Patricia Lysaght, The Banshee: The Irish Death Messenger (Roberts Rinehart, 1996)

This book is certainly the best full-length treatment of thebanshee I've yet to read. (W. B. Yeats defines a banshee in his ATreasury 0f Irish Myth, Legend, and Folklore as "ban, awoman, and shee (sidhe, a fairie), is an attendant fairy thatfollows the old families, and none but them, and wails before adeath. Many have seen her as she goes wailing and clapping her hands.The keen (caoine), the funeral cry of the peasantry, is said to be animitation of her cry. When more than one banshee is present, and theywail and sing in chorus, it is for the death of some holy or greatone.") And even more surprising is that the book is written wellenough to appeal to both the academic and lay audiences.

Patricia Lysaght uses primary documentation and the oral folktradition to create a fuller understanding of just how the Bansheefolk motif fits within Irish culture. (The banshee does appear underdifferent quises elsewhere. For example, the Scottish call herbean-nighe, the ghostly washerwoman.) Lysaght correctly notes thatbanshee has a very long existence going back to the Old Irishperiod.

It is worth noting that she does not take the rationalist approachthat many folklorists take. Her very excellent example is thefolklorists who claim that reports of the Wild Hunt are just flocksof geese. (The Wild Hunt, which consists of a spectral leader and hismen, usually accompanied by baying hounds, who ride through the airor over hills, is common to many parts of the British Isles. The WildHunt figures in many novels including Jane Yolen's The Wild Hunt, Raymond Feist's Faerie Tale, Charles deLint's Jack of Kinrowan, and Patricia McKillip's The Bookof Atrix Wolfe.) If folks believe that banshees exist, who is to say they don't?

Suffice it to say that this is a most interesting text which belongs in any library that has a serious Celtic folklore section. It certainly is a valued addition to my library.

[Jack Merry]