Women of the Sidhe – Banshee

banshee

In ancient times a race of people arrived on a small island in the Atlantic Ocean which later became known as Ireland. These were the Tuatha Dé Danann or the children of the Goddess Danu. They were a magical people whom defeated the Fir Bolg and settled in Ireland for many years. They became Gods in their own right and many were worshiped by the Gaelic and Celtic peoples whom succeeded them. Their demise or retirement from our world came with the arrival of the Milesians or Sons of Mile, whom were the first of mankind to settle in Ireland. After the defeat of the Tuatha Dé Danann by the Milesians they are said to have retreated into the mounds of Ireland. It is from the Tuatha Dé Danann that the Bean-Sidhe are said to come from. The Bean-Sidhe or Banshee is seen as a harbinger of Sorrow. They can be seen in normally one of three guises; A young pretty maid, A middle aged woman or an old hag or the Maiden, Mother, Crone. This also represents the three aspects of the goddess which can sometimes confuse people into believing that the Bean-Sidhe is the same as The Mórrígan, whom was the Celtic Goddess of War and Death. Our Bean-sidhe is nothing so sinister but is in fact related to Death.

banshee3

The Bean-sidhe appears at a family home during the night and is commonly said to comb her long silver/grey hair as she cries. It is said that the cry of a Bean-sidhe warns of a death in the family. According to tradition, the banshee can only cry for five major Irish families: the O’Neills, the O’Briens, the O’Connors, the O’Gradys and the Kavanaghs. However over the years with the various marriages’s this may no longer be the case as she has been reported to appear to the family descendants of the Old Celtic Noble lineages. It is believed that each Bean-Sidhe is connected to the members of a certain Irish family. Reports of her have come from as far away as America and Asia, were descendants of the old family lines have settled. So chances are that if you are not of true Irish descent, you will never encounter her. Her face is said to be pale, and her eyes blood-shot red from the many centuries of crying.  Although she is commonly found near the family home before the death of a loved one, she is also said to make an appearance at the funeral where her wails can be heard in the near distance. She is said to usually appear wearing a grey hooded cloak. Even when she is not seen by witnesses, the shrill wail of the Bean-sidhe will most certainly be heard warning of the certain death in the family.

bean

It is not known when the Bean-sidhe first appeared but the earliest records that mention her date from the early eight century. She is said to be based on the old Irish tradition where women would sing a lament to signify the passing of a family member. This is commonly referred to as Keening. Keeners were often frowned upon by the Christian church and as punishment by God were said to become Bean-sidhe. Another common explanation to the superstitious legend is the cry of the barn owl. In ancient battles, owls would screech and take flight if they noticed an army approaching, which would forewarn the defending army. And it is this screech that became associated with the Bean-Sidhe story. Thankfully I have never experienced the Bean-sidhe in person, although a number of years ago one of my wifes close reletaves passed away suddenly one night. Moments before she got the phone call there was a loud clatter in the house which startled us both. I thought that it sounded like the heating pipes being hit and my wife described it as someone bashind into the front door. Was this a modern day warning from the Banshee or just a coincidence? I still dont know, but its nice to know that her purpose is only to fortell of a death in the family and not create one.

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About edmooneyphotography

Photographer, Blogger, Ruinhunter, with an unhealthy obsession for history, mythology and the arcane.
This entry was posted in Halloween, History, Legends, Samhain and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

57 Responses to Women of the Sidhe – Banshee

  1. avemi says:

    Wy lubicie się bać? W moim kraju sowa jest jednym ze zwiastunów śmierci, orzeł to dobry znak – zwycięstwa, bocian zwiastuje nowe życie… pozdrowienia z Polski :)))
    Zamiast tego przetłumacz z Wy lubice się bać? W moim kraju sowa jest jednym ze zwiastunów śmierci, orzeł to dobry znak – zwycięstwa, bocian zwiastuje nowe życie… pozdrowienia z Polski
    You like to be scared?
    In my country owl is one of the harbingers of death, the eagle is a good sign – victory stork heralds a new life …
    greetings from Poland

  2. Ali Isaac says:

    I think she has got a lot of bad press over the years, and is quite misunderstood. I never knew that she was only associated with those 5 families. Wonder why? I also think that a woman of the Sidhe would have better things to do than wail at the death of a mortal, descendant of those who had cast them out of their homeland in the first place…. shes more likely to give a cheer, surely!

    • Not everything in lore will make sence, those five families are not the only ones, if you think about it all true Irish are desendant from the Milesians.
      As for the Sidhe, we know their was numerous connections between the two races so perhaps their was a purpose for them to do so?
      Maybe they were not even Sidhe, but ancestoral Ghosts?

  3. avemi says:

    I apologize for the errors and their interpreter 🙂

  4. Great post – and great photos!

  5. A reasonable, skeptical Irish friend of a friend of mine swears she heard one. So maybe there is something to it.

    Good post!

  6. oglach says:

    Not a superstitious man, but she’s real. Great telling.

  7. Sue says:

    Most interesting post, Ed

  8. beetleypete says:

    Looking at those images, Ed, you are welcome to her! Fortunately, I have no Irish ancestors, so I am unlikely to ever encounter one.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  9. chattykerry says:

    I love this blog. My Nana (McHugh/McGuire) truly believed in banshees. My mum was just away with the fairies… On occasion, I can tell you that someone has just died or note that they are about to. I can also smell cancer but so can dogs. Wonderful – I always wondered what the Morrigan was.

