went on his way, and Cathbad
that had followed him went with him. And presently they came to a ford, and
there they saw a young girl thin and white-skinned and having yellow hair,
washing and ever washing, and wringing out clothing that was stained crimson
red, and she crying and keening all the time. 'Little Hound,' said Cathbad,
'Do you see what it is that young girl is doing? It is your red clothes she is
washing, and crying as she washes, because she knows you are going to your
death against Maeve's
-"Cuchulain of Muirthemne."
From Cuchulain's day, or it may be from a yet earlier
time, that keening woman of the Sidhe
has been heard giving her lamentable warning for those who are about to die.
Rachel had not yet been heard mourning for her children when the white-skinned
girl whose keening has never ceased in Ireland washed red clothes at the ford.
It was she or one of her race who told King Brian he was
going to meet his death at Clontarf; though after the defeat of the old gods
that warning had often been sent by a more radiant messenger, as when
Columcille at the dawn of the feast of Pentecost "lifted his eyes and saw
a great brightness and an angel of God waiting there above him."
And Patrick himself had his warning through his angel,
Victor, who met him on the road at midday and bade him go back to the barn
where he had lodged the night before, for it was there he had to die.
Such a messenger may have been at hand at the death of
that Irish born mystic, William Blake, when he "burst out into singing of
the things he saw in Heaven, and made the rafters ring."
And a few years ago the woman of a thatched house at the
foot of Echtge told me "There were great wonders done in the old times;
and when my father that worked in the garden there above was dying, there came
of a sudden three flashes of light into the room, the brightest light that
ever was seen in the world; and there was an old man in the room, one Ruane,
and I leaned back on him for I had like to faint.
And people coming the road saw the light, and up at
Mick Inerney's house they all called out that our house was in flames.
And when they came and heard of the three flashes of light coming into the
room and about the bed they all said it was the angels that were his friends
that had come to meet him.
" When Raftery died, the blind poet who wandered
through our townlands a hundred years ago, some say there were flames about
the house all through the night, "and those were the angels waking
Yet his warning had not been sent through these white
messengers but through a vision that had come to him once in Galway, when
Death himself had appeared "thin, miserable, sad and sorrowful; the
shadow of night upon his face, the tracks of the tears down his cheeks"
and had told him he had but seven years to live.
And though Raftery spoke back to him in scornful verse,
there are some who say he spent those last seven years in praying and in
making his songs of religion. To some it is a shadow that brings the warning,
or a noise of knocking or a dream.
At the hour of a violent death nature itself will show
sympathy; I have been told on a gloomy day that it had darkened because there
was a man being hanged; and a woman who had travelled told me that once at
Bundoran she had "seen the waves roaring and turning" and she knew
later it was because at that very time two young girls had been drowned.
I was told by Steve Simon:
I will tell you what I saw the night my wife died. I
attended the neighbours up to the road, for they had come to see her, but she
said there was no fear of her, and she would not let them stop because she
knew that they were up at a wake the night before.
So when I left them I was going back to the house, and I
saw the shadow of my wife on the road before me, and it was as white as
drifted snow. And when I came into the house, there she was dying.
My cousin Mary that lives in the village beyond told me that
she was coming home yesterday week along the road, and she is a girl would not
be afraid to walk the whole world with herself. And it was late, and suddenly
there was a man walking beside her, inside the field, on the other side of the
And at first she was frightened, but then she felt sure
it was her cousin John that was dying, and then she wasn't afraid, for she
knew her cousin would do her no harm. And after a while he was gone, and when
she got near home and saw the lights she was frightened, and when she got into
the house she was in a sort of a faint. And next day, this day week, her
cousin was dead.
I heard the Banshee crying not
long ago, and within three days a boy of the Murphy's was killed by his own
horse and he bringing his cart to Kinvara. And I heard it again a few nights
ago, but I heard of no death since then. What is the Banshee? It is of the
nature of the Hyneses. Six families it cries for, the Hyneses and the
Fahys and I forget what are the others.
I heard her beside the river at Ballylee one time. I
would stand barefooted in the snow listening to the tune she had, so nice and
so calm and so mournful.
