Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership

Title: The Banshee
Author: Anonymous
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0606691.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2006
Date most recently updated: August 2006

This eBook was produced by: Richard Scott

Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at

To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to

The Banshee

Of all the superstitions prevalent amongst the natives of Ireland at
any period, past or present, there is none so grand or fanciful, none
which has been so universally assented to or so cordially cherished,
as the belief in the existence of the banshee. There are very few,
however remotely acquainted with Irish life or Irish history, but must
have heard or read of the Irish banshee; still, as there are different
stories and different opinions afloat respecting this strange being, I
think a little explanation concerning her appearance, functions, and
habits will not be unacceptable to my readers.

The banshee, then, is said to be an immaterial and immortal being,
attached, time out of mind, to various respectable and ancient
families in Ireland, and is said always to appear to announce, by
cries and lamentations, the death of any member of that family to
which she belongs. She always comes at night, a short time previous to
the death of the fated one, and takes her stand outside, convenient to
the house, and there utters the most plaintive cries and lamentations,
generally in some unknown language, and in a tone of voice resembling
a human female. She continues her visits night after night, unless
vexed or annoyed, until the mourned object dies, and sometimes she is
said to continue about the house for several nights after. Sometimes
she is said to appear in the shape of a most beautiful young damsel,
and dressed in the most elegant and fantastic garments; but her
general appearance is in the likeness of a very old woman, of small
stature and bending and decrepit form, enveloped in a winding-sheet or
grave-dress, and her long, white, hoary hair waving over her shoulders
and descending to her feet. At other times she is dressed in the
costume of the middle ages--the different articles of her clothing
being of the richest material and of a sable hue. She is very shy and
easily irritated, and, when once annoyed or vexed, she flies away, and
never returns during the same generation. When the death of the person
whom she mourns is contingent, or to occur by unforeseen accident, she
is particularly agitated and troubled in her appearance, and unusually
loud and mournful in her lamentations. Some would fain have it that
this strange being is actuated by a feeling quite inimical to the
interests of the family which she haunts, and that she comes with joy
and triumph to announce their misfortunes. This opinion, however, is
rejected by most people, who imagine her their most devoted friend,
and that she was, at some remote period, a member of the family, and
once existed on the earth in life and loveliness. It is not every
Irish family can claim the honour of an attendant banshee; they must
be respectably descended, and of ancient line, to have any just
pretensions to a warning spirit. However, she does not appear to be
influenced by the difference of creed or clime, provided there be no
other impediment, as several Protestant families of Norman and Anglo-
Saxon origin boast of their own banshee; and to this hour several
noble and distinguished families in the country feel proud of the
surveillance of that mysterious being. Neither is she influenced by
the circumstances of rank or fortune, as she is oftener found
frequenting the cabin of the peasant than the baronial mansion of the
lord of thousands. Even the humble family to which the writer of this
tale belongs has long claimed the honourable appendage of a banshee;
and it may, perhaps, excite an additional interest in my readers when
I inform them that my present story is associated with her last visit
to that family.

