History of Banshee - History

History of Banshee - History

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( SwStr.: T 538, 1. 220'; b. 20'4", dr. 10', B. 15 k.;
cpl.89;a.130-pdr.R.,212-pdr. S.B.)

The first Banshee was built in 1862 by Jones, Qulggin and Co., Liverpool, England, captured by Fullon and Grand Gulf of~ Wilmington, N.C., 21 November 1863, while attempting to run the blockade; purchased 12 March 1864 from the New York Prize Court; and fitted out as a gunboat. On 14 June 1864 Acting Volunteer Lieutenant W. H. Garlield was ordered to take command of Banshee and proceed to Wilmington, N. C., for duty with the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron.

Banshee served with the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron until 3 January 1865, taking part in the attack on Fort Fisher (24 December 1864). She joined the Potomac Flotilla 16 January 1865 and was sold at New York 30 November 1865.


A banshee ( / ˈ b æ n ʃ iː / BAN -shee Modern Irish bean sí, from Old Irish: ben síde, pronounced [bʲen ˈʃiːðʲe] , "woman of the fairy mound" or "fairy woman") is a female spirit in Irish folklore who heralds the death of a family member, [1] usually by wailing, shrieking, or keening. Her name is connected to the mythologically important tumuli or "mounds" that dot the Irish countryside, which are known as síde (singular síd) in Old Irish. [2]

The Wailing Woman

The legend of La Llorona has supposedly haunted Mexico since before the Conquest. Her story is one of violence, much like the country whose suffering she is often taken to represent. Beware the woman in white .

A candlelit cemetery on the Day of the Dead, Tzintzuntzan, Mexico, 2010.

A Mexican woman, Juana Léija, attempted to kill her seven children by throwing them into the Buffalo Bayou in Houston, Texas in 1986. A victim of domestic violence, she was apparently trying to end her suffering and that of her children, two of whom died. During an interview Léija declared that she was La Llorona.

La Llorona is a legendary figure with various incarnations. Usually translated into English as ‘the wailing woman’, she is often presented as a banshee-type: an apparition of a woman dressed in white, often found by lakes or rivers, sometimes at crossroads, who cries into the night for her lost children, whom she has killed. The infanticide is sometimes carried out with a knife or dagger, but very often the children have been drowned. Her crime is usually committed in a fit of madness after having found out about an unfaithful lover or husband who leaves her to marry a woman of higher status. After realising what she has done, she usually kills herself. She is often described as a lost soul, doomed to wander the earth forever. To some she is a bogeywoman, used by parents to scare children into good behaviour.

This folk story has been represented artistically in various guises: in film, animation, art, poetry, theatre and in literature aimed at both adults and children alike. The legend is deeply ingrained in Mexican culture and among the Chicano Mexican population of the United States.

The origins of the legend are uncertain, but it has been presented as having pre-Hispanic roots. La Llorona is thought to be one of ten omens foretelling the Conquest of Mexico and has also been linked to Aztec goddesses. In the Florentine Codex, an encyclopedic work on the Nahua peoples of Mexico completed during the 16th century by the Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún, we find two Aztec goddesses who could be linked to La Llorona. The first is Ciuacoatl (Snake-woman), described as ‘a savage beast and an evil omen’ who ‘appeared in white’ and who would walk at night ‘weeping and wailing’. She is also described as an ‘omen of war’. This goddess could also be linked to the sixth of ten omens that are recorded in the codex as having foretold the Conquest: the voice of a woman heard wailing at night, crying about the fate of her children.

A later codex by a Dominican friar, Diego Durán, details the origin myths of the Aztec gods and discusses a goddess, Coatlicue, who is often linked to or thought to be the same as Ciuacoatl. Coatlicue (she of the snaky skirt) was the mother of Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war. Durán describes her as ‘the ugliest and dirtiest that one could possibly imagine. Her face was so black and covered with filth that she looked like something straight out of Hell’. She waits for her son to return to her from war and weeps and mourns for him while he is gone. Durán also provides detail of some strange occurrences ahead of the Conquest that were purported to have troubled Moctezuma. Among these is a ‘woman who roams the streets weeping and moaning’.

Though these accounts fulfil some elements of the La Llorona legend, we need to look to another goddess in order to find the links to water and infanticide. According to the Florentine Codex, Chalchiuhtlicue (the Jade-skirted one) was goddess of the waters and the elder sister of the rain god, Tlaloc. Sahagún describes her as one who was ‘feared’ and ‘caused terror’. She was said to drown people and overturn boats. Ceremonies in honour of the rain gods, including Chalchiuhtlicue, involved the sacrifice of children. These sacrificial victims were bought from their mothers and the more the children cried, the more successful the sacrifice was thought to have been.

La Llorona has also been conflated with La Malinche, Cortés’ translator and concubine. As such she is often portrayed as an indigenous woman jilted by a Spanish lover. However, there are many similar European and Old World motifs that she could also be linked to: the ‘White Woman’ of the Germanic and Slavic tradition, the Lorelei and, of course, the banshee. The trope of the barbarian girl who kills her children after being betrayed by her lover and discarded for a woman of higher status or more ‘appropriate’ race also has roots in the Greek tradition, in the legend of Medea and Jason.

It is strange that such a pervasive myth could have such different features, but still be known by the same name. Indeed, the variations in the folk story seem to be geographical, with different regions having their own slightly different versions of the wailing woman. In addition, the legend has changed over time, seemingly to reflect the
socio-political climate. Just as a source will often tell us more about the author than the subject, we can glean a lot about the story-tellers’ points of view when examining the development of this particular legend. It is not until the late 19th and early 20th centuries that the folk story can be found in print. However, when we look at them, far from finding an official version, we can clearly see that many elements of the La Llorona story change over time.