I would yield to dreams because of some things were
dreamed to me in my lifetime and that turned out true. I dreamed one time that
I saw my daughter that was in America dead, and stretched and a table laid out
with the corpse. She came home after, and at the end of five months she wasted
and died. And there I saw her stretched as in the dream, and it was on my own
One time I was walking the road and I heard a great
crying and keening beside me, a woman that was keening, and she conveyed me
three miles of the road. And when I got to the door of the house I looked down
and saw a little woman, very broad and broad faced-about the bigness of the
seat of that table-and a cloak about her. I called out to her that was my
first wife - the Lord be with her - and she lighted a candle and I came in
weak and lay upon the floor, and I was till 12 o'clock that night lying in the
A man I was talking to said it was the Banshee, and it
cries for three families, the Fahys and the O'Briens and another I forget
which. My grandmother was a Fahy, and I suppose, father or mother, it follows
the generations. I heard it another time and my daughter from America coming
into the house that night. It was the most mournful thing ever you heard,
keening about the house for the same term as before, till 12 o'clock of
night. And within five months my daughter from America was dead.
There was a man near us that was ploughing a field, and he
found an iron box, and they say there was in it a very old Irish book with all
the knowledge of the world in it. Anyway, there's no question you could
ask him he couldn't answer. And what he says of the Banshee is, that
it's like Rachel mourning still for every innocent of the earth that is going
to die, like as she did for our Lord when the king had like to kill Him.
But it's only for them that's sprung from her own tribe that she'll raise her
As for the Banshee, where she stops is in the old castle of
Esserkelly on the Roxborough estate. Many a one has seen her there and heard
her wailing, wailing, and she with a red petticoat put about her head. There
was a family of the name of Fox in Moneen, and never one of that family died
but she'd be heard keening them.
The Spinning Woman:
The Banshee is all I ever saw myself. It was when I was a
slip of a girl picking potatoes along with the other girls, we heard crying,
crying, in the graveyard beyond at Ryanrush, so we ran like foals to see who
was being buried, and I was the first, and leaped up on the wall. And there
she was and gave me a slap on the jaw, and she just like a countrywoman with a
red petticoat. Often they hear her crying if any one is going to die in the
A Seaside Woman:
One time there was a man in the village was dying and I
stood at the door in the evening, and I heard a crying - the grandest cry ever
you heard - and I said "Glynn's after dying and they're crying him."
And they all came to the door and heard it. But my mother went out after that
and found him gasping still.
Sure enough it was the Banshee we heard that evening.
And out there where the turf-boat is lying with its sail
down, outside Aughanish, there the Banshee does always be crying, crying, for
some that went down there some time.
At Fiddoon that strip of land between Tyrone and Duras
something appears and cries for a month before any one dies. A great many are
taken away sudden there; and they say that it's because of that thing.
The Banshee cries every time one of the Sionnacs dies.
And when the old Captain died, the crows all left the place within two days,
and never came back for a year.
A Connemara Woman:
There was a boy from Kylemore I met in America used to be
able to tell fortunes. He used to be telling them when the work would be done,
and we would be having afternoon tea. He told me one time I would soon be at a
burying, and it would be a baby's burying, and I laughed at that, but sure
enough, my sister's baby, that was not born at the time, died about a month
after, and I went to its burying.
Crying for those that are going to die you'd hear of often
enough. And when my own wife was dying, the night she went I was sitting by
the fire, and I heard a noise like the blow of a flail on the door outside.
And I went to see what it was, but there was nothing there. But I was not in
any way frightened and wouldn't be if she came back in a vision, but glad to
see her I would be.
There was a man that was Out in the field and a flock of
stares (starlings) came about his head, and it wasn't long after that he died.
There's many say they saw the Banshee, and that if she
heard you singing loud she'd be very apt to bring you away with her.
A Connemara Woman:
One night the clock in my room struck six and it had not
struck for years, and two nights after - on Christmas night - it struck six
again, and afterwards I heard that my sister in America had died just at that
hour. So now I have taken the weights off the clock, that I wouldn't hear it
It was always said that when a Lord died, a fox was seen
about the house. When the last Lord - lay dying, his daughter heard a noise
outside the house one night, and opened the hall-door, and then she saw a
great number of foxes laying on the steps and barking and running about.