Some years ago there dwelt in the vicinity of Mountrath, in the
Queen's County, a farmer, whose name for obvious reasons we shall not
at present disclose. He never was married, and his only domestics were
a servant-boy and an old woman, a housekeeper, who had long been a
follower or dependent of the family. He was born and educated in the
Roman Catholic Church, but on arriving at manhood, for reasons best
known to himself, he abjured the tenets of that creed and conformed to
the doctrines of Protestantism. However, in after years he seemed to
waver, and refused going to church, and by his manner of living seemed
to favour the dogmas of infidelity or atheism. He was rather dark and
reserved in his manner, and oftentimes sullen and gloomy in his
temper; and this, joined with his well-known disregard of religion,
served to render him somewhat unpopular amongst his neighbours and
acquaintances. However, he was in general respected, and was never
insulted or annoyed. He was considered as an honest, inoffensive man,
and as he was well supplied with firearms and ammunition,--in the use
of which he was well practised, having, in his early days, served
several years in a yeomanry corps,--few liked to disturb him, even had
they been so disposed. He was well educated, and decidedly hostile to
every species of superstition, and was constantly jeering his old
housekeeper, who was extremely superstitious, and pretended to be
entirely conversant with every matter connected with witchcraft and
the fairy world. He seldom darkened a neighbour's door, and scarcely
ever asked any one to enter his, but generally spent his leisure hours
in reading, of which he was extremely fond, or in furbishing his
firearms, to which he was still more attached, or in listening to and
laughing at the wild and blood-curdling stories of old Moya, with
which her memory abounded. Thus he spent his time until the period at
which our tale commences, when he was about fifty years of age, and
old Moya, the housekeeper, had become extremely feeble, stooped, and
of very ugly and forbidding exterior. One morning in the month of
November, A.D. 1818, this man arose before daylight, and on coming out
of the apartment where he slept he was surprised at finding old Moya
in the kitchen, sitting over the raked-up fire, and smoking her
tobacco-pipe in a very serious and meditative mood.

"Arrah, Moya," said he, "what brings you out of your bed so early?"

"Och musha, I dunna," replied the old woman; "I was so uneasy all
night that I could not sleep a wink, and I got up to smoke a blast,
thinkin' that it might drive away the weight that's on my heart."

"And what ails you, Moya? Are you sick, or what came over you?"

"No, the Lord be praised! I am not sick, but my heart is sore, and
there's a load on my spirits that would kill a hundred."

"Maybe you were dreaming, or something that way," said the man, in a
bantering tone, and suspecting, from the old woman's grave manner,
that she was labouring under some mental delusion.

"Dreaming!" reechoed Moya, with a bitter sneer; "ay, dreaming. Och, I
wish to God I was ONLY DREAMING; but I am very much afraid it is worse
than that, and that there is trouble and misfortune hanging over uz."

"And what makes you think so, Moya?" asked he, with a half-suppressed

Moya, aware of his well-known hostility to every species of
superstition, remained silent, biting her lips and shaking her gray
head prophetically.

"Why don't you answer me, Moya?" again asked the man.

"Och," said Moya, "I am heart-scalded to have it to tell you, and I
know you will laugh at me; but, say what you will, there is something
bad over uz, for the banshee was about the house all night, and she
has me almost frightened out of my wits with her shouting and

The man was aware of the banshee's having been long supposed to haunt
his family, but often scouted that supposition; yet, as it was some
years since he had last heard of her visiting the place, he was not
prepared for the freezing announcement of old Moya. He turned as pale
as a corpse, and trembled excessively; at last, recollecting himself,
he said, with a forced smile:

"And how do you know it was the banshee, Moya?"

"How do I know?" reiterated Moya, tauntingly. "Didn't I see and hear
her several times during the night? and more than that, didn't I hear
the dead-coach rattling round the house, and through the yard, every
night at midnight this week back, as if it would tear the house out of
the foundation?"

The man smiled faintly; he was frightened, yet was ashamed to appear
so. He again said:

"And did you ever see the banshee before, Moya?"

"Yes," replied Moya, "often. Didn't I see her when your mother died?
Didn't I see her when your brother was drowned? and sure, there wasn't
one of the family that went these sixty years that I did not both see
and hear her."

"And where did you see her, and what way did she look to-night?"

"I saw her at the little window over my bed; a kind of reddish light
shone round the house; I looked up, and there I saw her old, pale face
and glassy eyes looking in, and she rocking herself to and fro, and
clapping her little, withered hands, and crying as if her very heart
would break."

"Well, Moya, it's all imagination; go, now, and prepare my breakfast,
as I want to go to Maryborough to-day, and I must be home early."

Moya trembled; she looked at him imploringly and said: "For Heaven's
sake, John, don't go to-day; stay till some other day, and God bless
you; for if you go to-day I would give my oath there will something
cross you that's bad."

"Nonsense, woman!" said he; "make haste and get me my breakfast."

