Banshees.

[Newspaper Research Contents]

   … Nothing is heard but the Geraldine’s Death Song – 

“Speak low! speak low! the Banshee is crying; 

Hark to the echo! – She is dying! dying! 

Hush! hush! have you heard what the Banshee said? 

Oh, list to the echo! she is dead! she is dead!” 

– Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser, Friday 10th September, 1858, p.3.

LUCK IN A SHADOW. 

BY M. E. STOCKTON. 

… 

   But there were other things belonging to the Overton family to which my mind turned quite as often as to its old maids. A real ‘family’ is nothing without its banshee, who appears in the house just before the death of a member, and wrings its hands or rattles its chains, or goes through some performance equally sensible and consoling. And such a banshee the Overton family has. There are many traditions of its appearance, but latterly, I think, it must have been attending to a part of ‘the family’ who reside in a distant planet; for many an Overton has died since I came into the world, and never a banshee has appeared – so that individual had little interest for me; but connected with it was, of course, a prophecy, and in that I did take the deepest interest. 

– Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser, Saturday 10th September, 1870, p.6. 

THE BANSHEE. 

   Lady Fanshawe, whose husband was ambassador at the Spanish Court in the reigns of the Charles’ First and Second, has left an account of an individual spirit of an Irish banshee, which was seen by herself. Being on a visit at the house of Lady Honora O’Brien, and having one night retired to rest, she was awakened about one o’clock by a noise outside one of the windows. She arose, withdrew the curtains and beheld, by the light of the moon, a female figure leaning in through the open casement. She was of a ghastly complexion, had long red hair, and was enveloped in a white gown. She uttered a couple of words in a loud strange tone, and then with a sigh, resembling the rushing of a wind, she disappeared. Her substance seemed of the consistence of dense air, and so awful was the effect produced on the lady that she fainted outright. Next day she related to the lady of the house what she had seen, and the news was received with no marks of surprise. “My cousin,” said she, “whose ancestors owned this house, died at two o’clock this morning, and, as is the case with the rest of the family, the banshee was heard wailing every night during his illness. The individual spirit who utters the caoine for this branch of the O’Briens is supposed to be the ghost of a woman who was seduced and murdered in the garden of this very house by an ancestor of the gentleman who died this morning. He flung her body into the river under the window; so the voice and appearance of this wailer cause more terror than those of other spirits, with whose grief there is no blending of revenge.” – The Fireside Stories of Ireland

– Fife Herald, Thursday 15th June, 1871, p.2. 

THE BANSHEE. 

“O, cold is the night, mother dearest, 

And sore is the pain at my breast; 

The darkness is gathering o’er me, 

And soon will this heart be at rest; 

For the voice of the Banshee is wailing – 

Is wailing for sorrow in me; 

And alas for the love I cherish’d, 

And the dear face I’ll never more see!” 

“O, grieve not this bosom, alanna! 

O, say not the Banshee is nigh; 

‘Tis an angel that calls thee, alanna – 

‘That calls my belov’d to the sky; 

Where the anthems of glory are swelling, 

By the waves on yon emerald shore; 

Where beauty and love are unfading, 

And the Banshee will wail nevermore!’ 

“O, soft chimes the bell, mother dearest, 

For the vespers I’ll never more hear! 

Fare-thee-well, O, my Desmond, mavourneen! 

To this sad, breaking heart ever dear, 

For the voice of the Banshee is wailing – 

Is wailing in sorrow for me; 

And alas for the love that I cherish’d 

And the dear face I’ll never more see.” 

A lover lies mourning in anguish, 

All the joy of his manhood hath fled; 

For the bells of Our Lady are tolling 

Sweet repose for the soul of the dead 

All his wild piercing cries unavailing, 

For she dwells on yon emerald shore, 

Where beauty and love are unfading, 

And the Banshee will wail nevermore. 

                                                                                       JAMES SMITH. 

– Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, Saturday 22nd June, 1872, p.2. 

THE DEATH KNOCK. 