La Llorona, a 1917 play by Francisco C. Neve is set during the reign of Philip II (1556-98). The protagonist is Luisa. She has a son with her lover, Ramiro, the son of Cortés, who is of much higher social status. Though they have been together for six years, Ramiro is due to marry the very wealthy daughter of a judge. Luisa is unaware of this and Ramiro believes that he can continue his relationship with her, if he marries in secret. Luisa is told of Ramiro’s impending wedding by a rival suitor and she is driven mad, not only by Ramiro’s infidelity and his decision to marry someone else for honour and status, but by his desire to take their son away from her. When he comes for their child after she breaks up their wedding, Luisa eventually tells him that he can have his son’s life and kills him with a dagger, offering Ramiro his body in a fit of delirium, saying that she killed him after Ramiro had killed her soul. Luisa is hanged for her crime in a public execution during which she is vilified as a witch. Ramiro is presented as very remorseful and dies of sorrow and grief when La Llorona appears to haunt him.

The play satirises the class system to an extent and especially masculine ideas of honour. Ramiro’s mistress and son are an open secret among court society and whispers of gossip surrounding his love life are a prominent theme at his sham wedding. He does not garner respect from his peers and courtly society in New Spain is presented as a place of back-stabbing and chaos.

The story would appear to reflect life in colonial Mexico. Although initially there was a shortage of Spanish women in New Spain, which meant that unions between indigenous women and Spanish men were quite common and not frowned upon, by the end of 16th century the population of European women was on the rise and the status of indigenous or mestiza (mixed race) women fell considerably. Upon their arrival in Tenochtitlan, the imperial rulers of the Aztecs offered women, usually their female relatives, to the Spaniards and marrying an Indian heiress became a familiar path to success. Cohabiting was also common and in some cases Spanish men would take advantage of the indigenous practice of polygamy by having a number of concubines.

The fates of these indigenous and mestiza women were mixed. Some enjoyed stability and enhanced status and, therefore, benefited from these unions, but more often than not they were cast aside after a few years for younger women or, more often, a Spanish wife. More alarmingly, the children resulting from the union were sometimes taken away from their indigenous or mestiza mothers in a practice that derived from a Spanish tradition of relieving so-called ‘wayward’ women of their children. The historian Karen Vieira Powers explains that ‘When this practice found its way to the New World and was applied to indigenous mothers who had borne children with Spanish men, their prescribed racial “inferiority” was combined with the “natural” inferiority of their gender to produce a generalised negative attitude toward their ability to socialise their children properly.’ This was more often the case for daughters as ‘doubts about native women’s capacity to raise their mestizo daughters were especially acute, as the Spanish emphasis on sexual purity was not valued in Mexica society.’ Generations of children were, therefore, raised as ‘Spanish’ despite their mixed heritage and taught to believe that their mothers’ indigenous culture was inferior.

The situation for indigenous and mestiza women grew worse. By the end of the 16th century the availability of Spanish women meant it was no longer necessary to create honorary Spanish wives of the mestizas and, though mixed relationships continued, their legitimation dwindled. By the 17th century even Creole women were losing the status brought from their European descent due to the arrival of so many women born in Spain. The later colonial period also saw an increasing emphasis on racial purity growing unrest and popular rebellions led to the Crown passing legislation limiting the powers of the racially mixed population. These included laws regarding segregation and legislation limiting the inheritance of mestizos from Spanish fathers.

In a 1933 version of the La Llorona story, a novel and screenplay by Antonio Guzman Aguilera, the emphasis is shifted from class difference. The screenplay is set in the 1930s and the focus is on the descendants of Cortés, who are shown to have been cursed by the goddess of death during the Conquest. La Llorona manipulates the main protagonist, Margot, and tempts her into trying to kill her son with a strain of meningitis, when she learns that her lover, the boy’s father, is set to marry an American millionaire. Like the 1917 play, the protagonist is driven mad by the thought that her lover might try to take her son, but it is the words of La Llorona that are pushing Margot to madness. In this case, La Llorona turns out to be the child’s indigenous nanny, who is killed by a doctor who then goes on to save the boy.

There are some parallels between this version and the 1917 play: the doctor who saves her son’s life had always wished to marry Margot but, in contrast to the earlier story, here they do fall in love and marry, legitimising Margot’s son. It appears to be a metaphor for the uniting of the Mexican people: the final image presented is of the ruins of Teotihuacan and an old, tired Indian man juxtaposed with an airplane flying overhead and a fast car, both of which drown out the sound of La Llorona’s cry, symbolising that the curse has now been broken.

Here we find that Cortés becomes a focus, with his son in the role of the scoundrel. This is in keeping with the rise of anti-Spanish sentiment in Mexico during the 1930s, most evident in Diego Rivera’s murals presenting the history of Mexico in Mexico City’s National Palace. The Conquest and colonial period are portrayed as a chaotic orgy of rape, pillage and destruction of the indigenous way of life. Cortés, in particular, is painted as an ugly, balding, diseased caricature with grey skin. Far from limiting the baddies to those of Spanish descent, however, we also find that this version of the story reflects upon the contemporary discord between Mexico and the US, as the post-revolutionary leaders deployed a strongly anti-imperialist and anti-American rhetoric and foreign policy that resisted US influence. Much more surprising is the use of the indigenous nanny as a villain. Nevertheless, this was reflective of policy implemented by the Cardenas government of the 1930s in particular, which sought ‘not to Indianise Mexico, but to Mexicanise the Indian’. Though, on the one hand, the glory of Mexico’s indigenous past had long been an important part of the nation’s identity, there was also a discourse that cast the Indian and Indian culture not as truly Mexican, but rather as impediments to the unification of the Mexican nation, with mestizaje touted as the solution to this problem.