Moya, with tears in her eyes, set about getting the breakfast ready;
and whilst she was so employed John was engaged in making preparations
for his journey.

Having now completed his other arrangements, he sat down to breakfast,
and, having concluded it, he arose to depart.

Moya ran to the door, crying loudly; she flung herself on her knees,
and said: "John, John, be advised. Don't go to-day; take my advice; I
know more of the world than you do, and I see plainly that if you go
you will never enter this door again with your life."

Ashamed to be influenced by the drivellings of an old cullough, he
pushed her away with his hand, and, going out to the stable, mounted
his horse and departed. Moya followed him with her eyes whilst in
sight; and when she could no longer see him, she sat down at the fire
and wept bitterly.

It was a bitter cold day, and the farmer, having finished his business
in town, feeling himself chilly, went into a public-house to have a
tumbler of punch and feed his horse; there he met an old friend, who
would not part with him until he would have another glass with him and
a little conversation, as it was many years since they had met before.
One glass brought another, and it was almost duskish ere John thought
of returning, and, having nearly ten miles to travel, it would be dark
night before he could get home. Still his friend would not permit him
to go, but called for more liquor, and it was far advanced in the
night before they parted. John, however, had a good horse, and, having
had him well fed, he did not spare whip or spur, but dashed along at a
rapid pace through the gloom and silence of the winter's night, and
had already distanced the town upward of five miles, when, on arriving
at a very desolate part of the road, a gunshot, fired from behind the
bushes, put an end to his mortal existence. Two strange men, who had
been at the same public-house in Maryborough drinking, observing that
he had money and learning the road that he was to travel, conspired to
rob and murder him, and waylaid him in this lonely spot for that
horrid purpose.

Poor Moya did not go to bed that night, but sat at the fire, every
moment impatiently expecting his return. Often did she listen at the
door to try if she could hear the tramp of the horse's footsteps
approaching. But in vain; no sound met her ear except the sad wail of
the night wind, moaning fitfully through the tall bushes which
surrounded the ancient dwelling, or the sullen roar of a little dark
river, which wound its way through the lowlands at a small distance
from where she stood. Tired with watching, at length she fell asleep
on the hearth-stone; but that sleep was disturbed and broken, and
frightful and appalling dreams incessantly haunted her imagination.

At length the darksome morning appeared struggling through the wintry
clouds, and Moya again opened the door to look out. But what was her
dismay when she found the horse standing at the stable door without
his rider, and the saddle all besmeared with clotted blood. She raised
the death-cry; the neighbours thronged round, and it was at once
declared that the hapless man was robbed and murdered. A party on
horseback immediately set forward to seek him, and on arriving at the
fatal spot he was found stretched on his back in the ditch, his head
perforated with shot and slugs, and his body literally immersed in a
pool of blood. On examining him it was found that his money was gone,
and a valuable gold watch and appendages abstracted from his pocket.
His remains were conveyed home, and, after having been waked the
customary time, were committed to the grave of his ancestors in the
little green churchyard of the village.

Having no legitimate children, the nearest heir to his property was a
brother, a cabinet-maker, who resided in London. A letter was
accordingly despatched to the brother announcing the sad catastrophe,
and calling on him to come and take possession of the property; and
two men were appointed to guard the place until he should arrive.

