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What is the Banshee?

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The Banshee, also known as the Bean Sidhe in Irish, is a female spirit from Irish folklore who is said to wail or keen outside the home of a person about to die. The Banshee is often depicted as a ghostly woman dressed in white or grey, with long, flowing hair. Her name, Bean Sidhe, literally translates to "woman of the fairies" or "woman of the sidhe", the sidhe being the ancient Irish word for the fairy mounds.

The Banshee is said to be heard, but not seen, and her wail is said to be a sign that death is coming. The wail is described as a piercing, mournful cry that can be heard for miles. It is said that when a person hears the wail of a Banshee, they should prepare themselves for death, as it is a sign that someone close to them will soon pass away. In some stories, the Banshee is also said to appear in the form of an owl or a crow.

The Belief in Banshees

The belief in Banshees is most commonly associated with Ireland, but similar figures are found in other parts of the Celtic world, such as Scotland and Wales. In Scotland, the Banshee is known as the "bean nighe" and is said to appear as a washerwoman who washes the clothes of those about to die. In Wales, the Banshee is known as the "cyhyraeth" and is said to appear as a headless woman who keens outside the home of the dying.

In Irish folklore, the Banshee is often associated with certain families, known as "fairy families", who are said to have a special connection to the spirit. These families are said to have a Banshee who will wail for them when a family member is about to die. It is also said that the Banshee will only appear to certain members of the family, usually the eldest daughter or the head of the household.

The Banshee is also associated with certain geographical locations in Ireland, such as the hill of Knocknarea in County Sligo, where it is said that the spirit of Queen Maeve of Connacht, a powerful queen from Irish mythology, appears as a Banshee.

Types of Banshee

The Banshee is also said to have various forms, such as the "bean chaointe" (keening woman) and the "bean tighe" (house woman). The bean chaointe is said to wail alone, while the bean tighe is said to appear in a house, often combing her hair or sitting by the fire.

In addition to the traditional Banshee, there are also other types of banshees which are related to specific regions. For example, the banshee of the north is associated with the county of Ulster, and is said to take the form of a beautiful young woman with golden hair. The banshee of Munster is said to be a young girl with red-golden hair.

In some parts of Ireland, the Banshee is also said to be a harbinger of good news. According to these legends, if a person hears the wail of a Banshee and it does not make them feel uneasy, it is a sign that they will soon receive good news.

Banshees are often depicted in Irish literature and art. In W.B Yeats' poem "The Stolen Child", the Banshee is described as a "white-clad woman" who lures a child away with her song. In the movie "The Quiet Man" (1952) directed by John Ford, the Banshee's wail is heard in the background as the main character, Sean Thornton, returns to his hometown.