USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘banshee’
Folk speech

Irish Poem


Terry is a second generation Irish american who grew up in los Angeles in the ‘60s and 70’s. He is now a dentist working and living in the Bay area.


Informant: “There is this poem that my uncle told me back in 1970 when I was 10 years old. My parents sent me to Ireland to live with my cousins for the whole summer. I had never met any of these people before, but knew them through the stories my dad told me about all of them. But one night my uncle Paddy drove me to the Bridge at King John’s Castle in limerick… you know the one we’ve been to before. And he told me that this bridge was where the Banshee would come out late at night if you were walking alone. And then out of nowhere he started rattling off this old irish poem about the banshee called “Drunken Thady and the Bishop’s Lady” and it was a long long poem that took about twenty minutes to say. I was amazed that he had remembered all of it and then we got back in the care and drove back to the house in Janesboro. Then the rest of the summer I tried to memorize the poem just by hearing it over and over so I could tell my dad when I got back home to Los Angeles, but I was never able to remember the entire thing.

Collector: Do you remember any of the poem?

Informant: ughhh oh boy lets see

Before the famed year Ninety-eight,

In blood stamped Ireland’s wayward fate;

When laws of death and transportation

Were served, like banquets, throughout the nation

But let it pass the tale I dwell on

Has not to do with red rebellion.


Uhhhhh and then there is another part at some point that goes


There lived and died in Limerick City,

a dame of fame oh what a pity

that dames of fame should live and die

and never learn for what, or why!

That’s all I can remember.



Collector’s thoughts:

I find it amazing that the informant could remember even the slightest bit of this poem despite having half learned it more than 40 years ago. Being sent at such a young age to stay with Irish relatives reveals how, despite living in the US, his parents and family still valued their Irish heritage and culture. For a full version of the poem see:


Irish Banshee

The Banshee was another story I was told about, but not by my parents. My brother used to tell me this to scare me. At night we were outside and there was like a howl, or uh, something that I didn’t recognize, and um, he knew what it was but told me it was a banshee, which is . . . like a woman spirit/witch wanders about at night time crying out with high wails when there is going to be, like, a death in the family and whoever hears it, their family will be effected. Needless to say it scared the hell out of me and I was relieved when no one was dead the next morning! Ha, haha!

Legends about fairies and elves are very important in Ireland. “Believing” in the fair folk, whether you actually believe or not, is considered patriotic. Children raised in Ireland are expected to know of and participate in the belief of the fair folk, although, as is the case with my friend, they largely grew out of the belief of these legends as they grew older.


The Banshee

This story was collected by my informant from a man he was talking to in Dublin who said that he had encountered the banshee first hand. The banshee is one of the Irish Si spirits who whose wail is a signifier to whoever hears it that someone in their family, or perhaps even they themselves are about to die. Her wail is reminiscent of old-time funeral wails, but because, as my informant explained,“there is something slippery about time for the banshee”, rather than wailing at the funeral as was customary, she wails before the death even happens.

“Ban” means woman in Gaelic and “shee” means one of the Si spirits–the ancestral spirits associated with the megalithic mounds. Thus, encounters with the Si spirits or the Banshee usually occur around the megalithic mounds. My informant explained that there are multiple banshees. Sometimes there are regional ones and sometimes there will be one that follows certain families around.

“I remember one time I was in Dublin I was talking to this guy who was the husband of Elane Hulanon, who was a professor at Trinity, and I was talking to him about the banshee and he said “oh yeah, one time I heard the banshee” so he was telling me that one time he had heard the banshee and um, and in a rural area, and sure enough when he found out that sure enough, I forget who it was, I think it was his uncle who had just passed away. So I thought it was kind of interesting cause it was like totally classic banshee story but told by a very educated person. And he firmly believed in it because he said he had experienced it. I don’t remember the whole story but he did say that the classic thing that he was walking and he heard the banshee wail which is the classic way that you encounter her, and he was sure that’s what it was, he got really worried and he went back and um, then he found out that his uncle had just passed away. It was kind of cool because it’s still going on in Ireland and he believed in the banshee because he had experienced it.”

The belief of banshees is still around today in Ireland, and as my informant explained in this particular case, belief in the banshee is not limited to uneducated individuals as one might assume. My informant explained the a lot of individuals in Ireland don’t necessarily believe in the Si spirits, but they don’t disbelieve in them either.


  • The Real Ghostbusters “Banshee Bake a Cherry Pie?” Season 2, episode 34. Air date: 10/28/1987. In this episode of The Real Ghostbusters a banshee is masquerading as an Irish pop-singer and is attempting to use her voice to take over the world.
  • J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, July 8, 1999. When being taught how to fight boggarts (a mythical creature that can imitate whatever you are scared of), a boggart imitates a banshee when being fought by the Irish character, Seamus Finnegan.