Later versions of the wailing woman story present the villain as Spain and have created heroes in the mestizo and indigenous cultures. Carmen Toscano’s 1959 one-act play, La Llorona, for example, presents a harsh critique of the Conquest and colonial period, with special attention paid to the treatment of the indigenous people by the Spanish conquistadors. The spiritual Conquest is also presented as fairly shambolic and, overall, New Spain is shown to be a place of chaos with great tensions between clergy and secular authorities. The protagonist is Luisa, a mestiza, and her lover, Nuño, is a Spanish conquistador who marries Ana, a wealthy Spanish lady in secret, planning then to return to Spain. He does not appear to care for Luisa and neither are particularly interested in their children. Luisa stabs them to death and throws their bodies into the canal without much remorse. Nuño does not seem at all affected by this. Luisa is tried and hanged in the city’s main plaza, though before she is executed she gives a monologue stating that all blood is the same and that as a mestiza she does not know where she belongs or which traditions to adopt. Purity of blood is a motif throughout the play, with the conquistadors not wishing to dirty the blades of their swords with Indian blood and Luisa exclaiming that Nuño only wishes to marry Ana as they have the same blood. Luisa is glad that her children are dead so they won’t suffer like she has: having to work like a slave despite the glory of both her ancestors. She cries for her children. After her execution, Luisa takes her revenge as Nuño collapses and dies. A poet describes his sad soul and the ruins of Tenochtitlan. It would seem that the abandonment of Luisa represents the abandonment of Mexico by Spain, once its land had been exhausted of resources.

Here we find a return to many of the ideas expressed in the 1917 play, though the imagery is much more explicit and seems to be representative of the ideas of Nobel prize-winner, Octavio Paz. In his 1950 essay, The Labyrinth of Solitude, Paz describes La Llorona as ‘one of the Mexican representations of Maternity’ and, as such, she is presented as a symbol of Mexican identity. This identity, according to Paz, revolves around Mexicans’ view of themselves as hijos de la Chingada. Paz explains that: ‘The verb [chingar] denotes violence, an emergence from oneself to penetrate another by force … The Chingada is the Mother forcibly opened, violated or deceived. The hijo de la Chingada is the offspring of violation, abduction or deceit.’ This violation is the Conquest, the quintessential symbol of which is La Malinche, or Doña Marina, who despite having been sold into slavery and given to the conquistadors – and therefore having limited agency of her own – has been painted as a traitor to ‘her people’. This anachronistic and highly misogynistic view that lays the blame for the defeat of a civilisation at the feet of one (disenfranchised) woman has remained popular to this day. Indeed, Paz himself states that ‘the Mexican people have not forgiven La Malinche for her betrayal’. This is in the face of indisputable evidence that the Aztecs were defeated by a Spanish force aided by thousands of indigenous allies, a fact often conveniently forgotten in popular culture.

In Mexico’s creation myth, La Malinche has become Eve. In regard to her relationship with Cortés, Paz insists that ‘she gave herself voluntarily to the conquistador, but he forgot her as soon as her usefulness was over’ and so it is easy to see how she could be merged with the legend of the wailing woman. The fact that she bore Cortés a son has also fuelled this conflation: their union symbolises the birth of Mexico as a nation of forcibly mixed-race people.

The annual performance of La Llorona on Mexico City’s Lake Xochimilco most explicitly presents the importance of the legend as an expression of Mexican identity. For example, one advert for the production states that: ‘Our nation was born from the tears of La Llorona.’ This version of the play runs for two weeks at the end of October and beginning of November, overlapping with the Day of the Dead celebrations, and has been performed for over 20 years.

There are similar themes expressed in this play as in the 1959 version by Carmen Toscano. The Spaniards again are the villains and are fairly one-dimensional, whereas the indigenous ceremonies are completely sanitised and totally peaceful. Where it differs, however, is that the character of La Llorona is now an indigenous woman, rather than a mestiza. Similarly however, she is also seduced by a conquistador who then runs off with a Spanish lady. The indigenous girl is driven mad by her lover’s betrayal and drowns herself and her unborn child in the lake.

This current version of the La Llorona story is another rehashing of the Cortés/Malinche story. La Llorona is portrayed as a traitor to her people by passing information to the Spaniards, which leads to their defeat. This has now become a common element of the legend. Along with providing a nod to Doña Marina, the play also contains another element of the folk story, as it opens with an Aztec mother goddess wailing a lament for her children as a forewarning of the Conquest.

This is the fullest version of the La Llorona story. Here we find the jilted woman trope finally united with the imagery of the Aztec goddess along with the act of warning her people about their impending doom and lamenting the birth of the modern Mexican nation through the mixing of blood. It is purported by the production company to be the ‘original’ version of the legend, but the evidence does not stack up the codices in which we find the supposed origins for the folk story remained unpublished until the 19th century. Furthermore, the timing of the performance is telling.