The two men delegated to act as guardians, or, as they are technically
termed, "keepers," were old friends and comrades of the deceased, and
had served with him in the same yeomanry corps. Jack O'Malley was a
Roman Catholic--a square, stout-built, and handsome fellow, with a
pleasant word for every one, and full of that gaiety, vivacity, and
nonchalance for which the Roman Catholic peasantry of Ireland are so
particularly distinguished. He was now about forty-five years of age,
sternly attached to the dogmas of his religion, and always remarkable
for his revolutionary and anti-British principles. He was brave as a
lion, and never quailed before a man; but, though caring so little for
a LIVING man, he was extremely afraid of a DEAD one, and would go ten
miles out of his road at night to avoid passing a "rath," or "haunted
bush." Harry Taylor, on the other hand, was a staunch Protestant; a
tall, genteel-looking man, of proud and imperious aspect, and full of
reserve and hauteur--the natural consequence of a consciousness of
political and religious ascendency and superiority of intelligence and
education, which so conspicuously marked the demeanour of the
Protestant peasantry of those days. Harry, too, loved his glass as
well as Jack, but was of a more peaceful disposition, and as he was
well educated and intelligent, he was utterly opposed to superstition,
and laughed to scorn the mere idea of ghosts, goblins, and fairies.
Thus Jack and Harry were diametrically opposed to each other in every
point except their love of the cruiskeen, yet they never failed to
seize every opportunity of being together; and, although they often
blackened each other's eyes in their political and religious disputes,
yet their quarrels were always amicably settled, and they never found
themselves happy but in each other's society.

It was now the sixth or seventh night that Jack and Harry, as usual,
kept their lonely watch in the kitchen of the murdered man. A large
turf fire blazed brightly on the hearth, and on a bed of straw in the
ample chimney-corner was stretched old Moya in a profound sleep. On
the hearthstone, between the two friends, stood a small oak table, on
which was placed a large decanter of whisky, a jug of boiled water,
and a bowl of sugar; and, as if to add an idea of security to that of
comfort, on one end of the table were placed in saltier a formidable-
looking blunderbuss and a brace of large brass pistols. Jack and his
comrade perpetually renewed their acquaintance with the whisky-bottle,
and laughed and chatted and recounted the adventures of their young
days with as much hilarity as if the house which now witnessed their
mirth never echoed to the cry of death or blood. In the course of
conversation Jack mentioned the incident of the strange appearance of
the banshee, and expressed a hope that she would not come that night
to disturb their carouse.

"Banshee the devil!" shouted Harry; "how superstitious you papists
are! I would like to see the phiz of any man, dead or alive, who dare
make his appearance here to-night." And, seizing the blunderbuss, and
looking wickedly at Jack, he vociferated, "By Hercules, I would drive
the contents of this through their sowls who dare annoy us."

"Better for you to shoot your mother than fire at the banshee,
anyhow," remarked Jack.

"Psha!" said Harry, looking contemptuously at his companion. "I would
think no more of riddling the old jade's hide than I would of throwing
off this tumbler;" and, to suit the action to the word, he drained off
another bumper of whisky-punch.

"Jack," says Harry, "now that we are in such prime humour, will you
give us a song?"

"With all the veins of my heart," says Jack. "What will it be?"

"Anything you please; your will must be my pleasure," answered Harry.

Jack, after coughing and clearing his pipes, chanted forth, in a bold
and musical voice, a rude rigmarole called "The Royal Blackbird,"
which, although of no intrinsic merit, yet, as it expressed sentiments
hostile to British connection and British government and favourable to
the house of Stewart, was very popular amongst the Catholic peasantry
of Ireland, whilst, on the contrary, it was looked upon by the
Protestants as highly offensive and disloyal. Harry, however, wished
his companion too well to oppose the song, and he quietly awaited its

"Bravo, Jack," said Harry, as soon as the song was ended; "that you
may never lose your wind."

"In the king's name now I board you for another song," says Jack.

Harry, without hesitation, recognised his friend's right to demand a
return, and he instantly trolled forth, in a deep, sweet, and sonorous
voice, the following:


"Ho, boys, I have a song divine! Come, let us now in concert join, And
toast the bonny banks of Boyne--The Boyne of 'Glorious Memory.'

"On Boyne's famed banks our fathers bled; Boyne's surges with their
blood ran red; And from the Boyne our foemen fled--Intolerance,
chains, and slavery.

"Dark superstition's blood-stained sons Pressed on, but 'crack' went
William's guns, And soon the gloomy monster runs--Fell, hydra-headed

"Then fill your glasses high and fair, Let shouts of triumph rend the
air, Whilst Georgy fills the regal chair We'll never bow to Popery."

