Guest Author - Phyllis Doyle Burns
In a village in Ireland, in ancient times, there lived one of the High Families of the land. The Lord was away in battlefields far off, keeping the enemy from his lands. All was peaceful and quiet till one night they heard what they all had feared, it was the cry of a banshee -- the bean sidhe was in mourning.
Far away, in the bloody battlefield, the Lord and his sons fought side by side, never faltering. They and the other warriors of the Lord were of the best in all Ireland. They were loved by many in heart and home and feared by all in battle.
The battle had raged for days and was near the end. The Lord and his sons still sat strong on their horses and fought till the last of the enemy had been killed or had fled. At last there was the eerie silence that comes when a battle has ended and there was no more to fight. The crows, The Morrigan, flew over the dead strewn over the land.
The sons turn their steeds to their father to salute him with raised swords, as the warriors behind the king give their cheers of victory and honor to their Lord. The eldest son looks to his father and sees death in the eyes of the old man. He shouts to his brothers, "Catch his sword and lay him down!" The eldest lowers his own sword and reverses it, hilt up, and holds it high. The Lord is laid out on the ground and his sword laid on his chest.
There is a mighty clang of armour and swords as all the warriors dismount, kneel and put the points of their swords on the ground. There is a sudden silence as they each bow their heads and pray for the soul of their beloved leader.
As the brothers surround their father, there is a cry from the family banshee. The brothers call out in one voice to their deity, Lugh of the Tuatha De Danaan. From far off the banshee continues to wail as she journeys to the Lord's castle to attend the family of the fallen warrior and Lord.
Darkness covers the village as the peasants of the first cottage hear the cry of a banshee from far away. They rise and light a lantern and place it in their window. All along the road to the castle, as the keening is heard, lanterns are lit. The banshee makes her way to the Lord's home to give notice to the family she attends that one of its members is soon to be called to the spirit world. She rises to the top of the castle and stands there, wailing her sorrow, her dark cloak billowing in the wind, her long hair blowing around her lovely face. The family members rise from their beds and go to the Lord's wife. The women rouse the servants and tell them to begin preparing the feast for the mourners. The Lord's wife and her daughters gather in the chapel and begin their keening.
The sun rises slowly and sheds light upon the village and castle. People are running back and forth, taking their offerings of food to the castle to assure there is enough for all at the mourning feast and honoring ceremonies. The castle is cleaned from top to bottom and the fires are burning strong. Days pass and finally, the Lord's army is seen in the distance. A shout rings out and is passed along -- all the villagers line both sides of the road that the army will journey on their way to the castle.
The tired army reaches the village and a murmur goes through the crowds as they realize it is their Lord whom the banshee wails for. She is still up there wailing, and will do so till the soul of her Lord has been received in the spirit world. The line of warriors slow as the four sons enter the gates of the castle wall, with the horse of their father in the center of them. The Lord's horse has brought his master home and is honored by all. The sons carry their father inside and take him up the stairs to his room. They place him on the bed and, each in turn bow and kiss the forehead of their father, then kiss their mother who is sitting by the bed. The mother rises, takes her husband's sword, and hands it to her eldest son.
The sons leave the room and the mother sits alone with her husband until the daughters come in and help her change, bathe and dress the Lord for burial.
And the banshee wails.
Image of The Friendly Banshee, by H.R. Heaton, 1888
With kind permission, from the print collection of Maggie Land Blanck