Though in essence Mexico’s Day of the Dead is a version of the Roman Catholic feasts of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Days, the festival, celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, has contested origins. It is thought by some to be an indigenous tradition appropriated by the colonisers and by others as a colonial practice that has retrospectively claimed an indigenous origin in order to promote a ‘pure’ Mexican identity. According to Paz, this identity revolves around Mexicans’ distintive, jovial attitude towards death, which is bolstered by the Day of the Dead celebrations. However, the family traditions of the Day of the Dead – decorating graves and constructing altars in homes dedicated to deceased family members – are rather different to the exuberant festivities displayed in town centres for tourists to enjoy.

The Day of the Dead is seen by outsiders as the quintessential Mexican festival and has become a lucrative tourist attraction. Town councils receive state funding to put on elaborate displays, processions, exhibitions and theatrical presentations in order to attract visitors. The town of Tzintzuntzan was one of 11 that the state of Michoacán selected in the late 1970s for tourist promotion and today it has become one of the most popular destinations for Day of the Dead celebrations.

The evidence would suggest that La Llorona, as she is now known, is a fairly modern myth that has evolved over time and has been used since the late 19th century to reflect and comment upon the socio-political situation of Mexico. By presenting La Llorona during the Day of the Dead celebrations, both of which have disputed origins but are thought to be ‘quintessentially Mexican’, it can be used to present to the world a new version of Mexico’s history and an official representation of Mexican identity.

Amy Fuller is Lecturer in the History of the Americas at Nottingham Trent University. This piece was orginally published with the title ‘The Evolving Legend of La Llorona’ in the November 2015 issue of History Today.

How the Bigfoot Legend Began

In 1958, journalist Andrew Genzoli of the Humboldt Times highlighted a fun, if dubious, letter from a reader about loggers in northern California who𠆝 discovered mysteriously large footprints. “Maybe we have a relative of the Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas,” Genzoli jokingly wrote in his September 21 column alongside the letter.

Later, Genzoli said that he𠆝 simply thought the mysterious footprints “made a good Sunday morning story.” But to his surprise, it really fascinated readers. In response, Genzoli and fellow Humboldt Times journalist Betty Allen published follow-up articles about the footprints, reporting the name loggers had given to the so-called creature who left the tracks—𠇋ig Foot.” And so a legend was born.

“There are various wild man myths from all over the world,” says Joshua Blu Buhs, author of Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend. In western Canada, the Sts𠆚iles First Nation have the “Sasq𠆞ts,” the supposed origin of the word “Sasquatch.” However, the modern U.S. concept of bigfoot can be traced quite directly to the Humboldt Times stories in 1958.

“People later go back and dig through old newspapers and stuff and find scattered reports of a wild man here, a wild man there,” he says. 𠇋ut it doesn’t coalesce into a general discussion until the �s.”

Even though loggers blamed acts of vandalism on Bigfoot, Allen thought that most of them didn’t really believe in the creature. It seemed to her that they were just passing along stories with a “legendary flavor.” Still, the story spread to newspapers all over the country, and the TV show Truth or Consequences offered $1,000 to anyone who could prove the existence of Bigfoot.

A cast of a foot track, obtained in Bluff Creek, California, at the Bigfoot Institute run by Daniel Perez. (Credit: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

“Who is making the huge 16-inch tracks in the vicinity of Bluff Creek?” Genzoli wrote in one of his columns that October. 𠇊re the tracks a human hoax? Or, are they the actual marks of a huge but harmless wild-man, traveling through the wilderness? Can this be some legendary sized animal?”

Once Bigfoot’s story went public, it became a character in men’s adventure magazines and cheap trade paperback novels. In these stories, he𠅏or Bigfoot was definitely a “he”—was a primal, dangerous creature out of the past who lurked in the modern wilderness. By the 1970s, pseudo-documentaries were investigating his existence and films were portraying him as a sexual predator.

In the �s, Bigfoot showed his softer side. He became 𠇊ssociated with environmentalism, and a symbol of the wilderness that we need to preserve,” Buhs says. One big example is the 1987 movie Harry and the Hendersons, which portrayed Bigfoot as a friendly, misunderstood creature in need of protection from John Lithgow and his family.

So why has the Bigfoot legend persisted for 60 years? “It takes on its own momentum because it is a media icon,” Buh suggests.

Just as no one really needs to explain that characters who turn into wolves during a full moon are werewolves, no one needs to explain who a hairy man-ape walking out of the woods would be. “It’s just something that’s easy to refer to,” Buh says. That would be Bigfoot.

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An Irish supernatural being of the wraith type. The name derives from the Gaelic bean si and implies "female fairy." She is usually the possession of a specific family, to a member or members of which she appears before the death of one of them.

T. F. Thistleton Dyer, writing on the banshee in his book The Ghost World (1898), states:

"Unlike, also, many of the legendary beliefs of this kind, the popular accounts illustrative of it are related on the evidence of all sections of the community, many an enlightened and well-informed advocate being enthusiastic in his vindication of its reality. It would seem, however, that no family which is not of an ancient and noble stock is honored with this visit of the Banshee and hence its nonappearance has been regarded as an indication of disqualification in this respect on the part of the person about to die. 'If I am rightly informed,' writes Sir Walter Scott, 'the distinction of a Banshee is only allowed to families of the pure Milesian stock, and is never ascribed to any descendant of the proudest Norman or the boldest Saxon who followed the banner of Strongbow, much less to adventurers of later dates who have obtained settlements in the Green Isle.' Thus, an amusing story is contained in an Irish elegy to the effect that on the death of one of the Knights of Kerry, when the Banshee was heard to lament his decease at Dingle — a seaport town, the property of those knights — all the merchants of this place were thrown into a state of alarm lest the mournful and ominous wailing should be a forewarning of the death of one of them, but, as the poet humorously points out, there was no necessity for them to be anxious on this point. Although, through misfortune, a family may be brought down from high estate to the rank of peasant tenants, the Banshee never leaves nor forgets it till the last member has been gathered to his fathers in the churchyard. The MacCarthys, O'Flahertys, Magraths, O'Rileys, O'Sullivans, O'Reardons, have their Banshees, though many representatives of these names are in abject poverty.

" 'The Banshee,' says D. R. McAnally [in his book Irish Wonders (1888)], 'is really a disembodied soul, that of one who in life was strongly attached to the family, or who had good reason to hate all its members. Thus, in different instances, the Banshee's song may be inspired by different motives. When the Banshee loves those she calls, the song is a low, soft chant giving notice, indeed, of the close proximity of the angel of death, but with a tenderness of tone that reassures the one destined to die and comforts the survivors rather a welcome than a warning, and having in its tones a thrill of exultation, as though the messenger spirit were bringing glad tidings to him summoned to join the waiting throng of his ancest[o]rs.' To a doomed member of the family of the O'Reardons the Banshee generally appears in the form of a beautiful woman, 'and sings a song so sweetly solemn as to reconcile him to his approaching fate.' But if, during his lifetime, the Banshee was an enemy of the family, the cry is the scream of a fiend, howling with demoniac delight over the coming death agony of another of his foes.

"Hence, in Ireland, the hateful 'Banshee' is a source of dread to many a family against which she has an enmity. 'It appears,' adds McAnally, 'that a noble family, whose name is still familiar in Mayo, is attended by a Banshee of this description — the spirit of a young girl deceived, and afterwards murdered by a former head of the family. With her dying breath she cursed her murderer, and promised she would attend him and his forever. After many years the chieftain reformed his ways, and his youthful crime was almost forgotten even by himself, when one night, as he and his family were seated by the fire, the most terrible shrieks were suddenly heard outside the castle walls. All ran out, but saw nothing. During the night the screams continued as though the castle were besieged by demons, and the un-happy man recognised in the cry of the Banshee the voice of the young girl he had murdered. The next night he was assassinated by one of his followers, when again the wild unearthly screams were heard exulting over his fate. Since that night "hateful Banshee" has, it is said, never failed to notify the family, with shrill cries of revengeful gladness, when the time of one of their number has arrived.'

"Among some of the recorded instances of the Banshee's appearance may be mentioned one related by Miss Lefrau, the niece of [Richard] Sheridan, in the memoirs of her grandmother, Mrs. Frances Sheridan. From this account we gather that Miss Elizabeth Sheridan was a firm believer in the Banshee, and firmly maintained that the one attached to the Sheridan family was distinctly heard lamenting beneath the windows of the family residence before the news arrived from France of Mrs. Frances Sheridan's death at Blois. She added that a niece of Miss Sheridan made her very angry by observing that as Mrs. Frances Sheridan was by birth a Chamberlaine, a family of English extraction, she had no right to the guardianship of an Irish fairy, and that therefore the Banshee must have made a mistake. Then there is the well-known case related by Lady Fanshawe who tells us how, when on a visit in Ireland, she was awakened at midnight by a loud scream outside her window. On looking out she saw a young and rather handsome woman, with dishevelled hair, who vanished before her eyes with another shriek. On communicating the circumstance in the morning, her host replied, 'A near relation of mine died last night in the castle, and before such an event happens, the female spectre whom you have seen is always visible.'

"This weird apparition is generally supposed to assume the form of a woman, sometimes young, but more often old. She is usually attired in a loose white drapery, and her long ragged locks hang over her thin shoulders. As night time approaches she occasionally becomes visible, and pours forth her mournful wail — a sound said to resemble the melancholy moaning of the wind … . Oftentimes she is not seen but only heard, yet she is supposed to be always clearly discernible to the person upon whom she specially waits. Respecting the history of the Banshee, popular tradition in many instances accounts for its presence as the spirit of some mortal woman whose destinies have become linked by some accident with those of the family she follows. It is related how the Banshee of the family of the O'Briens of Thomond was originally a woman who had been seduced by one of the chiefs of that race — an act of indiscretion which ultimately brought about her death."

The banshee is not confined to Ireland, since she is also the subject of folktales in the highlands of Scotland, where she is known as bean-nighe, or "little-washer-by-the-ford." She is said to be seen by the side of a river, washing the blood from the clothes of those who will die.


Lysaght, Patricia. The Banshee. Dublin, 1986.

McAnally, D. R. Irish Wonders. 1888. Reprint, Detroit: Grand River Books, 1971.

O'Donnell, Elliot. The Banshee. London, 1919.

Yeats, W. B. Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry. London: Walter Scott, [1888].

Ireland’s Best Known Spirit – The Banshee

Since it’s Halloween week I decided to look at Ireland’s best known and most feared spirit, the banshee following on from our article on Did Halloween originate in ireland? The banshee is a female spirit and is considered to be an omen of death.

The banshee roams the countryside and can be heard wailing when she predicts a death. The word banshee comes from the Irish bean sí (pronounced ban-shee) which translates as woman of the fairy mounds. She can appear in a number of guises, as a young beautiful woman, a stately matron or as an ugly frightening hag. She is usually dressed in a grey or white hooded cloak. While not always seen, her mourning cries can be heard usually at night when someone is about to die. Those who claim to have seen her describe long hair which she runs a comb through, similar to tearing the hair out in anguish.

It is believed by many that she only appears to select number of families, namely the main Irish families the O’ Neills, O’ Connors, O’ Briens,O’ Gradys and Kavanaghs although this list varies depending on who is telling the story!

Coincidentally, I heard of an O’ Connor who had a brush with the banshee. He was cycling between Ballylongford and Tarbert in Co.Kerry when he heard the cries of the banshee by the ruins of Lislaughtin Abbey. I created a custom silver pendant of the Lislaughtin Abbey Window you can see that reminded me of the story.

While the banshee will not harm the person she encounters there is another Irish female spirit who isn’t nearly as benign! The Lianhan Sídhe (pronounced lan-hawn shee) is a beautiful woman who attracts men but this love will lead to their downfall.

W.B. Yeats described her in his book Fairy and Folklore of the Irish Peasantry

The Leanhaun Shee (fairy mistress) seeks the love of mortals. If they refuse, she must be their slave if they consent, they are hers, and can only escape by finding another to take their place. The fairy lives on their life, and they waste away. Death is no escape from her. She is the Gaelic muse, for she gives inspiration to those she persecutes. The Gaelic poets die young, for she is restless, and will not let them remain long on earth – this malignant phantom.

Mythology is a complex and fascinating part of Irish culture that has always been of interest to us. Some of the fairy stories and legends are so complicated they’re practically a historical dynasty! There are leprechauns, púcas and fairies that make up countless children’s stories as well as a host of more sinister creatures. In every part of the country there are different variations, omens and tales (some more believable than others) about each creature, particularly ways to keep them away or cause them to do harm to others (known as piseogs). Certain fairies were associated with certain powerful families throughout the country and their appearances have made their way into Gaelic folklore.

The Banshee is one of the more intimidating fairies. She is a fairy woman who appears at the site of an imminent death in the middle of the night and lets out a chilling, high pitched wail. As with all mythological stories and figures, she also appears in Scottish, Welsh, Norse and even American folklore in many different forms and doing many different death related things. Occasionally she is also known as the ‘Bean Chaointe’, or ‘crying woman’.

Origins of the Banshee

The origin of the Banshee is really quite ordinary compared to the tales that surround her. In medieval times, during funerals a woman would take on the role of ‘keener’. Keeners sang sad songs, called ‘caoineadh’ – the Irish word for ‘crying’ – at the graveside. There was good business to be made as a keener, as families would pay very well for a talented one. The best known ones always attended the funerals of the biggest and most well known people and were much sought after, as the more people mourning at a funeral, the greater the person was said to be. For the most powerful families it was a common belief that a ‘bean sidhe’, or ‘fairy woman’ would come to keen at the grave fairies presumably being more talented singers than any human. The Irish phrase became anglicised to ‘Banshee’ and over time the stories developed and morphed into what we know today. The fact that the keeners were paid in alcohol and often ended up as elderly alcoholic women that were banished from towns and villages also adds to the myth. The first known written record of a Banshee story is Sean MacCraith’s ‘Cathreim Thoirdhealbhaigh’, or ‘Triumphs of Turlough’.

Originally the Banshee appeared to people who were about to suffer a violent and painful death, such as murder. In later stories, she wailed outside their door at night (usually around wooded areas close by) but was rarely seen. Cynics and realists who claim the story to be nothing more than an old wives’ tale say that the wails are actually just barn owls or vixens calling in the night. If you’ve ever heard either animal, they do sound remarkably similar to a woman screeching! The Banshee was usually described as ugly elderly women dressed in white or grey with long silver hair, and occasionally took the form of a crow, stoat, hare or weasel – typical animals associated with witchcraft in Ireland.

Appearance and Behaviour

The Banshee comes in three possible guises depending on who you talk to or where the stories come from. More often that not she is a crouching hag with a horrible wrinkly face, although in other stories she is a beautiful, ethereal young woman or a stately matron type. In yet more stories she is referred to as the ghost of a murdered woman or a woman who died in childbirth. The three typical guises of the Banshee may respresent the three aspects of the Celtic goddess of war and death Badhbh, Macha and Mor-Rioghain.

In almost all cases, the Banshee has long silver hair that she is sometimes seen brushing with a comb. For this reason, some people would never pick up a comb lying on the ground for fear of being taken away by fairies. She wears a grey hooded cloak or the white sheet or grave robe of the dead, and her eyes are red from crying. Many believe that she can in fact take on any of the above forms and change from one to the other as she pleases.

Her cry seems to be the subject of much debate in Leinster, it is said to be so shrill that it shatters glass. Further north in Tyrone she sounds more like two boards being struck together, while in Kerry her call is ‘low, pleasant singing’. Whatever she sounds like, everyone agrees that she can be heard from a great distance. Some report hearing her cry for several nights in a row before a death occurred, while others say they heard her just once, on the night of the death. Her cry rises and falls and lasts for at least a few minutes, varying in intensity.

There have been alleged incidents when the Banshee cried for a person who was in perfect health, but was found dead within a week from some freak accident. The majority of her visits are paid at night, with a small few taking place at noon. The Banshee was usually thought to have once been a normal woman who enjoyed life, was incredibly beautiful and radiated happiness, but some great sorrow overcame her at some point in her life and she became a haggard old woman. She was seemingly very weary of mortals and would disappear at the first sign of any human activity. In fact, she didn’t seem to enjoy the company of anyone, mortal or not, and travelled as a solitary fairy.

When the Banshee moved from place to place, witnesses have heard a fluttering sound similar to birds flying. When she disappeared, all that would be left behind was a cloud of mist. There are several purported ‘Banshee Chairs’ around Ireland wedge shaped rocks where she would sit and cry for general misfortunes, if there was no death to be attended to that is! When a family emigrated, legend has it the Banshee would follow, or if she didn’t, she would stay at the family’s seat and lament their leaving there.

Other Manifestations

The Banshee was relatively harmless. Apart from the dread people felt at hearing her cry, the only other fearsome activities she seemed to get up to were knocking on doors or windows. However, there is a legend that her sister spirit, the Lianhan Sidhe or ‘sweetheart fairy’, was somewhat more malicious. She sought the love of mortal men, and their desire for her was so intense that they were driven to madness and ultimately destroyed.

There was also a similar manifestation of the Banshee known as the Bean Nighe, or ‘washing woman’, although this is more attributed to Scottish folklore than Irish. Instead of wailing and crying at night to warn someone of a death, she would instead wash the bloody clothes of the person about to meet their doom in a local water source. Her appearance was generally thought to be the same, although she was sometimes washing her own bloody clothes instead of someone else’s.

Associated Families

Many books on Irish fairy stories say that Banshees were particularly associated with families who’s names had Ó or Mac at the start. However, this doesn’t tell us much since practically every family name in Ireland at that time was an Ó or a Mac! On the other hand, some legends claim that she could only cry for five major families the O’Neills, O’Briens, O’Connors, O’Gradys and Kavanaghs.

The great O’Briain family were said to be frequented by a Banshee with the name of ‘Eeevul’ (sounds a bit too much like ‘evil, doesn’t it?), who ruled 25 other banshees that followed her wherever she went. This gave rise to the belief that if several banshees were heard at once, it meant the imminent death of someone very powerful.

The O’Donnell family’s Banshee apparently lived on a rock overlooking the sea at Dunluce Castle. She cried not specifically for one death, but for all the misfortunes the family had ever had and ever will have. The O’Neill’s Banshee would cry out from the Coile Ultagh (Ulster Wood) and could be heard from the other side of Lough Neagh, where their castle stood. Her name was Maeveen and she even had a special room set aside for her in the castle.

There are two contradictory reasons why the Banshee followed these great families some believe that she did so purely to bring misery on them with her incessant wailing, while others believe she was a friend of the family who was utterly distraught at their having lost someone they loved.

Famous Stories

As well as warning families of an upcoming death, the Banshee also liked to cry at the crowning of a true king. One reported case of this happening was at the crowning of legendary Brian Boru who overthrew the O’Neills and began the O’Brien dynasty. Possibly the only example of a human Banshee appearance was in 1437, when a woman purporting to be a ‘seer’ approached King James I of Scotland and correctly predicted his murder at the instigation of the Earl of Atholl.

In 1801 the Banshee paid a visit to the Commander in Chief of the British forces in Ireland. He had attended a party at Dublin Castle and invited a few guests back to his home in Mount Kennedy, Co. Wicklow, afterwards. These guests, Sir Jonah Barrington and his wife, woke up at 2.30am to what he described as ‘plaintive sounds’ coming from outside his window. His wife and a maid were also awoken by it, and the sound later turned into the name ‘Rossmore’ being screeched three times. The next morning, they were told that a servant, having heard odd sounds from Rossmore’s room at 2.30am, entered to find him dying. Spooky!

Have a listen to this barn owl screeching, and tell us if you believe the Banshee myth or not.

Clare County Library has also posted some first hand accounts of supposed Banshee incidents, which you can find here.

QUICK SHIFTS: Future C8s, Banshee History, Four-Rotor C8 Project, Harley Earl WWII Manuals, Dream Cruise is On, and More!

Welcome to Quick Shifts! Quick Shifts is a content feature here at CorvetteBlogger featuring links to Corvette and automotive-related stories of interest. This weekend’s reading and viewing material includes a look ahead at the C8 Z06, the Pontiac Banshee, a Rotary-Powered C8, Harley Earl’s WWII pilot training manual, the Dream Cruise, Toyota killing its V8s, and a 100-year-old comparison test.

This month’s Car and Driver was there annual “cars with waiting for” issue. The cover car was their idea of what the C8 Z06 will look like from the front. Inside they detailed what to expect from the hotly anticipated mid-engine Corvette variant complete with the best render that we’ve seen so far. Now all of that great info has been posted to their site. What really stood out is how non-speculative all of their wordage is like they are certain that the Z will have the C8.R-derived atmospheric, DOHC, flat-plane-crank engine that we have been dreaming of. Even more impressive is that they wrote it all long before this week’s big leak.

This week we also detailed the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that is just waiting to be seized. The lone example of Pontiac’s Banshee I is up for grabs at a Kia Dealership right now! Our buddies over at Hagerty actually got to drive the C3 precursor. Read about their drive along with an outstanding history of John DeLorean’s quest to greenlight a beautiful Pontiac sports car right here.

Next up, we have a great piece from Motor1 where they detail a madman’s four-rotor C8 project. The madman in question is Wankel Engine expert, Rob Dahm who can be seen in this older clip explaining how “The Spinning Dorito” works as a prequel for those who are unfamiliar with how the rotary engine works. If all of this sounds vaguely familiar to your Corvette-Aficionado brain, Motor1 does a good job refreshing that memory with a quick history lesson on XP-882, the Aerovette, which, once again, heavily features Mr. Delorean as a key player. Check out the story by following this link or watch the video here:

Back to Hagerty and a legendary GM executive with our fourth gear story about Harley Earl’s work on a WWII pilot training manual. It is an outstanding story with really cool illustrations from the manual that hits a little closer to home during our current, strange, slightly reminiscent of war time, pandemic. We give this one a “must-read” rating!

