A banshee (/ˈbænʃiː/ BAN-shee; Modern Irish bean sí, from Old Irish: ban síde, pronounced [bʲan ˈʃiːðʲe], "woman of the fairy mound" or "fairy woman") is a female spirit in Irish mythology who heralds the death of a family member, usually by shrieking or keening. Her name is connected to the mythologically-important tumuli or "mounds" that dot the Irish countryside, which are known as síde (singular síd) in Old Irish.

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Description

The banshee is often described in Gaelic lore as wearing red or green, usually with long, disheveled hair (usually described as red or orange, and yellow in medieval times described to shimmer like wild fire). She can appear in a variety of forms. Perhaps most often she is seen as an ugly, frightful hag, but she can also appear young and beautiful if she chooses. In some tales, the figure who first appears to be a banshee or other cailleach (hag) is later revealed to be the Irish battle goddess, Morrígan.

Keening
n Ireland and parts of Scotland, a traditional part of mourning is the keening woman (bean chaointe), who wails a lament - in Irish: Caoineadh, [ˈkɰiːnʲə] (Connaught dialect) or [ˈkiːnʲuː] (Ulster dialect), caoin meaning "to weep, to wail". This keening woman may in some cases be a professional, and the best keeners would be in high demand.

Irish legend speaks of a lament being sung by a fairy woman; she would sing it when a family member died or was about to die, even if the person had died far away and news of their death had not yet come, so that the wailing of the banshee was the first warning the household had of the death.

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She also predicts death. If someone is about to enter a situation where it is unlikely they will come out of alive she will warn people by screaming or wailing. Hence why a banshee is also known as a wailing woman.

It is often stated that the Banshee laments only the descendants of the pure Milesian stock of Ireland, sometimes clarified as surnames prefixed with O' and Mac, and some accounts even state that each family has its own Banshee. One account, however, also included the Geraldines, as they had apparently become "more Irish than the Irish themselves".

When several banshees appear at once, it indicates the death of someone great or holy. The tales sometimes recounted that the woman, though called a fairy, was a ghost, often of a specific murdered woman, or a mother who died in childbirth.

Origin

The Ua Briain banshee is thought to be named Aibell and the ruler of 25 other banshees who would always be at her attendance.[9] It is possible that this particular story is the source of the idea that the wailing of numerous banshees signifies the death of a great person.

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Most, though not all, surnames associated with banshees have the Ó or Mc/Mac prefix - that is, surnames of Goidelic origin, indicating a family native to the Insular Celtic lands rather than those of the Norse, English, or Norman invaders. Accounts reach as far back as 1380 to the publication of the Cathreim Thoirdhealbhaigh (Triumphs of Torlough) by Sean mac Craith. Mentions of banshees can also be found in Norman literature of that time.

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In some parts of Leinster, she is referred to as the bean chaointe (keening woman) whose wail can be so piercing that it shatters glass. In Scottish folklore, a similar creature is known as the bean nighe or ban nigheachain (little washerwoman) or nigheag na h-àth (little washer at the ford) and is seen washing the bloodstained clothes or armour of those who are about to die. In Welsh folklore, a similar creature is known as the hag of the mist.