Myths & Legends Part Eight
Traditionally, when a citizen of an Irish village died, a woman would sing a lament (in Irish: caoineadh, [‘ki¢°n??] or [‘ki¢°n?u¢°]) at their funeral. These women singers are sometimes referred to as “keeners”. Legend has it that, for five great Gaelic families: the O’Gradys, the O’Neills, the O’Briens, the O’Connors, and the Kavanaghs, the lament would be sung by a fairy woman; having foresight, she would appear before the death and keen. When several banshees appeared at once, it indicated the death of someone great or holy. The tales sometimes recounted that the woman, though called a fairy, was a ghost, often of a specific murdered woman, or a woman who died in childbirth.
Banshees are frequently described as dressed in white or grey, and often having long, fair hair which they brush with a silver comb, a detail scholar Patricia Lysaght attributes to confusion with local mermaid myths. This comb detail is also related to the centuries-old traditional romantic Irish story that, if you ever see a comb lying on the ground in Ireland, you must never pick it up, or the banshees (or mermaids – stories vary), having placed it there to lure unsuspecting humans, will spirit such gullible humans away. Other stories portray banshees as dressed in green, red or black with a grey cloak.
Banshees are common in Irish and Scottish folk stories such as those recorded by Herminie T. Kavanagh. They enjoy the same mythical status in Ireland as fairies and leprechauns.
The banshee wails around a house if someone is about to die.