What is a Banshee? A Ghost, a Faerie or Something Else?

What is a banshee, and should you be afraid if you hear or see one? Here’s what you need to know, and whether to worry about this legendary spirit.

Banshees are unique in paranormal research.

When someone mentions a ghost, most of us think of cemeteries, haunted houses, and transparent figures draped in sheets.

Likewise, the word “faerie” is usually linked with cute little figures with wings, and merry mischief… like Tinkerbell.

However, mention a Banshee, and people squirm.

The Banshee, like a ghost, can represent death, but that is not her actual role in folklore or in our lives.

She can appear transparent, usually the size of a living person. Nevertheless, like her fae counterparts, she is associated with a more magical Otherworld.

She reminds us that the Otherworld is a vast place, inhabited by many kinds of beings, including faeries and ghosts.

The Banshee – in Irish, the Bean Sidhe (pronounced “bann-SHEE”) – means “spirit woman” or sometimes a spirit (perhaps a faerie) dressed in white. She is usually described as a single being, although there are many of them.

Your Irish Family’s Banshee

According to legend, one Banshee guards each Milesian Irish family. These are the families descended from the “Sons of Mil” who emigrated to Ireland long ago. Often, those families’ surnames start with O’ or Mac, and sometimes Fitz. Remember, many of those prefixes have been dropped, particularly by American families.

In other words, if your ancestors lived in Ireland for a couple of generations, your family — and perhaps your household — probably has its own Banshee.

There is a Banshee for each branch of these families, and the family Banshee can follow the descendants to America, Australia, or wherever the Irish family travels or emigrates.

The Banshee protects the family as best she can, perhaps as a forerunner of the “Guardian Angel” in Christian traditions. However, we are most aware of her before a tragedy that she cannot prevent.

Traditionally, the Banshee appears shortly before a death in “her” family.

The Banshee is almost always female, and appears filmy in a white, hooded gown. (The exception is in Donegal, Ireland, where she may wear a green robe, or in County Mayo where she usually wears black.)

However, if she is washing a shroud when you see her, she may merely signal a major life-changing event in your future. The way to determine this is to go home and burn a beeswax candle after seeing her. According to folklore, if it burns in the shape of a shroud, her appearance does foretell death.

The Banshee’s Wail

The night before the death, the Banshee wails piteously in frustration and rage. Her family will always hear her. Many others in the area will, too. For example, Sir Walter Scott referred to “the fatal banshi’s boding scream.”

One of the largest reports of this wailing was in 1938, when the Giants’ Grave in County Limerick, Ireland, was excavated and the bones were moved to a nearby castle.

The crying was heard throughout central Ireland. People said it sounded as if every Banshee in Ireland was keening.

That collective Banshee wail was unusual but not unique. When a group of Banshees are seen, they usually forecast the dramatic illness — and perhaps death — of a major religious or political figure.

In Irish mythological history, the Banshee tradition may link to the fierce Morrighan as the “Washer at the Ford,” a legend of Cuchulain. In that story, the Morrighan appeared as a young woman who prepared for an upcoming battle by washing the clothing — or perhaps the shrouds — of those who would fight and lose.

Does the Banshee Cause Death?

Despite her grim reputation, seeing or hearing a Banshee doesn’t cause the death. Traditionally, the Banshee is a very kind woman. As poet and historian W. B. Yeats commented, “You will with the banshee chat, and will find her good at heart.”

Perhaps her appearance and wailing before a death are efforts to protect her family from a death. or other tragedy that she foresees.

This is the clearest link to what are popularly called “ghosts.” In many stories, the spirit appears to warn the living about danger, illness, or death. Many gothic novels feature a ghost whose appearance forecasts death.

Likewise, in the Sherlock Holmes story, the Hound of the Baskervilles howled before a family death.

In real life, my maternal grandmother and her siblings were individually visited by the spectre of their mother, to warn them of her imminent death in a hospital many miles away, and to say good-bye.

This level of concern for the living is consistent with many ghosts, as well as the Banshee.