The Detroit Free Press brings some good news to fifth gear this week! They are reporting that, unlike every other event that we can think of, the Woodward Dream Cruise is going to continue as scheduled! We will see if the organizers’ stance holds up in the coming months but as of now, the cruise is a go for August 15th. If they do proceed and things aren’t significantly better by then, it will be an interesting case study, to say the least. As the only show in town, it could either bring record crowds, or maybe folks will still be safe at home and the whole thing will look like it was actually canceled. Read the full story on

Last week’s sixth gear detailed Ford’s decision to put their best engine out to pasture for the 2021 model year. This week, The Drive is reporting another group of V8 casualties. This time it is Toyota that will be phasing out all of their examples, including the excellent, naturally aspirated 5.0 found in the Lexus RC-F, LC500, and GS-F. Even if none of these cars really float your boat, it is a bit of a downer every time a manufacturer decides to downsize and turbocharge (or “Ecoboost” if you will) as a replacement for the greatest engine layout in the history of internal combustion. Read about it here and if you want a V8 Land Cruiser, you’ve only got three years left to snag a new one!

We are going to take you further back in time than we ever have for Reverse this week with the help of our friends at Automobile. They did a fascinating comparison test of 100-year-old cars this week. The contenders in this gas v. electric showdown are Ford’s iconic Model T and a Detroit Electric Model 90 Coupe. This is one of the most unique head to heads that we’ve seen on a car site for a long time and we hope you enjoy it!

There are many tales of ghosts that roam the dark brooding fortress of Dunluce Castle (Irish Gaelic – Dún Libhse). This famous Celtic Dunluce Castle stands on a rocky crag on the northeast coast of the island of Ireland in County Antrim. Parts of the castle, which was the headquarters of the Clan MacDonnell, date back to the fourteenth century.

First built by the Irish noble Richard Óg de Burgh in the thirteenth century, the earliest documented records from 1513 show that at that time it belonged to the MacQuillan family before being taken by the MacDonnell’s. However, the outcrop on which it stands has a history of human involvement that goes back many centuries to ancient times. The site of Dunluce Castle has been seen as significant both spiritually and strategically and has often been fought over.

Many people have met their deaths on this rock that stands high above the sea with sheer dropson all sides. Now the ruined castle on its summit can only be reached by a narrow bridge from the mainland. Within its cold grey stone walls there have been reports of ghostly sightings and apparitions for hundreds of years.

One such story is that of Maeve Roe, thought to be the only daughter of Lord MacQuillan. Defying his wishes to become betrothed to Richard Oge, MacQuillan had her held in the north eastern turret of the castle. Maeve had given her heart to another, Reginald O’Cahan and every day and night she looked out of her prison in the hope that he would come for her.

It was a dark and stormy night when Reginald O’Cahan did eventually come to the castle to rescue his love. With the wind whistling through the battlements of Dunluce Castle and beating against the thick stone walls the couple secretly fled the fortress. Into the cold night air they descended to a large cave that opened in the rocks below Dunluce.

Their spirits high the two lovers set out in a small boat to cross the turbulent seas towards the seaside settlement of Portrush (Irish-Port Rois). Fighting against the white topped waves the small boat was tossed mercilessly by the cruel sea. Pushed in all directions, this way and then that, the little vessel eventually succumbed and wasthrown against the rocks. Maeve Roe and Reginald O’Cahan clung together as they sank down into the cold salty depths.

It is said that the body of Maeve was never recovered from her watery grave. Although her earthly remains have gone forever, the story of the love of Maeve Roe can never be forgotten. For her spirit haunts the dark wind swept ruins of Dunluce Castle. On dark stormy nights visitors to the castle come back with strange stories of disturbing heart rending wails and screams coming from the Northeast Tower also known as MacQuillan’s Tower.

Those that know the history of Dunluce Castle will be able to tell them exactly the source of these frighteningly sad cries. Lamenting her lost life and love, it is the ‘Banshee of Dunluce Castle’ Maeve’s sad and troubled soul forever looking out across the sea from her prison tower in a haunted Celtic Dunluce Castle, searching for a rescue that will never come.


In Irish folklore, a "bean sidhe" (literally "woman of fairyland") was not a welcome guest. When she was seen combing her hair or heard wailing beneath a window, it was considered a sign that a family member was about to die. English speakers modified the mournful fairy's Irish name into the modern word banshee - a term we now most often use to evoke her woeful or terrible or earsplitting cry, as in "to scream like a banshee," or attributively, "a banshee wail."

Historical Snapshot

The McDonnell F2H Banshee fighter, immortalized by James Michener in his novel, The Bridges of Toko-Ri, was similar in design and appearance to the FH-1 Phantom, but it had twice the power and carried bombs as well as rockets and cannons. McDonnell Aircraft Corp. built 895 Banshees, and they established the company as a new star in the U.S. aircraft manufacturing industry.

The Banshee was a multimission aircraft used as a day fighter, as a night fighter and for photoreconnaissance a variant was specially strengthened to carry nuclear weapons. It went into combat in 1951 and served as one of the principal fighters with the Navy's Seventh Fleet for the duration of the Korean War.

The F2H-2 Banshee included 200-gallon (757-liter) fuel tanks for the wingtips. By installing the engines in the expanded wing roots next to the fuselage, engineers reduced aerodynamic drag. In 1949, an F2H-2 set a jet altitude record of 52,000 feet (15,000 meters).

Watch the video: Yamaha Banshee 350 ATV Model History ALL YEARS 1987 to 2012 (August 2022).