————— 

   THE death of Mr Thomas Feast last Sunday afternoon at four o’clock has developed a singular circumstance in the history of his family, which illustrates dramatically the old Highland tradition of the “Benshie” or “Banshee.” Mr Feast was born on the Isle of Ely, Cambridgeshire, England, forty-seven years ago, and came to this country when he was young, and has been living in Evansville about twenty-three years. He was a very intelligent man, it appears, of good education, and devoted a portion of his time to the study of philosophy and religion of life. His wife who was an Englishwoman, it seems held to spiritualistic belief. Mrs Feast’s death, which occurred last summer, was preceded at midnight by a heavy sudden knock on the front door which aroused the entire family. Upon search being made nobody was at the door, and in accordance with the warning from the other world, Mrs Feast died next day. Three weeks afterwards her infant child died, and the same terrible warning was repeated at the same hour of the night. The death of his wife seemed to pray upon the heart of her husband, and he appears to have lost all desire or hope since then. Last Saturday afternoon he had a sudden spell of spasm, and came through it much weakened, but safely. Suddenly, in the middle of the night, there came a loud, hollow knock upon the street door, which aroused all of the family. His son George descended the stairs and opened the door, but nobody was without, and further examination revealed the fact that no one was passing in the streets. He went upstairs and told his father of this. A sudden change passed over the face of the doomed man, and he softly said – “Go to bed, George – it is the same knock,” and at 4 o’clock it was discovered that he had glided quietly from life to death. – Toronto Globe

– John o’ Groat Journal, Thursday 22nd February, 1877, p.3. 

   HIGHLAND SUPERSTITION. – There is a singular story connected with the death of Mr Mactavish, which, at that time, when superstition was rife in the Highlands, caused great excitement and awe. Mr Mactavish had been ill for some time with a pain in his tongue, which ultimately was discovered to arise from cancer, and he arranged to go to London to have an operation performed, accompanied by a nephew who was a barrister in the Metropolis, but had been on a visit to Inverness. A journey to London was in those days a very serious undertaking, and the banker went first to pay a farewell visit to his cousins at Migavie, in Stratherrick, accompanied by Mr Sandy Mactavish, the Town Clerk, who was one of the Migavie family. It was alleged that when any one connected with the Mactavishes at Migavie was about to die, strange moaning sounds ere always heard proceeding from trees in the vicinity of the house, but the greatest peculiarity in the occurrence was that, although the cries were heard by every one else most distinctly, the doomed person was never able to hear them at all. The country people declared that, although this banshee was never to be seen, the rattling of its bones might often be heard, forming an accompaniment to its cries. On the evening before the banker and his nephew left Migavie they were taking a walk in the neighbourhood, accompanied by the Town Clerk and various members of the family, when suddenly mournful and weird cries were heard, and some one exclaimed, “There is the banshee!” Everyone heard the sounds, except the banker and his nephew, but though they strained their ears they could hear nothing. Next day they left for London, and after arriving the banker wrote to the Town Clerk, asking in joke whether anything had come of the banshee’s cries. Mr Sandy Mactavish wrote to say that no one had died as yet, but this letter crossed on the way an intimation of the banker’s death, and soon afterwards news came that his nephew also had died.- “Inverness before Railways.” 

– Dundee Evening Telegraph, Friday 18th September, 1885, p.4. 

POPULAR SUPERSTITIONS. 

————— 

… 

   When I was a boy I heard a banshee. Our family was the sole owner of a banshee that was far from gregarious in its habits, and was of a very taciturn disposition. It sometimes kept its mouth shut for years, and during that time continued to accumulate a voice that it only used before a death. It always howled in a weird and woful way a few nights before the death of any member of the family. On the night that I heard the banshee my favourite brother was lying ill in the next room. The moment I heard the first fiendish moan of the thing I knew that my brother was doomed – that it was all up with him unless the banshee was some other family’s spook that had made a mistake in the number of the house. There was no mistake, however, for I soon recognised the hiccough in the voice that was said to be the characteristic of our banshee. You may not believe it, but it is a fact that, three days later, on Sunday morning, as I was on my way to Sunday school, my poor favourite brother overtook me, ripped my jacket down the back and nearly basted the life out of me because I wouldn’t lend him my catechism. He lived to thrash me many times afterwards. The fact that he didn’t die is no reflection on the banshee; but shows on my brother’s part a lack of consideration for a hard-working banshee that was trying to do its duty in faithfully bansheeing for the large family that owned it. 

– Fifeshire Advertiser, Friday 6th July, 1888, p.2. 

LADY AILEEN’S WARNING. 

————— 

A STRANGE STORY. 