And the next morning there was a meet at some distant
covert - it had been changed there from hard by where it was to have taken
place on account of his illness - and there was not a single fox to be found
there or in any other covert. And that day he died.
There was one Costello used to be ringing the bell and pumping
water and such things at Roxborough, and one day he was at the fair of
Loughrea. And as he started home he sent word to my grandfather "Come to
the corner of the old castle and you'll find me dead." So he set out, and
when he got to the corner of the castle, there was Costello lying dead before
And once going to a neighbour's house to see a little
girl, I saw her running along the path before me. But when I got to the house
she was in bed sick, and died two days after.
Well, the time my own wife died I had sent her into Cloon to
get some things from the market, and I was alone in the house with the dog.
And what do you think but he started up and went out to the hill outside the
house, and there he stood a while howling, and it was the very next day my
Another time I had shut the house door at night and
fastened it, and in the morning it was standing wide open. And as I knew by
the dates afterwards that was the very night my brother died in India.
Sure I told Stephen Green that, when he buried his mother
in England, and his father lying in Kilmacdaugh. "You should never
separate," says I, "in death a couple that were together in life,
for sure as fate, the one'll come to look for the other."
And when there's one of them passing in the air you might
get a blast of holy wind you wouldn't be the better of for a long time.
I was in Galway yesterday, and I was told there that the
night before those four poor boys were drowned, there were four women heard
crying out on the rocks. Those that saw them say that they were young, and
they were out of this world. And one of those boys was out at sea all day, the
day before he was drowned. And when he came in to Galway in the evening, some
boy said to him "I saw you today standing up on the high bridge."
And he was afraid and he told his mother and said
"Why did they see me on the high bridge and I out at
sea?" And the next day he drowned. And some say there was not much at all
to drown them that day.
A Man near Athenry:
There is often crying heard before a death, and in that
field beside us the sound of washing clothes with a beetle is some-times heard
before a death.
I heard crying in that field near the forth one night,
and not long after the man it belonged to died.
An Aran Man:
I remember one morning, St. Bridget's Eve, my son-in-law
came into the house, where he had been up that little road you see above. And
the wife asked him did he see any one, and he said "I saw Shamus Meagher
driving cattle." And the wife said, "You couldn't see him, for he's
out laying spillets since daybreak with two other men." And he said,
"But I did see him, and I could have spoke with him."
And the next day - St. Bridget's Day - there was
confessions in the little chapel below and I was in it, and Shamus Meagher,
and it was he that was kneeling next to me at the Communion. But the next
morning he and two other men that had set the spillets went on in their canoe
to Kilronan for salt, for they had come short of salt and had a good deal of
fish taken. And that day the canoe was upset, and the three of them were
My father and my mother were in the bed one night and they heard a
great lowing and a noise of the cattle fighting one another, that they thought
they were all killed, and they went out and they were quiet then. But they
went onto the next house where they heard a lowing, and all the cattle of that
house were fighting one another, and so it was at the next. And in the morning
a child, one Gannon, was dead-or taken he was.
An Old Man in Aran:
When I was in the State of Maine, I knew a woman from the
County Cork, and she had a little girl sick. And one day she went out behind
the house and there she saw the fields full of those - full of them. And
the little girl died.
And when I was in the same State, I was in the house
where there was a child sick. And one night I heard a noise outside, as if of
hammering. And I went out and I thought it came from another house that was
close by that no one lived in, and I went and tried the door but it was shut
And I went back and said to the woman, "This is the
last night you'll have to watch the child." And at 12 o'clock the next
evening it died.
They took my hat from me one time. One morning just at
sunrise I was going down to the sea, and a little storm came, and took my hat
off and brought it a good way, and then it brought it back and returned it to
An Old Midwife:
I do be dreaming, dreaming. I dreamt one night I was with my
daughter and that she was dead and put in the coffin. And I heard after, the
time I dreamt about her was the very time she died.