Whether the Banshee is a “ghost” or a “faerie” may never be resolved. However, the Banshee provides clear evidence that the lines separating ghosts, spirits, and faeries are vague at best.

For more information about the Banshee, one of the best studies is The Banshee: The Irish Death Messenger by Patricia Lysaght (paperback, © 1986, Roberts Rhinehart Publishers, Colorado).

(Most of this article originally appeared as “Banshee – Ghost, faerie or something else” – in October 1999 at Suite 101, when I was one of their consulting editors, writing about paranormal topics.)

Photo credit:
Menlo Castle, photographed by dave gilligan, Limerick, Ireland (Eire)

Banshees and Ghost Hunting – In Ireland, the U.S., and Beyond

Ancient tower with crowsBanshees… should ghost hunters look for them?  And if you do, could you even find one?

In my opinion, the answer is no, but not for the reasons you might expect.

A March 2011 episode of Destination: Truth focused on a Banshee, or a “hotbed” of Banshees at Duckett’s Grove Castle in County Carlow, Ireland.

Looking for a Banshee is like looking for a Guardian Angel.  (The spiritual kind, not the Guardian Angels organized by Curtis Sliwa and his wife.)

A Banshee will find you, not vice versa.

I began writing about Banshees in 1999:  Banshee – Ghost, faerie or something else?

The Banshee’s Wail

I have heard a Banshee, and it’s not something I’d want to hear again.  Others’ first-person descriptions of the Banshee’s wail — described as keening, from the Irish word caoine — are equally chilling.

In many modern-day reports, the Banshee cries through someone living.  It’s similar to something in science fiction and horror movies: The person (usually female) opens her mouth and a terrible cry emerges.

It sounds nothing like the person’s actual voice.  It’s more like the worst combination of fingernails on a blackboard, mixed with someone dragging a bow across a squeaking violin string.

That’s worth repeating: It sounds nothing like the person’s actual voice.

If you think, “Oh, he (or she) must be faking it,” you’re probably not hearing a Banshee.  The sound isn’t even close to human.

Death and the Banshee

Banshees protect families with Irish ancestry.  Generally, they’re not seen or heard when they’re quietly successful with their protection efforts.

The only time you’re likely to hear or see a Banshee is if she’s anguished because she can’t prevent a tragedy in “her” family.

Banshees, ghosts, clones and quantum theories

Almost every family with Irish ancestry has their own Banshee.

That’s the theory, anyway.  (I explained more about that in my 1999 article, linked above.)

However, those who see a Banshee and know their family history… they always describe her as a known ancestor, usually from before the 1700s.

That’s where this becomes odd:  It appears that every household with Irish ancestry has a Banshee… but within one family line, they’re all the same ancestor.

That leaves just a few possibilities.  These are among the most likely:

  1. It’s one spirit but she’s protecting thousands of households.
  2. The spirits are different (and may or may not be spirits of ancestors), but they choose a common ancestral image that the family may recognize.
  3. It’s one spirit and she’s cloned herself as a spiritual protector.
  4. From her own time,  she’s able to visit multiple times & places (parallel realities) and — as a time traveller — try to change future outcomes.
  5. Something’s paranormal is occurring, but the Banshee stories influence how the encounter is perceived and told to others.

Ghost hunting for Banshees?

Banshees are ghosts only in the sense that — according to many reports — each one looks like someone who was once alive… a real person.

So, they could be called ghosts.

However, this isn’t a spirit that you can help to “cross over.”

If you hear or see a Banshee

Banshees don’t cause death or tragedy.  They’re simply able to see the likelihood of tragedy, and they’re already mourning.

This is important: Even if you see or hear a Banshee, the tragedy can still be avoided.

As any good psychic will tell you: The future isn’t set in stone.

The Banshee can’t prevent whatever-it-is, but you (or someone else) might be able to.

At the very least, immediately leave the site where you encounter the Banshee.

Tragedy is imminent.

If the Banshee remains behind,  it’s not your tragedy and you can avoid being part of it.

