The Banshee

Informant Information – GD

  • Nationality: American
  • Age: 57
  • Occupation: Teacher
  • Residence: San Pedro, California
  • Date of Performance/Collection: March 20, 2022
  • Primary Language: English

The informant comes from an Irish-American family that spent summers camping in various forests and national parks near their home in California. On these trips, the informant’s older brothers told her the story of The Banshee. This information was shared with me in an in-person interview. 


Can you retell the story of The Banshee? 


So when I was a little girl, my older brothers would tell me this story to scare me when we were on family camping trips. The Banshee was a spirit that only appeared to Irish people; their ability to hear her allowed her to warn them when danger or loss was near. 

According to the legend, The Banshee was an ancient female spirit of Ireland that had faced some terrible loss… her family was killed somehow. When she knows that someone is about to lose a family member, she feels their pain and wails. So, if you hear her screams it is a sign that someone in your family is going to die. The further away the screams sound, the sooner the death will take place, and vice versa. I’m not sure where that part came from. 


Do you know where your brothers heard this legend?


I’m not exactly sure, but probably one of our uncles or aunts. My father’s family was a group of very stereotypical Irish farmers– he was one of 12 or 13 kids and the whole family was really superstitious. They were always telling stories like that, but never to me because I was the youngest and they didn’t want to scare me. 


In this legend, hearing The Banshee acts as a sign, foretelling a death in the family. The informant also shared with me that, when she was a baby, her oldest brother suddenly fell gravely ill and died shortly after being diagnosed with meningitis. Although this story had been shared throughout the family for generations, it became especially relevant after this loss. The piece of folklore’s setting, camping in the woods, also adds to its feasibility. Spending the night in a strange place where you cannot see outside of your tent could easily make the screeches of an owl sound like a woman’s screams. Thus, aesthetics, relevance to one’s life, and the legend’s source and setting all play significant roles in its believability.