Jack, whose countenance had, from the commencement of the song,
indicated his aversion to the sentiments it expressed, now lost all
patience at hearing his darling "Popery" impugned, and, seizing one of
the pistols which lay on the table and whirling it over his comrade's
head, swore vehemently that he would "fracture his skull if he did not
instantly drop that blackguard Orange lampoon."

"Aisy, avhic," said Harry, quietly pushing away the upraised arm; "I
did not oppose your bit of treason awhile ago, and besides, the latter
end of my song is more calculated to please you than to irritate your

Jack seemed pacified, and Harry continued his strain.

"And fill a bumper to the brim--

A flowing one--and drink to him

Who, let the world go sink or swim.

Would arm for Britain's liberty.

"No matter what may be his hue.

Or black, or white, or green, or blue.

Or Papist, Paynim, or Hindoo.

We'll drink to him right cordially."

Jack was so pleased with the friendly turn which the latter part of
Harry's song took that he joyfully stretched out his hand, and even
joined in chorus to the concluding stanza.

The fire had now decayed on the hearth, the whisky-bottle was almost
emptied, and the two sentinels, getting drowsy, put out the candle and
laid down their heads to slumber. The song and the laugh and the jest
were now hushed, and no sound was to be heard but the incessant
"click, click," of the clock in the inner room and the deep, heavy
breathing of old Moya in the chimney-corner.

They had slept they knew not how long when the old hag awakened with a
wild shriek. She jumped out of bed, and crouched between the men; they
started up, and asked her what had happened.

"Oh!" she exclaimed; "the banshee, the banshee! Lord have mercy on us!
she is come again, and I never heard her so wild and outrageous

Jack O'Malley readily believed old Moya's tale; so did Harry, but he
thought it might be some one who was committing some depredation on
the premises. They both listened attentively, but could hear nothing;
they opened the kitchen door, but all was still; they looked abroad;
it was a fine, calm night, and myriads of twinkling stars were burning
in the deep-blue heavens. They proceeded around the yard and hay-yard;
but all was calm and lonely, and no sound saluted their ears but the
shrill barking of some neighbouring cur, or the sluggish murmuring of
the little tortuous river in the distance. Satisfied that "all was
right," they again went in, replenished the expiring fire, and sat
down to finish whatever still remained in the whisky-bottle.

They had not sat many minutes when a wild, unearthly cry was heard

"The banshee again," said Moya, faintly. Jack O'Malley's soul sank
within him; Harry started up and seized the blunderbuss; Jack caught
his arm. "No, no, Harry, you shall not; sit down; there's no fear--
nothing will happen us."

Harry sat down, but still gripped the blunderbuss, and Jack lit his
tobacco-pipe, whilst the old woman was on her knees, striking her
breast, and repeating her prayers with great vehemence.

The sad cry was again heard, louder and fiercer than before. It now
seemed to proceed from the window, and again it appeared as if issuing
from the door. At times it would seem as if coming from afar, whilst
again it would appear as if coming down the chimney or springing from
the ground beneath their feet. Sometimes the cry resembled the low,
plaintive wail of a female in distress, and in a moment it was raised
to a prolonged yell, loud and furious, and as if coming from a
thousand throats; now the sound resembled a low, melancholy chant, and
then was quickly changed to a loud, broken, demoniac laugh. It
continued thus, with little intermission, for about a quarter of an
hour, when it died away, and was succeeded by a heavy, creaking sound,
as if of some large waggon, amidst which the loud tramp of horses'
footsteps might be distinguished, accompanied with a strong, rushing
wind. This strange noise proceeded round and round the house two or
three times, then went down the lane which led to the road, and was
heard no more. Jack O'Malley stood aghast, and Harry Taylor, with all
his philosophy and scepticism, was astonished and frightened.

"A dreadful night this, Moya," said Jack.

"Yes," said she, "that is the dead-coach; I often heard it before, and
have sometimes seen it."

"Seen, did you say?" said Harry; "pray describe it."