On the other hand, hearing or seeing multiple Banshees at once usually indicates a tragedy involving someone with a high profile… a politician or a church leader.

You’re less likely to prevent that from occurring.

Either way, if you’re looking for a Banshee, you’re looking for trouble.

At best, it’s a waste of time to launch a paranormal investigation to encounter a Banshee.

At worst, you could be putting yourself in harm’s way.  An encounter with a Banshee usually means that something very bad is likely to happen.

Though some have speculated that a Banshee is related to the faerie called “the little woman of the hearth” or to the Green Lady traditions, the Banshee is more likely to be a distinct kind of entity… and not appropriate for ghost hunting.

Ghosts and Banshees in Ireland

Duckett’s Grove Castle is one of many Irish locations with legends of ghosts and at least one banshee.  The location is picturesque… and a little eerie.

The castle’s history includes money, power struggles and tragedy, and a family curse. That’s a perfect formula for paranormal activity of many kinds.

If you encounter a banshee, she may be asking for your help… but she might also be warning you of danger.

Be alert, in either case. The decisions you make could be important.

If I were there, I’d leave immediately. Tragedy could be imminent, and – by staying – you could become collateral damage.

And, after all, you were warned. That’s what the banshee does.

Photo: Steve Ford Elliott, Mountshannon, Co Clare, Ireland / Eire

Duckett’s Grove Banshees – Ireland

Banshees… what do they really look like? Don’t trust TV and movies to tell you the truth. In this case, folklore is closer to fact.

Banshees near Duckett's Grove Ireland - ghost huntingBanshees were the subject of a video at SyFy’s Destination: Truth website, related to their 2011 St. Patrick’s Day show from Ireland.

In that live show broadcast from a castle, they investigated Duckett’s Grove in County Carlow, Ireland.

Travel tips: Duckett’s Grove is off the R418 near Rainestown.  The site is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and admission is free.

If you’re going there, also explore Castledermot cemetery and monastery ruins, off the N9.

They’re about 6km from Duckett’s Grove Castle, and well worth a visit.

If you’re especially courageous (or foolhardy), continue to Castledermot and investigate the ring fort at Mullaghrelan wood near Kilkea, not far from Athy.

This YouTube video of Duckett's Castle is at https://youtu.be/Nbl9jNW6HdY

The mini-vlog from the Destination: Truth episode about Banshees was brief and while it wasn’t entirely inaccurate, it could be misleading unless you conduct further paranormal research.

In that short discussion, the Banshee was described as usually being female, usually having blond hair, and usually wearing a shroud.

Only one out of those three is generally (but not always) correct:  Most Banshees seem to be female.

The truth

Banshees have been reported (and studied) for many years. The best academic study was published by Patricia Lysaght as the 1986 book, The Banshee: The Irish Death Messenger

Here are a few key points from my encounter with a Banshee, first-person accounts, and Lysaght’s study:

  1. A Banshee (bean sidhe) is seen more often than she’s heard.
  2. Banshees are usually reported wearing gowns — white, black, or green — but some appear to wear a shroud. (Compare her with ‘Green Lady’ ghosts.)
  3. If the Banshee is actually wearing a shroud (distinguished from a gown because a shroud will partially covers the head of the Banshee), the hair color won’t be visible.
  4. The hair color of the Banshee is usually related to the hair color of the person (or ghost) she seems to represent.   Most Banshees seem to represent a specific ancestor related to the family (or household) she protects.
  5. Almost every family with Irish ancestry has a family (or household) Banshee.

For more information about real Banshees and when they appear, see my 1999 article, Banshee – Ghost, faerie or something else?

To learn far more about Duckett’s Grove Castle and its ghosts, see Duckett’s Grove Castle, Ireland – Ghost Hunting Tips.

According to the popular lore, Duckett’s Grove Castle is “cursed” with a Banshee. In this case, the woman was one of the owner’s mistresses.  Discover the other, older curse on the Duckett family in The Duckett Family Curse.

