The Best Ghost Stories HTML version

Of all Irish ghosts, fairies, or bogles, the Banshee (sometimes called locally the "Bohee
ntha" or "Bankeentha") is the best known to the general public: indeed, cross-Channel
visitors would class her with pigs, potatoes, and other fauna and flora of Ireland, and
would expect her to make manifest her presence to them as being one of the sights of the
country. She is a spirit with a lengthy pedigree—how lengthy no man can say, as its roots
go back into the dim, mysterious past. The most famous Banshee of ancient times was
that attached to the kingly house of O'Brien, Aibhill, who haunted the rock of Craglea
above Killaloe, near the old palace of Kincora. In A.D. 1014 was fought the battle of
Clontarf, from which the aged king, Brian Boru, knew that he would never come away
alive, for the previous night Aibhill had appeared to him to tell him of his impending fate.
The Banshee's method of foretelling death in olden times differed from that adopted by
her at the present day: now she wails and wrings her hands, as a general rule, but in the
old Irish tales she is to be found washing human heads and limbs, or blood-stained
clothes, till the water is all dyed with human blood—this would take place before a battle.
So it would seem that in the course of centuries her attributes and characteristics have
changed somewhat.
Very different descriptions are given of her personal appearance. Sometimes she is young
and beautiful, sometimes old and of a fearsome appearance. One writer describes her as
"a tall, thin woman with uncovered head, and long hair that floated round her shoulders,
attired in something which seemed either a loose white cloak, or a sheet thrown hastily
around her, uttering piercing cries." Another person, a coachman, saw her one evening
sitting on a stile in the yard; she seemed to be a very small woman, with blue eyes, long
light hair, and wearing a red cloak. Other descriptions will be found in this chapter. By
the way, it does not seem to be true that the Banshee exclusively follows families of Irish
descent, for the last incident had reference to the death of a member of a Co. Galway
family English by name and origin.
One of the oldest and best-known Banshee stories is that related in the Memoirs of Lady
Fanshaw. In 1642 her husband, Sir Richard, and she chanced to visit a friend, the head of
an Irish sept, who resided in his ancient baronial castle, surrounded with a moat. At
midnight she was awakened by a ghastly and supernatural scream, and looking out of
bed, beheld in the moonlight a female face and part of the form hovering at the window.
The distance from the ground, as well as the circumstance of the moat, excluded the
possibility that what she beheld was of this world. The face was that of a young and
rather handsome woman, but pale, and the hair, which was reddish, was loose and
disheveled. The dress, which Lady Fanshaw's terror did not prevent her remarking
accurately, was that of the ancient Irish. This apparition continued to exhibit itself for
some time, and then vanished with two shrieks similar to that which had first excited
Lady Fanshaw's attention. In the morning, with infinite terror, she communicated to her
host what she had witnessed, and found him prepared not only to credit, but to account
for the superstition. "A near relation of my family," said he; "expired last night in this
castle. We disguised our certain expectation of the event from you, lest it should throw a