"Why," replied the old crone, "it's like any other coach, but twice as
big, and hung over with black cloth, and a black coffin on the top of
it, and drawn by headless black horses."

"Heaven protect us!" ejaculated Jack.

"It is very strange," remarked Harry.

"But," continued Moya, "it always comes before the death of a person,
and I wonder what brought it now, unless it came with the banshee."

"Maybe it's coming for you," said Harry, with an arch yet subdued

"No, no," she said; "I am none of that family at all at all."

A solemn silence now ensued for a few minutes, and they thought all
was vanished, when again the dreadful cry struck heavily on their

"Open the door, Jack," said Harry, "and put out Hector."

Hector was a large and very ferocious mastiff belonging to Jack
O'Malley, and always accompanied him wherever he went.

Jack opened the door and attempted to put out the dog, but the poor
animal refused to go, and, as his master attempted to force him,
howled in a loud and mournful tone.

"You must go," said Harry, and he caught him in his arms and flung him
over the half-door. The poor dog was scarcely on the ground when he
was whirled aloft into the air by some invisible power, and he fell
again to earth lifeless, and the pavement was besmeared with his
entrails and blood.

Harry now lost all patience, and again seizing his blunderbuss, he
exclaimed: "Come, Jack, my boy, take your pistols and follow me; I
have but one life to lose, and I will venture it to have a crack at
this infernal demon."

"I will follow you to death's doors," said Jack; "but I would not fire
at the banshee for a million of worlds."

Moya seized Harry by the skirts. "Don't go out," she cried; "let her
alone while she lets you alone, for an hour's luck never shone on any
one that ever molested the banshee."

"Psha, woman!" said Harry, and he pushed away poor Moya

The two men now sallied forth; the wild cry still continued, and it
seemed to issue from amongst some stacks in the hay-yard behind the
house. They went round and paused; again they heard the cry, and Harry
elevated his blunderbuss.

"Don't fire," said Jack.

Harry replied not; he looked scornfully at Jack, then put his finger
on the trigger, and--bang--away it exploded with a thundering sound.
An extraordinary scream was now heard, ten times louder and more
terrific than they heard before. Their hair stood erect on their
heads, and huge, round drops of sweat ran down their faces in quick
succession. A glare of reddish-blue light shone around the stacks; the
rumbling of the dead-coach was again heard coming; it drove up to the
house, drawn by six headless sable horses, and the figure of a
withered old hag, encircled with blue flame, was seen running nimbly
across the hay-yard. She entered the ominous carriage, and it drove
away with a horrible sound. It swept through the tall bushes which
surrounded the house; and as it disappeared the old hag cast a
thrilling scowl at the two men, and waved her fleshless arms at them
vengefully. It was soon lost to sight; but the unearthly creaking of
the wheels, the tramping of the horses, and the appalling cries of the
banshee continued to assail their ears for a considerable time after
all had vanished.

The brave fellows now returned to the house; they again made fast the
door, and reloaded their arms. Nothing, however, came to disturb them
that night, nor from that time forward; and the arrival of the dead
man's brother from London, in a few days after, relieved them from
their irksome task.

Old Moya did not live long after; she declined from that remarkable
night, and her remains were decently interred in the churchyard
adjoining the last earthly tenement of the loved family to which she
had been so long and so faithfully attached.

The insulted banshee has never since returned; and although several
members of that family have since closed their mortal career, still
the warning cry was never given; and it is supposed that the injured
spirit will never visit her ancient haunts until every one of the
existing generation shall have "slept with their fathers."

Jack O'Malley and his friend Harry lived some years after. Their
friendship still continued undiminished; like "Tam O'Shanter" and
"Souter Johnny," they still continued to love each other like "a very
brither"; and like that jovial pair, also, our two comrades were often
"fou for weeks thegither," and often over their cruiskeen would they
laugh at their strange adventure with the banshee. It is now, however,
all over with them too; their race is run, and they are now "tenants
of the tomb."


This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia