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Bunworth Banshee, "Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland", by Thomas Crofton Croker, 1825

A banshee or bean-sídhe (/ˈbænʃ/ BAN-shee; Modern Irish bean sí, baintsí, from Old Irish: ben síde, baintsíde, pronounced [bʲen ˈʃiːðʲe, banˈtiːðe], "woman of the fairy mound" or "fairy woman") is a female spirit in Irish mythology who heralds the death of a family member, 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.[1]



There are many varying descriptions of the banshee. Sometimes she has long streaming hair and wears a grey cloak over a green dress, and her eyes are red from continual weeping.[2] She may be dressed in white with red hair and a ghastly complexion, according to a firsthand account by Ann, Lady Fanshawe in her Memoirs.[3] Lady Wilde in Ancient Legends of Ireland provides another:

Sometimes the banshee assumes the form of some sweet singing virgin of the family who died young, and has been given the mission by the invisible powers to become the harbinger of coming doom to her mortal kindred. Or she may be seen at night as a shrouded woman, crouched beneath the trees, lamenting with veiled face, or flying past in the moonlight, crying bitterly. And the cry of this spirit is mournful beyond all other sounds on earth, and betokens certain death to some member of the family whenever it is heard in the silence of the night.[4]

The size of the banshee is another physical feature that differs between regional accounts. Though some accounts of her standing unnaturally tall are recorded, the majority of tales that describe her height state the banshee's stature as short, anywhere between one foot and four feet. Her exceptional shortness often goes alongside the description of her as an old woman, though it may also be intended to emphasize her state as a fairy creature.[5]


In Ireland and parts of Scotland a traditional part of mourning is the keening woman (bean chaointe), who wails a lament - in Irish: Caoineadh, Irish pronunciation: ['kɰiːnʲi] (Munster dialect), [ˈkɰiːnʲə] (Connaught dialect) or [ˈkiːnʲuː] (Ulster dialect), caoin meaning "to weep, to wail". This keening woman may in some cases be a professional, and the best keeners would be in high demand.

Irish legend speaks of a lament being sung by a fairy woman, or banshee. She would sing it when a family member died or was about to die, even if the person had died far away and news of their death had not yet come. In those cases, her wailing would be the first warning the household had of the death.[6][7]

The banshee also is a predictor of death. If someone is about to enter a situation where it is unlikely they will come out of alive she will warn people by screaming or wailing, giving rise to a banshee also being known as a wailing woman.

It is often stated that the banshee laments only the descendants of the pure Milesian stock of Ireland,[8] sometimes clarified as surnames prefixed with O' and Mac,[9] and some accounts even state that each family has its own banshee. One account, however, also included the Geraldines, as they had apparently become "more Irish than the Irish themselves," countering the lore ascribing banshees exclusively to those of Milesian stock.[10]

When several banshees appear at once, it indicates the death of someone great or holy.[11] The tales sometimes recounted that the woman, though called a fairy, was a ghost, often of a specific murdered woman, or a mother who died in childbirth.[2]


Most, though not all, surnames associated with banshees have the Ó or Mc/Mac prefix - that is, surnames of Goidelic origin, indicating a family native to the Insular Celtic lands rather than those of the Norse, English, or Norman invaders. Accounts reach as far back as 1380 to the publication of the Cathreim Thoirdhealbhaigh (Triumphs of Torlough) by Sean mac Craith.[12] Mentions of banshees can also be found in Norman literature of that time.[12]

The Ua Briain banshee is thought to be named Aibell and the ruler of 25 other banshees who would always be at her attendance.[12] It is possible that this particular story is the source of the idea that the wailing of numerous banshees signifies the death of a great person.[12]

In some parts of Leinster, she is referred to as the bean chaointe (keening woman) whose wail can be so piercing that it shatters glass. In Scottish folklore, a similar creature is known as the bean nighe or ban nigheachain (little washerwoman) or nigheag na h-àth (little washer at the ford) and is seen washing the bloodstained clothes or armour of those who are about to die. In Welsh folklore, a similar creature is known as the hag of the mist.[13]