… 

   Once, loud and clear, I heard the cry of the banshee, then it was lost in the noisy road of the ford, which I could hear, loud and threatening, long before I neared it. It was not in reality a great distance; but, in my burning impatience, it seemed like miles to me – the seconds like long hours. Then the moon shone out from behind a cloud, bright and clear, and, at some distance from me, on the other side, I saw my lady just near the bank of the ford. 

   I tried to call her, but my dry lips refused to utter a sound, for behind her on the bank, I saw a tall white figure wringing its hands, and crying aloud in accents of deepest sorrow. Sir George now appeared near me, and my lady on the other side evidently recognised him. She uttered a glad cry, and advanced on to the bridge. 

   “Aileen,” I heard him call, “Aileen, darling, don’t move. I am coming to you.” 

   The roar of the ford and the terrible cry must have drowned his voice, for without heeding she still advanced. We watched her on that frail bridge, breathless, fascinated; then the plank, slippery and damp, turned beneath her, there was a heavy plunge in the dark waters, and the bright young life was quenched in the darkness for ever. 

– Arbroath Herald and Advertiser for the Montrose Burghs, Thursday 4th September, 1890, p.3. 

   GREENOCK SCHOLARS AND THE GHOST. – At Greenock Police Court yesterday a young lad named Francis Small was charged with being riotous and disorderly in Broad Close on Thursday night. He pleaded not guilty. Constable McIlroy deposed that a crowd of many hundreds had congregated in Broad Close on Thursday night owing to a report that there was a “banshee,” “Bogie Man,” or “ghost” at Shaw Street Public School. Witness said that accused was one of the crowd, and was shouting and bawling. The crowd had congregated for several nights back. Mr Carmichael, headmaster of Shaw Street School, said that the school was situated in the lower part of the town, where the streets were very narrow, and that the building fronted both Broad Close and Highland Close. He was informed on Thursday that the scholars had become very restless in school, owing to fright at the idea that the premises were haunted. He said that previous to his coming to the school, three years ago, there had been reports of the children getting frightened on the stairs, and the occurrences of the past few days had intensified the feelings of alarm among the boys and girls. He had got the names of several boys who were said to have entered the closets connected with the school, and by wearing “fause-faces” and showing lights, had brought about the idea that “ghosts” were in the place. That, he said, was all the ground for alarm. The Fiscal asked that the accused be admonished. Bailie Erskine allowed the accused to go, in respect that he had been in custody since Thursday night. 

– Dundee Advertiser, Saturday 26th September, 1891, p.3. 

“BANSHEES” AND APPARITIONS IN IRELAND. 

(From the Cosmopolitan.

   It is almost blasphemy in Ireland to disbelieve in the “weird, wailing banshee, that sings by night her mournful cry.” Hovering over the doomed mansion, this “White Lady of Sorrow,” with robe flowing wide upon the night and her tangled tresses blown by the wind, warns the ancient family to whom she is attached of approaching death. This “friendly banshee” is described as a young and beautiful female spirit, with pale features, black or golden hair, and soft, sorrowful eyes of either blue or black. “Her long white drapery falls to her feet as she floats in the air in pitying tenderness, bestowing a benediction on the soul she summons to the invisible world.” 

   The “hateful banshee” is a horrible hag, upon whose angry face is written curse after curse which she cannot speak, but her out-stretched arms call down maledictions upon the hated race. Like a fiend she howls with demoniacal delight. The banshee is faithful to the family to which she belongs, remaining their last possession when fortune has fled. Her song is commonly heard a day or two before the death of the person for whom the warning is intended, and this is often inaudible save to the doomed individual. 

– Dundee Evening Telegraph, Wednesday 16th November, 1892, p.4. 

   THIS number concluding the fourth volume of the Highland Monthly, a table of contents is given for the purpose of binding. Though the items are not many, the contents are very readable to those interested in Highland lore. “The Legend of the Dark Loch,” and “A true story of the Banshee” are striking papers in their way. According to the latter narrative, the Banshee’s wail was heard by two people independently, and death followed within a week; but, unfortunately, it is a hearsay story and not a personal experience. Mr Maclean continues his papers on Skye Bards, of whom he produces quite a gallery. “Fear a’ ghlinne” and “A Strange Revenge” are not yet concluded, but the latter has reached a dramatic stage which foreshadows the end. It is to be hoped that Highlanders at home and abroad will continue to give the magazine their hearty support. 

– Northern Chronicle and General Advertiser for the North of Scotland, Wednesday 8th March, 1893, p.3. 

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