often the case by money marrying blood, the upstart descended from the blood might claim a banshee." Apparently, family spirits might contribute an additional chapter to the "Book of Snobs."

Some banshees seem, like Dogberry, to have had everything handsome about them, for a Scottish Highland loch used to be haunted, so it was said, by a banshee attired in green silk. These curious sprites, however, are nearly extinct. Irish folk still talk of them, but it is not with the simple, unquestioning faith of old; it is but a half-respect and a fractional belief which are now accorded to the once dreaded banshee; and the suggestion that the legends of their wailings were often connected with the strange voices of the night winds would not arouse the contempt and anger which would once upon a time have been poured on such an idea.

From the Globe, 5th January 1903.
From a long article on 'Social Life in Cashel' in the Larne Times, 31st March 1928.

The Leprechaun and Banshee are peculiar to Irish death scenes. In the North the Banshee plays an important role, the Leprechaun belonging more to the South and West. It is fairly well believed in the manor of Cashel and neighbouring areas that this visitant raises her mournful cry before the members of certain families respond to the final summons. There are traditions of the Banshee calling at the deaths of the McCarthys, the O'Neills and a host of other people whose forebears have long been identified with the Emerald Isle.

Superstition we may term such a belief, but the extraordinary thing is that men and women of every religious denomination in the country are more or less affected by it. Once an elderly man told the writer that he distinctly heard the Banshee uttering her cries when a relative was about to depart. He kept the door partly open, and saw a figure outside making frantic gestures. This man was a member of the Presbyterian Church, and interested in revival experiences. So one could hardly put a story of that nature down entirely to superstitious influences. There must hav ebeen in some way or other a background of fact ghostly or realistic. Indeed, quite a number of other people, in Cashel, three or four decades ago, told of similar experiences.

To the Editor of the Weekly Irish Times, 24th June 1893

Sir, - In the discussion on the interesting subject of the banshee, now occupying the Letter Box, I am surprised to find no allusion to what I have always regarded as the real explanation of the superstition. It is, that animals, being, as is well known, often much affected at the time of a death, cry and howl; and on this fact, ignorance, superstition, and love of exaggeration have founded the belief in a spirit whose screams fortell a demise.

The subject is to me a fascinating one, for mine is a family in which the banshee is said to manifest herself: yet, all the same, there is no authentic instance of her visit in our annals. At the deaths of members of the family, however, on four different occasions, I have known dogs to howl and cats to screech the whole night through; and, I need not add, the vulgar were thereby profoundly impressed.

But when we remember that a shark will follow a ship for three days before a death on board, we need not seek to rank such as the above under the head of the supernatural. A natural cause has been found for the "ticking" of the "death-watch," and for the ghost-like lights in church-yards. Let us hope that education and common sense will soon extinguish the lingering remains of belief in the banshee too.

Trusting that I have not trespassed too much on your valuable space - I am, dear Mr Editor, your obedient servant,
Latton Hill.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

To the Editor of the Weekly Irish Times, 5th August 1893

Sir. - I had ceased sending you my notes on the banshee superstition, but inasmuch as I observe the interesting subject revived in your columns, just a few more notes on the matter. A recent correspondent, in discussing the origin of the mourning visitant, says there's a theory extant that the banshee is some young female member of a family that had been spirited away by the fairies. I am not familiar with that belief, but I have heard it, time-out-of -mind, laid down that she is (or was) a maiden member of the remote ancestors of the family she follows, who met her death, I think, by some violent means, or at least, dies in maidenhood. I was reminded of this belief by perusing your interesting articles about the banshee of the Fitzpatricks, some issues past of the Weekly Irish Times.

There is one remarkable fact, and it is, that in the four provinces of Ireland the belief in the Banshee is universal, and the accounts of her corporeal "counterfeit presentment" the same - a young female with streaming hair, antique raiment sometimes, and at others, more recent which may go to form a surmise that she is not, in every case, the product of remote times in the history of the family she belongs to. But the probability is, that insasmuch as before the Anglo-Norman invasion, and subsequently, the Milesian septs and tribes were immersed continually in internecine strife and tribal wars. A large quota of the old native population were continually meeting violent deaths - the maiden nor the matron being excepted. We must conclude that most of the banshees of Irish families have had their origin in ancient Ireland. And, remember, it is the [?] families of the Milesian stock that have their banshee. Numerous, no doubt, [?] but not all, which might go to support the theory of the "maiden dying in some peculiar condition" becoming a banshee. I had often a surmise that she might have some connection with the Tuatha de Danaans, who are supposed, according to our Irish fairy lore, to be the fairies themselves, and inhabiting the ubiquitous raths and duns of Ireland. Those mysterious people were conquered by the Milesians, but after their subjugation they became amalgamated with their conquerors.

Be this as it may, I believe in the bona fides of the existence of the banshee, because I stood within two feet of the ground of her blood-curdling voice, and heard her ominous, incoherent mutterings -
"Strange sounds of death and prophesying with accents terrible" -
and duly received the notifications of the death of the relative of whose demise she was the dread harbinger.

I have a relative who asserts that our banshee actually entered his apartment at the "witching time of night" when he was a thoughtless boy. A relative was passing away and our ghostly attendant was heard lamenting and was seen seated on a high wall nights previously. He awoke suddenly and saw a strange young girl enter the apartment weeping. Her dress was strange and her hair flowing and unkempt. She fixed her strange gaze mournfully on the boy and walked about as if in great distress for a few minutes and then left the room. He was paralysed with an unaccountable terror, and slept [?] after on that night, [??].

This [???] may have surrounded the banshee's traditional appearances with exaggeration and fanciful things. That she is invariably in possession of a haircomb with which she is combing her flowing tresses may have arisen from the loose condition of her hair; and that an adventurous person lay in wait for her and snapped the comb from her I believe to be the creation of people who, like "wonder-working Lewis,"
Wouldst fain make Parnassus a churchyard,
with the banshees as haunting nymphs.

There is one thing must be noted - that she is indigenous to Irish soil, and would appear to be continued within the radius of the shores of the island. She has not yet been recorded to have followed her relatives beyond the seas. Can it be that, like Tam O'Shanter's "ghostly pursuers" a running stream she dare na cross? Tom Moor believed in her like a true M[?] of the Clan Roderjok, were he opens one of his beautiful melodies thus:-
How oft has the banshee cried?
How oft has death untied
Bright links that glory wove?
Sweet bonds entwin'd by love?
Yours &c., Laputan.

To the Editor of the Weekly Irish Times, 26th August 1893

Dear Sir,
- I began to wonder why my question on the above subject were not answered by those who believe in it; and although your correspondent "Patrick Farrell" declares he has both seen and heard it, his letter has driven me further into unbelief in its existence.

I read carefully what "P.F." said, viz. - It was in December, moonlight night, rather late, he met his greyhound trembling, and a cold sweat actually dripping off him, heard a low wailing in a bush, and when he drew near he discovered a milkwhite deer sobbing in the most heartrending manner. He made a terrific blow at the deer and his stick passed through space, and he heard a scream he hopes he will never hear again.

Of course I am presuming your correspondent was going for his stroll with a firm step and a stout heart, without the least fear in it. And his being armed with a heavy walking stick (blackthorn, I suppose) was merely a companion instead of his poor greyhound, which possibly had been indulging rolling in the snow, and the sight of his master with this awful weapon made him tremble at his presence. Sir, I have heard of crocodile tears, but a deer "sobbing" is certainly new to those who may believe it. What a cruel man "P.F." must be to strike at a poor harmless deer! I don't wonder at the terrific scream which he heard, and I sincerely hope it was not the greyhound or one of his own legs he hhit, that caused him to be dazed, powerless and paralysed. As for his relative dying in Australia the same night of this terrible scene and tragic deed, I suppose he had a relative who died since then without this banshee performance of the mind of forty years ago.

Apologising for the length of this, and thanking you in anticipation.
- Yours faithfully, R.K. Hamilton, London.

Sir, - Since the subject of the banshee first appeared in your columns a great deal of nonsense has been written about it by some of your correspondents. One of them wants to know is it a cat, and another a dog; while a third wants to find out whether one banshee is common to a large number of families, or whether every family has one of its own. In all the folk-lore, tales, and legends that I have read whenever the banshee  is alluded to it is always denominated "she," thus strengthening the common belief that the banshee is a woman. Moore, when he commenced one of his Irish melodies with the line-
"How oft has the banshee cried,"
did not allude either to the crying of a cat or of a dog. The "milk-white deer," therefore, seen by Mr Farrell, as he stated in last week's issue, can scarcely be called a banshee.

As to the question whether every family has a banshee peculiar to itself, or whether one serves for them all, those even who have seen the spirit would find it difficult to answer. Your correspondents, therefore, who asked this question must either wait until they see the spirit themselves and then ask her or else suffer to remain in ignorance on the point.

There are a great many persons who affect to disbelieve in the appearance of the banshee because it is, as they say, an Irish superstition. Yet a great many of those persons are superstitious in another way. They consult fortune-tellers, and closely examine the palms of their hands, thinking they will find their fortunes from the first and their character from the second. This is pure superstition, yet they believe in it, or pretend to, because it is a kind of fashion to do so. If anyone be so unfortunate as to mention the banshee he is immediately coughed down and called a superstitious idiot by those "enlightened" persons.
- Yours, &c.,
Castleisland, August 18, 1893.

To the Editor of the Weekly Irish Times, 1st July 1893.

Sir - Few people, I fancy, will agree with "Layton Hill's" explanation of the Banshee. If the howling of dogs and screeching of cats give rise to the belief in its existence we ought to be a very superstitious people. There is not a night but those sounds are heard through the country, with very few remarks about the banshee arising therefrom. Moreover, how can animals be affected at the death of a human being?
Yours, &c.,
M. Cahal Mor.