Yeats' FAIRY AND FOLK
TALES OF THE IRISH PEASANTRY
HOW THOMAS CONNOLLY MET THE BANSHEE
Aw, the banshee, sir? Well, sir, as I was striving to tell ye I was going
home from work one day, from Mr. Cassidy's that I tould ye of, in the dusk o'
the evening. I had more nor a mile--aye, it was nearer two mile--to thrack to, where I was lodgin'
with a dacent widdy woman I knew, Biddy Maguire be name, so as to be near me
It was the first week in November, an' a lonesome road I had to travel, an'
dark enough, wid threes above it; an' about half-ways there was a bit of a
brudge I had to cross, over one o' them little sthrames that runs into the
Doddher. I walked on in the middle iv the road, for there was no toe-path at
that time, Misther Harry, nor for many a long day afther that; but, as I was
sayin', I walked along till I come nigh upon the brudge, where the road was a
bit open, an' there, right enough, I seen the hog's back o' the ould-fashioned
brudge that used to be there till it was pulled down, an' a white mist steamin'
up out o' the wather all around it.
Well, now, Misther Harry, often as I'd passed by the place before, that night
it seemed sthrange to me, an' like a place ye might see in a dhrame; an' as I
come up to it I began to feel a cowld wind blowin' through the hollow o' me
heart. "Musha Thomas," sez I to meself, "is it yerself that's in it?" sez I;
"or, if it is, what's the matter wid ye at all, at all?" sez I; so I put a bould
face on it, an' I made a sthruggle to set one leg afore the other, ontil I came
to the rise o' the brudge. And there, God be good to us! in a cantle o' the wall
I seen an ould woman, as I thought, sittin' on her hunkers, all crouched
together, an' her head bowed down, seemin'ly in the greatest affliction.
Well, sir, I pitied the ould craythur, an thought I wasn't worth a thraneen,
for the mortial fright I was in, I up an' sez to her, "That's a cowld lodgin'
for ye, ma'am." Well, the sorra ha'porth she sez to that, nor tuk no more notice
o' me than if I hadn't let a word out o' me, but kep' rockin' herself to an'
fro, as if her heart was breakin'; so I sez to her again, "Eh, ma'am, is there
anythin' the matther wid ye?" An' I made for to touch her on the shouldher, on'y
somethin' stopt me, for as I looked closer at her I saw she was no more an ould
woman nor she was an ould cat. The first thing I tuk notice to, Misther Harry,
was her hair, that was sthreelin' down over her showldhers, an' a good yard on the ground on
aich side of her. O, be the hoky farmer, but that was the hair! The likes of it
I never seen on mortial woman, young or ould, before nor sense. It grew as
sthrong out of her as out of e'er a young slip of a girl ye could see; but the
colour of it was a misthery to describe. The first squint I got of it I thought
it was silvery grey, like an ould crone's; but when I got up beside her I saw,
be the glance o' the sky, it was a soart iv an Iscariot colour, an' a shine out
of it like floss silk. It ran over her showldhers and the two shapely arms she
was lanin' her head on, for all the world like Mary Magdalen's in a picther; and
then I persaved that the grey cloak and the green gownd undhernaith it was made
of no earthly matarial I ever laid eyes on. Now, I needn't tell ye, sir, that I
seen all this in the twinkle of a bed-post--long as I take to make the narration
of it. So I made a step back from her, an' "The Lord be betune us an' harm!" sez
I, out loud, an' wid that I blessed meself. Well, Misther Harry, the word wasn't
out o' me mouth afore she turned her face on me. Aw, Misther Harry, but 'twas
that was the awfullest apparation ever I seen, the face of her as she looked up
at me! God forgive me for sayin' it, but 'twas more like the face of the "Axy
Homo" beyand in Marlboro Sthreet Chapel nor like any face I could mintion--as
pale as a corpse, an' a most o' freckles on it, like the freckles on a turkey's
egg; an' the two eyes sewn in wid thread, from the terrible power o' crying the'
had to do; an' such a pair iv eyes as the' wor, Misther Harry, as blue as two
forget-me-nots, an' as cowld as the moon in a bog-hole of a frosty night, an' a
dead-an'-live look in them that sent a cowld shiver through the marra o' me
bones. Be the mortial! ye could ha' rung a tay cupful o' cowld paspiration out
o' the hair o' me head that minute, so ye could. Well, I thought the life 'ud
lave me intirely when she riz up from her hunkers, till, bedad! she looked
mostly as tall as Nelson's Pillar; an' wid the two eyes gazin' back at me, an'
her two arms stretched out before hor, an' a keine out of her that riz the hair
o' me scalp till it was as stiff as the hog's bristles in a new hearth broom, away
she glides--glides round the angle o' the brudge, an' down with her into the
sthrame that ran undhernaith it. 'Twas then I began to suspect what she was.
"Wisha, Thomas!" says I to meself, sez I; an' I made a great struggle to get me
two legs into a throt, in spite o' the spavin o' fright the pair o' them wor in;
an' how I brought meself home that same night the Lord in heaven only knows, for
I never could tell; but I must ha' tumbled agin the door, and shot in head
foremost into the middle o' the flure, where I lay in a dead swoon for mostly an
hour; and the first I knew was Mrs. Maguire stannin' over me with a jorum o'
punch she was pourin' down me throath (throat), to bring back the life into me,
an' me head in a pool of cowld wather she dashed over me in her first fright.
"Arrah, Mister Connolly," shashee, "what ails ye?" shashee, "to put the scare on
a lone woman like that?" shashee. "Am I in this world or the next?" sez I.
"Musha! where else would ye be on'y here in my kitchen?" shashee. "O, glory be
to God!" sez I, "but I thought I was in Purgathory at the laste, not to mintion
an uglier place," sez I, "only it's too cowld I find meself, an' not too hot,"
sez I. "Faix, an' maybe ye wor more nor half-ways there, on'y for me, shashee;
"but what's come to you at all, at all? Is it your fetch ye seen, Mister
Connolly?" "Aw, naboclish!"1 sez I. "Never mind what I seen," sez I. So be degrees I
began to come to a little; an' that's the way I met the banshee, Misther
"But how did you know it really was the banshee after all, Thomas?"
"Begor, sir, I knew the apparation of her well enough; but 'twas confirmed by
a sarcumstance that occurred the same time. There was a Misther O'Nales was come
on a visit, ye must know, to a place in the neighbourhood--one o' the ould
O'Nales iv the county Tyrone, a rale ould Irish family--an' the banshee was
heard keening round the house that same night, be more then one that was in
it; an' sure enough, Misther Harry, he was found dead in his bed the next
mornin'. So if it wasn't the banshee I seen that time, I'd like to know what
else it could a' been."
1. Na bac leis.--i.e., don't mind it.