Photo credit: damin, USA

Duckett’s Grove Castle Ghosts – Ireland

Castle ruins in IrelandDuckett’s Grove Castle in Carlow (Ireland) is haunted.

It’s so haunted, it was featured in a March 2011 episode of the SyFy TV show, Destination: Truth.

Unfortunately, the purpose of that show was to find evidence of Banshees.

I never recommend looking for Banshees.

Despite that,  Duckett’s Grove Castle (via Wayback Machine) and several local sites are well worth investigating, but for ghosts.

Directions to Duckett’s Grove Castle

Duckett’s Grove Castle is in County Carlow, Ireland, about 40 miles from Dublin.

Driving directions: From Naas Road (Dublin), take the M7 to the M9 toward Waterford, and exit at the R418. Follow the R418 to the signed junction for Duckett’s Grove.

Parking is free, and parts of the site are wheelchair accessible. Some areas aren’t.

The castle grounds are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and admission is free.  After hours, you’ll need permission to visit or investigate ghosts at the site.

Duckett Family History… and Curse

Duckett's Grove ghost huntingDuckett’s Grove is named for the Duckett family, originally of England.

Though the Duckett name is often associated with Ulster (Northern Ireland), it’s appeared throughout the Republic as well.

No matter where they lived in Ireland, most Ducketts trace their roots to England.  In 1572, Lionel Duckett was London’s Lord Mayor.

Some records indicate that the first Duckett in the Carlow area was Sir George Duckett of England; he arrived during the 17th century when Cromwell was a controversial figure in English politics.

That was shortly before 1669, when the Duckett Family Curse afflicted George’s English cousins, and – perhaps – spread throughout the family.

History describes at least two George Ducketts:

  • One was an attorney and an MP for Calne.  He was born in 1632 and, if records are correct, lived 100 years.
  • The other was Sir George Jackson Duckett, 1st Baronet (1725 – 1822), of Hartham.

Two mottos have been associated with the Duckett family:

  • Je veux le droit, literally “I want what’s right,” but usually translated to mean “I desire justice.”
  • Spectemur agendo, “Let us be judged by our acts,” the motto of The Royal Dragoons (1st Dragoons) regiment of the British Army. This also appears on the Irish family crests of the McAleer, Donnelly, Shannon and Mott families.

With mottos so strongly connected to justice, it’s easy to understand the politics of the family. And perhaps the curse.

Duckett’s Grove Castle History

Thomas Duckett – not George – is most often associated with the original house at Duckett’s Grove.

According to some historians, the house began as a modest cottage and was later enlarged at least twice.  The biggest transformation was made for owner J. D. Duckett by Carlow architect Thomas A. Cobden, around 1830.  That’s when it became a castle.

Since most of the work on the castle took place in the early 1800s, the building is usually described as “mock Gothic.”  In other words, the ruins aren’t necessarily as old as you might expect.

A tragic fire that destroyed much of the building in 1933.  The site is currently being restored and it’s a historic location with lovely landscaping and ruins.

Ghost Hunting at Duckett’s Grove

To investigate the site after dark, contact the Carlow Tourism Office, Website : www.carlowtourism.com.  Tel : +353 (0) 59 9130411.

The landscaped and garden areas are flat and have smooth paths.  You’ll need a flashlight after dark, but you’re unlikely to trip or fall there.

The ruins are less accessible, especially after dark.  Trousers, long-sleeved shirts, and running or hiking footwear are recommended.

Paragenealogy tip – You may trigger even more hauntings if your family tree includes these surnames: Campion, Crosthwaite, Cumming, de la Poer, Duckett* (also Duchette), O’Grady, Philpotts, Seton, Thompson (any related spelling), or de Windesore (Windsor, Winsor, or variations).

Also, carrying anything related to the Roman Catholic Church is likely to evoke extra paranormal activity at Duckett’s Grove Castle.  At least one of the Duckett’s Grove’s former residents was scathingly antagonistic towards Catholics.

In the same general part of Ireland, I’d recommend researching Castledermot (exit 4 off the M9), where the area’s history — related to Robert Bruce and Henry VIII — could present spirits from Viking raids as well as more recent spectres.

While you’re exploring Castledermot, if Kilkea Castle is open, it’s one of Ireland’s oldest castle hotels.

If your paranormal research includes paragenealogy connections, you may have the best Kilkea ghost encounters if your family tree includes these surnames: Delacy, Delancy, Moore (or O’Moore), and Dempsey (or O’Dempsey).

For those with nerves of steel, the ring fort area at Mullaghrelan wood (near Athy and not far from Castledermot) is an important site. However, I do not recommend the risks if you’re visiting Mullaghrelan wood — or any fae-related location — at dawn, dusk, or midnight.

Athy has its own quirky history, and some may be intrigued by the literal roots of the town’s name: the ford of AE.

For Additional Research

Duckett’s Grove brochure (PDF)

Duckett’s Grove website (from the Wayback Machine)

*In the United States, most people with the Duckett surname live in Arkansas, Georgia, the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, or Texas.  According to one (of several) family stories, three Duckett brothers left England in the late 17th century.  One died at sea and the other two settled in Maryland or around the Carolinas.

In the 19th century, most Duckett descendants in America were farmers.

In the U.K., members of the Duckett family usually trace their immediate roots to Yorkshire or Lancashire.

Scottish Ducketts are usually from the Dumfries area, Lanarkshire, or Stirlingshire.

The Duckett Family Curse in England and Ireland

Duckett family curse - ghost hunting

If you’re looking for a surname with an unusual history – including ghosts, banshees, faeries, and curses – the Duckett family is a good place to start.

Duckett’s Grove in Ireland was featured in a March 2011 episode of Destination: Truth, but it isn’t the only odd story associated with the Duckett family.

A little paragenealogy – genealogical research related to paranormal activity – reveals an interesting history.

The Duckett family’s ancestral homes was Grayrigg Hall, a medieval manor estate in Cumbria, England.

In the 17th century, Grayrigg Hall was owned by Justice Anthony Duckett (1636 – ca. 1692).

That house fell into decay shortly before Justice Duckett’s death. Today’s Grayrigg Hall is an 18th-century house.

Duckett was known for being a persecutor of the Quakers a very new and controversial religion in that era.

One legal case involved Francis Howgill, a Quaker who’d refused to take an oath of allegiance (to King Charles II) and was sent to prison.

Anthony Duckett was one of the magistrates when Howgill was sentenced to jail.

The Origin of the Duckett Family Curse

During Howgill’s imprisonment, he was released for a couple of days to attend to some business at home.  While there, he visited Justice Duckett at Grayrigg Hall.

After the magistrate expressed surprise on seeing the prisoner, Mr. Howgill delivered this curse:

“…I am come with a message from the Lord. Thou hast persecuted the Lord’s people, but His hand is now against thee, and He will send a blast upon all that thou hast, and thy name shall rot out of the earth, and this thy dwelling shall become desolate, and a habitation for owls and jackdaws.”

Shortly after that, the Duckett family began to have problems.  All of Anthony Duckett’s male children died without heirs.  The estate failed and it was sold, around 1685, to a neighbor and family friend, Sir John Lowther.

The Duckett Family’s Irish Connection

That was around the time Anthony Duckett’s cousins began acquiring land at Duckett’s Grove in Ireland.

Both the Duckett family and Grayrigg Hall itself were equally cursed.  In the 1777 book, The history and antiquities of the counties of Westmorland and Cumberland, here’s how Grayrigg Hall was described:

Grayrigg Hall being the ancient manor house, was a strong old building, in a quadrangular form, adapted for defence more than for convenience. It is now totally in ruins, most of the lead and timber thereof having been removed to Lowther.

So, the original (and possibly cursed) Grayrigg Hall is now gone.  If you’re looking for its precise location, here are the coordinates:  Latitude 54.3711, Longitude -2.6496

Another Grayrigg Hall was built near the church.  (Don’t confuse it with the old, reputedly haunted Grayrigg.)

If you’re looking for the remnants of the haunted Grayrigg Hall, visit Lowther Castle.  As described in the 1777 book, timber and lead from Grayrigg were used to expand Lowther Castle.

The "lost castle" of Lowther is in this YouTube video at: https://youtu.be/YvMy3kUwZnI

The Duckett Curse Continues… with a Ghost

According to Simon Marsden’s website, Lowther Castle was inherited in 1784 by Sir James Lowther, the 1st Earl of Lonsdale, also known as “Wicked Jimmy.”

By the time of his death in 1802, Lowther’s young wife had died, he had no children, and depression had driven him to madness.  His ghost has been reported at Lowther Castle.

To learn far more about Duckett’s Grove Castle (Ireland) and its ghosts, see Duckett’s Grove Castle, Ireland – Ghost Hunting Tips.

Duckett’s Grove – Ireland

Aerial flyover of the 18th century estate “Duckett’s Grove” located in Carlow, Ireland. Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/Skycam-Ireland-575997309142272/ T…

The Curse – A Historical Account

Here’s the full text of the Grayrigg Hall story and curse, from The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain, by John Henry Ingram, published in 1884.

GRAYRIGG HALL

In Ducketiana it is stated by Sir G. B. Duckett, that not a vestige remains of those extensive foundations which, a hundred years ago, attested the solidity and importance of the Westmoreland Ducketts’ residence, the Manor House known formerly as Grayrigg Hall.

A strange story is told of the last member of this opulent family, who inhabited this fine old English mansion ere it was dismantled.

The narrative has been detailed with great similarity in various works, such as Ferguson’s Early Cumberland and Westmoreland Friends, and Backhouse’s Life of Howgill, and is popularly known as “The Quaker’s Curse and its Fulfilment.”

Francis Howgill, a noted member of the Society of Friends, resided at Todthorne, near Grayrigg, in Westmoreland, about the middle of the seventeenth century.

At one time he travelled about the south of England preaching, and when he visited Bristol, in company with his compatriot, John Camm, his preaching was made the occasion of great rioting.

In 1663 he returned to his own neighbourhood, whither his reputation had apparently preceded him, for, upon arriving at the market-place of Kendal, he was summoned to appear before the Justices, who were holding a court in a tavern.

They tendered Howgill the oath of allegiance when he came before them, and as he refused to take it they committed him to confinement in Appleby jail.

It may be pointed out, as a matter of history, that in the earliest days of the brotherhood, members of the Society of Friends were often subjected to severe penalties and much persecution for their refusal to conform to the taking of judicial oaths.

At Appleby the judges of Assizes also tendered Howgill the same oath and, on his refusal to swear it, ordered him to be indicted at the next Assizes. Meanwhile they offered to release him from custody if he would give a bond for his good behaviour in the interim, but this he refused to do, and therefore was re-committed to prison.

During his imprisonment a curious incident happened. Howgill was allowed by the magistrates to go home to Grayrigg for a few days on private affairs, and in the course of the time he was at liberty the Quaker felt himself compelled to visit a justice of the name of Duckett, residing at Grayrigg Hall, who was a great persecutor of the Quakers, and was, also, one of the magistrates concerned in committing him to prison.

Francis Howgill, on this occasion, was accompanied by a friend who, over the initials “J. D.” would appear to have left a written report of the interview.

Justice Duckett expressed much surprise at seeing Howgill, and said to him, ” What is your wish now, Francis? I thought you had been in Appleby jail.”

Howgill replied to this effect, “No, I am not, but I am come with a message from the Lord. Thou hast persecuted the Lord’s people, but His hand is now against thee, and He will send a blast upon all that thou hast, and thy name shall rot out of the earth, and this thy dwelling shall become desolate, and a habitation for owls and jackdaws.”

When Howgill had delivered this message, the Justice trembled, and said,  “Francis, are you in earnest?” To which Howgill responded, “Yes, I am in earnest, it is the word of the Lord to thee, and there are many now living who will see it.”