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Friday, March 3, 2017

Irish Folklore: The Banshee's Cry

Lady Gregory was a famous collector of Irish lore. She worked with Yeats here and there. Yesterday, I included a legend Yeats collected, so let's look at one from Lady Gregory. I found this one in Henry Glassie's collection Irish Folktales, in a section titled "Mystery." The banshee is a commonly known Irish portent of death. Mrs. O'Brien, from Galway, told this to Lady Gregory about 1920, which she reported in Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland.

The Banshee Cries for the O'Briens

The Banshee always cries for the O'Briens. And Anthony O'Brien was a fine man when I married him, and handsome, and I could have had great marriages if I didn't choose him, and many wondered at me.

And when he was took ill and in the bed, Johnny Rafferty came in one day, and says he, "Is Anthony living?" and I said he was. "For," says he, "as I was passing, I heard crying, crying, from the hill where the forths are, and I thought it must be for Anthony, and that he was gone." And then Ellen, the little girl, came running in, and she says, "I heard the mournfullest crying that ever you heard just behind the house."

And I said, "It must be the Banshee."

And Anthony heard me say that where he was lying in the bed, and he called out, "If it's the Banshee it's for me, and I must die today or tomorrow." And in the middle of the next day, he died.

The legend, as a genre, lends itself to this sort of story. Folklorists call it a memorate, a term coined by C.W. von Sydow to mean a story relating a person's own experience or encounter with the supernatural. So while the teller of this tale didn't actually see the Banshee, it's still her experience of the encounter.

Oh, it's worth noting that a forth in this story is a ring of trees on a mound of earth. These things are all over Ireland, and are thought to be the dwelling place of fairies. They're also called raths.

We'll return to Glassie's works on Irish folklore another day.

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