    • That must be difficult to deal with, I’m not sure I would be into having such a gift. Never knew that about dogs smelling cancer, fascinating.
      The Morrigan is fascinating, she took a lot of bad press over the years and is always made out as a nasty bit of work. But I actually like her😁

      • chattykerry says:

        I have got used to the cancer thing – usually I gently suggest that they see a doctor if they don’t know. I like bad women too!

      • jaykayg says:

        My daughter’s dog knew when she was pregnant. He was always as near her as he could get (we used to joke that he would climb in her pocket if he could fit) but when she was pregnant he was underfoot to the point of being really annoying. In fact, last time she got pregnant he told her by his actions before it was confirmed by a blood test! There are also dogs that warn epileptics when they are about to have a seizure and some that alert when their diabetic owners’ blood sugar needs adjustment.

  10. I am being totally honest here Ed, you really need to write a book. You know so much about all of this stuff and if it isn’t entirely true then who cares, there are people that would pay good money to read a story about it all.
    I honestly recommend you thinking something up and writing it down because it would be a winner. They love this stuff!

  11. Ed, I love your stories! And I learn so much! Telling them as you have learned them adds to the charm!

  12. A collection of your stories would make a lovely book. Let me know if you ever make one.

  13. Interesting lore. That corrects a few misconceptions. 🙂 Great photos, by the way.

  14. just a quick question. Are these fairies by any chance, heard that somewhere.

    • In a way yes , the tuatha Dr dannan were a race that lived in Ireland pre history, some believe that they came from Atlantis but that’s just a theory. Also known as the Sidhe, pronounced Shed. They are sometimes called fairies folk but not the little tinkerbell variety. I see them more similar to the Elven race from Lord of the rings😁

  15. It is said that the fir Bolg left decendants who became Bolgers ,Bulgers Bogans & o’brians.

    • Yes I have heard that alright, but not so sure about whom their descendants would be. The obrien clan are related to Brian Boru. A member of dail clais whom most likely are descendant from the milesians 😁

  16. In my family we have noticed two harbingers of death. 1. a bird crashes into a window of the person to receive news of the death. 2. A dog can sense the person is about to die and will make a terrible fuss of them. This is especially true of black dogs. I haven’t observed the dog thing here in California, but the bird thing I’ve seen both in CA and in my native Wales.

  17. Reblogged this on Affliction Magazine's Blog and commented:
    The photo (and article) sure does let you feel the bean-sidhe…

  18. kathygiddins says:

    Very interesting post and perfect coming up to Halloween!

  19. As the old lady said, “Of course I don’t believe in them. But they’re there!”

  20. I love this Ed! My mother used to talk about the Banshee which is part of both Scottish and Irish lore. Great images too.

  21. Can’t say I’ve ever heard her, but my maternal grandfather was born an O’Neill…..

    • The O’Neill name is one of the oldest surviving surnames, perhaps because so many of them were high kings. They played a huge role in Ireland’s history. You know that red hand of Ulster that is still used today? That dates back to early history. At the time their was no heir to the kingdom and it was decided to have a boat race to pick a new king. The first person to touch the shore would become king. So the story goes, one of the contestants chopped his own hand off and threw it onto the shore, thus winning the race. Some say this was in fact Niall of the nine hostages? Whilst others connect it to the first milesian high king of Ireland, Eirmron? The irony is that many of th loyalist paramilitary groups in northern Ireland use the red hand symbol on their banners😁

  22. Nyt Myst says:

    The Morrigan, most specifically her aspect of Babd is a Bean Nighe (the Washer at the Ford, who fortells death by washing the blood from the clothes). She has often been discussed as a precursor to the Bean Sidhe, since the Morrigan is very much a Phantom Queen of the Sidhe.

    In truth, I have never found her ( The Morrigan) sinister, she is a Goddess of War and Death, she is also The Great Queen, of ALL things, the land, life, death, rebirth, sovereignty. I think we project our cultural fears on to her and call her many things. warm and fuzzy she is not, but then what Battle Queen is 😉

    http://yakmax.com/scottish-folklore-the-origins-of-the-bean-nighe/

    • Yes, the Bean Nighe shows up in many of the old legends, most notably the Ulster cycle and Cuchulain. Many strong women from history tended to have their character corrupted and shown in a bad light.

  23. Coleen Renee says:

    Lovely overview of history. I have never heard her, but my mother often compared us to sounding like Banshees when we were kids screaming through the house.

  24. I love this! It reminds me of all the Banshee stories my Nan used to tell me growing up!

    All My Best,
    Jill

  25. Hello Edward, thank you for the multiple likes. For some reason when I post a Getty Images story it does it multiple times. I have to see what the issue is.
    I’ll follow up and read this post later on. Banshees, spirits, etc.. all right up my spiritual alley! 😉

  26. jazzfeathers says:

    Would you imagine? The first time I heard abotu the Banshee was in a fantasy novel. And I’ve been fascinated with her ever since, I don’t know why.

    I’ve never heard of her possible origines. Fascinating!

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