In popular cultureEdit

  • Banshee is the name of the world's longest inverted roller coaster located at King's Island amusement park located in Mason, Ohio.
  • The 1959 Disney movie Darby O'Gill and the Little People contains a scene where the title character encounters a pernicious banshee. (See note at end of this section, for information about banshee behaviour in American popular culture and how it differs from banshee behaviour in traditional Irish folklore.)
  • The Real Ghostbusters episode "Banshee Bake a Cherry Pie?" depicts a banshee masquerading as an Irish pop singer and aiming to use its voice to take over the world.
  • The Halo video game series incorporates an airborne vehicle called "Banshee" named for its engine's screaming noise.
  • The Silver Banshee is a character in Superman comics and other media.
  • A boggart takes the form of a banshee to scare Seamus Finnegan in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.[14]
  • "Banshee" was the code name of an Irish superhero and member of the X-Men with superhuman sonic abilities. The codename is carried on by his daughter, formerly known by her superheroic codename of Siryn, who possesses similar superhuman abilities.
  • The 2011 horror movie Scream of the Banshee is about an archaeology professor who unearths a dangerous artifact, unwittingly releasing a monstrous banshee that kills with the power of its bone-splitting scream.
  • The 1990s animated television series Gargoyles episode "The Hound of Ulster" is about Irish folklore and features a banshee as the main antagonist. The Irish-ethnicity characters for that particular episode, set in modern Ireland turn out to be characters from old Irish folklore, reborn in the present time. The episode's main character, Rory Dugan, who turns out to be Cú Chulainn, has a childhood friend Molly who turns out to be the Banshee. In a later episode, the Banshee is dragged back to Avalon by the Weird Sisters, where Oberon removes her voice as punishment for ignoring his summons.
  • The 1999 animated television series Roswell Conspiracies: Aliens, Myths and Legends premise was that aliens had been living among humans for ages, and were the origins of many of the creatures humans know from myth, folklore and legends, including a clan of banshees as the main antagonist.
  • The 2012 video game Mass Effect 3, "Banshees" are Asari, mainly Ardat-Yakshi, Husks with wails and sharp claws that are used as shock troops by the Reapers.
  • In the American television series Charmed, the banshee are a rare breed of demons with distinctive white hair and a high-pitched scream – audible only to dogs and their intended victim – that can burst glass and blood vessels, killing a mortal, or turn a witch predisposed to emotional pain into a banshee. A banshee appears in the episode "Look Who's Barking" in season 3 of Charmed.
  • Banshees appear in the popular MMORPG RuneScape, as a monster attributed to the Slayer skill.
  • In Teen Wolf episode 3x09 "The Girl Who Knew Too Much", it is revealed that Lydia Martin is a banshee. She screams when anyone in the town is murdered, but normally by a supernatural cause. She uses her powers to sense leads on murders. Meredith, a resident of an insane asylum, is also a banshee and her powers seem to work best through using phones. Voices that aren't real talk to her and indirectly give clues on how to solve murders or find bodies.
  • In the Mortal Kombat franchise of games, character Sindel shares many similarities with banshee's, including her loud, wailing voice and long, flowing hair.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, the RX-0 Unicorn Gundam 02 Banshee is designed based on the Irish banshee, hence the name.
  • in the video game series Fable, a banshee is an enemy encountered occasionally in the swampy areas of the game and arenas.
  • In Warcraft 3, banshees are a producible unit of Undead faction. They have the ability to possess units and gain their control.
  • In the TV movie, Scooby-Doo! Abracadabra-Doo a Banshee is one of the main villains the gang along with Vilma's sister must face. It appears in a scene where they must travel to an island and gain a staff of a magical person but are stopped by the banshee which turns out to be a beautiful female creature but turns into a skull-like beast which chases them to the boat and disappears. It appears again to Shaggy and Scooby but is relieved to be a projection.
    • A character named Barnstorming Banshee appears in a history of SD! (DC Comics) and other named Radio Banshee appears in "Screechy Keen" as the disguise of Angus McLeery.
    • A Banshee appears in Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! in the episode "Giant Problems".
  • A banshee is mentioned two times in episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants. it first was mentioned in the episode, "Grandpappy The Pirate", where Grandpa Redbeard mistook Pearl as a Banshee. In the episode, "Not Normal", SpongeBob disturbs Squidward from his mid-morning nap by running up and down and laughing around his house. When Squidward confronts him he replies, "By running around and screaming like a Banshee", and SpongeBob replies, "No Squidward a banshee screams like this...", and gives a death-defying scream before Squidward cuts him off.
  • In the Supernatural season 11 episode Into the Mystic, a Banshee is the main enemy. In 1985 the Banshee had targeted an Irish family, killing the father and deafening the baby daughter before the mother sacrificed herself to banish it and save her daughter. Thirty years later in the present, the baby, Eileen has grown up and is hunting the Banshee for revenge. With the help of protagonists Sam and Dean Winchester as well as retirement home resident Mildred Baker, Eileen is able to trap and kill the Banshee with a gold knife and avenge her parent's deaths.
  • A Banshee named Scarah Screams appears in Monster High voiced by Erin Fitzgerald and Paula Rhodes.