A Woman near Loughrea:
There are houses in Cloon, and Geary's is one of them, where
if the people sit up too late the warning comes; it comes as a knocking at the
door. Eleven o'clock, that is the hour. It is likely it is some that lived in
the house are wanting it for themselves at the time. And there is a house near
the Darcys' where as soon as the potatoes are strained from the pot, they must
put a plateful ready and leave it for the night, and milk and the fire on the
hearth, and there is not a bit left at morning. Some poor souls that come in,
looking for warmth and for food.
There is a woman seen often before a death sitting by the
river and racking her hair, and she has a beetle with her and she takes it and
beetles clothes in the river. And she cries like any good crier; you would be
sorry to be listening to her.
I heard the Banshee and saw her. I and six others were card
playing in the kitchen at the big house, that is sunk into the ground, and I
saw her up outside of the window. She had a white dress and it was as if held
over her face.
They all looked up and saw it, and they were all
afraid and went back but my-self. Then I heard a cry that did not seem to come
from her but from a good way off, and then it seemed to come from herself. She
made no attempt to twist a mournful cry but all she said was, "Oh-oh,
Oh-oh," but it was as mournful as the oldest of the old women could make
it, that was best at crying the dead.
Old Mr. Sionnac was at Lisdoonvarna at that time, and he
came home a few days after and took to the bed and died. It is always the
Banshee has followed the Sionnacs and cried them.
There was a boy of the Naughtons died not far from this, a
fine young man. And I set out to go to the burying, and Mrs. Burke along with
me. But when we came to the gate we could hear crying for the dead, and I said
"It's as good for us wait where we are, for they have brought the corpse
out and are crying him."
So we waited a while and no one came, and so we went on
to the house, and we had two hours to wait before they brought out the corpse
for the burying, and there had been no crying at all till he was brought out.
We knew then who it was crying, for if the boy was a Naughton, it is in a
house of the Kearns he died, and the Banshee always cries for the Kearns.
There's a boy I'm attending now, and the first time I went
to him, the mother came out of the house with me and said "It's no use to
do anything for him, I'm going to lose him." And I asked her why did she
say that, and she said "Because the first night he took ill I heard the
sound of a chair drawing over to the fire in the kitchen, and it empty, and it
was the faeries were coming for him."
The boy wouldn't have had much wrong with him, but his
brother had died of phthisis, and when he got a cold he made sure he would die
too, and he took to the bed. And every day his mother would go in and cry for
an hour over him, and then he'd cry and then the father would cry, and he'd
say "Oh, how can I leave my father and my mother!
Who will there be to mind them when I'm gone?"
One time he was getting a little better they sent him over on a message to
Scahanagh, and there's a man there called Shanny that makes coffins for the
people. And the boy saw Shanny looking at him, and he left his message undone
and ran home and cried out "Oh, I'm done for now! Shanny was looking at
me to see what size coffin I'd take!" And he cried and they all cried and
all the village came in to see what was the matter.
The Old Army man:
As to the invisible world, I hear enough about it, but I
have seen but little myself. One night when I was at Calcutta I heard that one
Connor was dead - a man that I had been friendly with - so I went to the
There was a good many of us there, and when it came to
just before midnight, I heard a great silence fall, and I looked from one to
another to see the silence. And then there came a knock at the window,
just as the clock was striking twelve. And Connor's wife said, "It
was just at this hour last night there came a knock like that and immediately
afterwards he died."
And the strange thing is, it was a barrack-room and on
the second story, so that no one could reach it from the street.
In India, before Delhi, there was an officer's servant
lodged in the same house as me, and was thrown out of his cot every
night. And as sure as midnight came, the dogs couldn't stop outside but
would come shrinking and howling into the house.
Yes indeed, I believe the faeries are in all countries,
all over the world; but the banshee is only in Ireland, though sometimes in
India I would think of her when I'd hear the hyenas laughing. Keening,
keening, you can hear her, but only for the old Irish families, but she'll
follow them even as far as Dublin.
Source: Lady Augusta Gregory
- Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland, first published 1920.
republished by Colin Smythe Ltd., 1992.