The following is a story about an Irish legend. The informant is represented by the letter S, and I am represented by the letter K.
K: Tell me about the Banshee.
S: So, the banshee is… uh… and Irish legend. And it’s, it’s this spirit of a woman… who has this long, silver-white hair… like down to the floor. And she’s always brushing her hair with this comb. And her eyes are red- from like centuries of crying and grieving over people who- who other people have lost. And uhm…uhm… and basically, the Banshee is the uhm, warning, that somebody you’re close to is going to die. So if the Banshee comes to you, someone you love- is gonna end up dying. And uhm, the Banshee is the…. kinda the predecessor to the… what is it? The Coach de Baron… What is it? The Cóiste Bodhar. Uh, which is… the… the coach that takes you to death, so… yeah, the Banshee is very scary. She wails. And if you hear the wailing, then you know… that somebody’s gonna die.
We were sitting at a dining room table on Easter Sunday. We had just eaten dinner and celebrated the holiday. We were sitting around and just talking and sharing stories and folklore that we knew about. The informant is my friend’s younger sister, so she lives at the home we were at and she was sitting with her friend, with me, her brother, and our other friend sat across from them.
The Banshee seems to be a legend that is meant to kind of scare people into always being alert and always watching out for their family. It was interesting because when I collected this piece of folklore, the informant told me that her dad’s friend had actually heard the Banshee at one point and then someone they knew died shortly after. The informant seemed to strongly believe in the Banshee from hearing this story of the person her dad knew. This goes back to the idea that with legends you never really know if these people or things exist/existed because there are stories of them existing, but there’s no proof they never did or that they don’t. The Banshee seems to have some similar characteristics to La Llorona, actually, which was also interesting. It’s possible that both of these legendary people are the same and the context of each story is different from culture to culture, but there’s a mass belief in this spirit of a woman with long hair that grieves. With the Banshee, a lot of the context I received from my informant and from her father, who followed up with some context is that the main thing about the Banshee is that you hear her, but you don’t really see her, which I also thought was very interesting in relevance to our class discussions about ghosts and spirits. It seems as if in American folklore we’re much more scared of seeing actual ghosts, but here there’s a clear fear of hearing the Banshee.
For another version of this story, see p. 9-19 of Elliott O’Donnell’s 2010 Banshee (Project Gutenberg)