Note: "Banshee" (in Gaelic bean sidhe) originally meant "woman of the fairies". The banshees in old Irish folklore were often presented as grieving women who were keening (weeping/mourning) for the dead. This appears in the Darby O'Gill and the Little People DVD extra I Captured the King of the Leprechauns (originally a Walt Disney Presents or Wonderful World of Disney episode, telling viewers about the making of, and some of the folklore which inspired parts of, the movie Darby O'Gill and the Little People), in which the banshee is "keening for the young O'Brien" and is in no way a pernicious or threatening character, but merely seen as a dark or sad omen because she appears before people die. She does not cause deaths, she mourns for the dead (or, eerily, the soon-to-be-dead). The banshee in American popular culture (possibly starting with Darby O'Gill and the Little People, in which some characteristics of later American pop culture banshee behaviour can be seen) is typically a threatening and/or menacing figure who causes death and/or destruction (thereby taking on characteristics belonging traditionally more to the Morrigan than to the banshees).

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Dictionary of the Irish Language: síd, síth - "a fairy hill or mound" and ben
  2. ^ a b Briggs, Katharine (1976). An Encyclopedia of Fairies. Pantheon Books. pp. 14–16. ISBN 0394409183.
  3. ^ Fanshawe, Herbert Charles (1907). The Memoirs of Ann, Lady Fanshawe. London: John Lane. p. 58.
  4. ^ Wilde, Jane (1887). Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland (Vol. 1). Boston: Ticknor and Co. pp. 259–60.
  5. ^ Chaplin, Kathleen. "The Death Knock." New England Review, vol. 34, no. 1, 2013, p. 135+. Literature Resource Center
  6. ^ T., Koch, John (2006-01-01). Celtic culture : a historical encyclopedia. ABC CLIO. p. 189. ISBN 9781851094400. OCLC 644410117. [Its occurrence] is most strongly associated with the old family or ancestral home and land, even when a family member dies abroad. The cry, linked predominantly to impending death, is said to be experienced by family members, and especially by the local community, rather than the dying person. Death is considered inevitable once the cry is acknowledged.
  7. ^ Lysaght, Patricia; Bryant, Clifton D.; Peck, Dennis L. Encyclopedia of death and the human experience. SAGE. p. 97. ISBN 9781412951784. OCLC 755062222. Most manifestations of the banshee are said to occur in Ireland, usually near the home of the dying person... but some accounts refer to the announcement in Ireland of the deaths of Irish people overseas... It is those concerned with a death, at family and community levels, who usually hear the banshee, rather than the dying person.
  8. ^ Scott, Walter (1836-01-01). Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft. Harper & Brothers. p. 296.
  9. ^ Cashman, Ray (2016-08-30). Packy Jim: Folklore and Worldview on the Irish Border. University of Wisconsin Pres. p. 145. ISBN 9780299308902.
  10. ^ O'Sullivan, Friar (1899). "Ancient History of the Kingdom of Kerry" (PDF). Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society. 5 (44): 224–234 – via JCHAS.
  11. ^ Yeats, W. B. "Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry" in Booss, Claire; Yeats, W.B.; Gregory, Lady (1986) A Treasury of Irish Myth, Legend, and Folklore. New York: Gramercy Books. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-517-48904-8
  12. ^ a b c d Westropp, Thos. J. (June 1910). "A Folklore Survey of County Clare". Folklore. 21 (2): 180–199. JSTOR 1254686.
  13. ^ Owen, Elias (1887). Welsh folk-lore: A collection of the folk-tales and legends of North Wales. Felinfach: Llanerch. p. 142.
  14. ^ Rowling, J.K. (1999). Harry Potter and the prisoner of Azkaban ([Nachdr.]. ed.). London: Bloomsbury. p. 104. ISBN 0-7475-4629-0.

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