Name: Lara Henry
Birthplace: Dublin, Republic of Ireland
Name: Mary Merrigan (nee Bugler)
Birthplace: Co. Galway, Republic of Ireland
The Supernatural Legend and its context
These legends were told to me many times by Mary Merrigan. Mary was my
child-minder in Ireland from the time I was two years old. I used to spend
weekends with Mary and her husband, John. Mary and I have a mother-daughter
relationship, and I used to go on summer vacations with them to the farm
where Mary grew up. The legends were set near that farm.
When I used to spend the week-end with Mary and John, we would normally
spend Saturday night watching television or talking. Mary is a great cook
and always makes apple-pie or cake, and she would tell stories while we
were eating cake and drinking tea. One winter evening when it was dark
and raining outside, Mary told these supernatural legends and she said
they were true; I believed them too. She would entertain us with stories
and would tell us about her life on the farm when she was a child, and
John would tell us all about his completely different childhood in the
inner-city of Dublin.
I remembered the theme of these legends but not the exact
details so it was necessary to telephone the Informant and ask for the
legends again. I called Mary and asked her permission to use the Banshee
legends that she used to tell me. She was delighted but at first she insisted
that she could not remember them. Then she said, "Ah yes, sure I
remember this one well..."
"...my father told me this story, you know,
I was only little then.
A man, Michael Clark, from across the field down home.
You remember Looscaun? Sure you do.
Lara: oh sure, yes.
Well, my mother had gone across the field to see
His wife was alive then too. I suppose she must have been helping or
Well, you know Tom Joe, he was only young, must have been about 12 or
He died there a few years back, you remember? God rest his soul.
He was out in the field and he came into my father and said
"Come here, come here, I hear someone crying in the field. I hear
someone roaring and wailing!"
My father went out to the field and said "Michael must be very bad!"
They thought it might have been Mrs. Clark crying.
My father noted the time when he came in; wondering when my mother would
It was about a quarter to nine in evening then.
The crying kept getting louder and louder, They thought it was Mrs. Clark
But the sound kept moving up the field, you know, all the time getting
Well my father went to meet my mother, or she came home, I don't know
And hadn't poor old Michael Clark died. My father asked my mother at what
time he had died.
She told it was about a quarter to nine when he passed on.
That was the very same time Tom Joe had heard the wailing and roaring.
They knew it must have been the Banshee crying for poor old Clark.
Now that's a true story. My father used to tell it. We were all scared
by that story of the wailing of the Banshee. I was only young them, I
was Mary Bugler then of course.
Lara: Thanks for that Mary,
that's it exactly. That's great and will really help me with my paper.
It was a common thing years ago to hear about Banshees.
They used cry for certain families. It was a warning. If you heard a Banshee
you knew you would hear of someone dying.
Oh sure over at Powers Cross, beside the shop, sure you were there many
Lara: Oh yes, we used to cycle
up on the old black bikes.
Yes. A man, Aberton was his name, I forget his
Christian name though. Anyway, it must have been summer time cause he
got up early to cut hay. You remember Timmy used to have a field up there?
You went cutting hay there one time with them.
This Aberton needed some bog for the fire to make breakfast, for the tea
He went up to the bog, with the pony and cart I suppose.
Up in the bog didn't he hear bawling crying. He knew it was the sound
of the Banshee.
He thought to himself that he would soon hear of a neighbor or friend
having died - he know someone would be dead. So anyway, he went home with
some turf from the bog and set the fire. There were two of them living
in the house that time, himself and his brother. He went in to give his
brother a cup of tea and sure wasn't he dead!
There you have it. That's true too. You do not hear much of the Banshee
2. Informant's source
Mary's father told her these two legends. It must have been 60 years ago
or more when she heard them from him in Galway, Ireland. Mary says that
they used to talk a lot and tell stories when she was a child because
they did not have television.
3. Informant's discussion of the legend
After finishing the legends Mary discussed the Banshee as follows:
She used to cry for certain families. It was said she would often sit
in a tree, combing her long hair.
If you found a comb back then you were never to pick it up in case it
belonged to her.
It would have brought bad luck to you. She was a warning.
But not everyone would hear or see her and she did not cry for everyone.
She also said that these legends were true and she was sincere when she
wondered why one does not hear them anymore.
4. Collector's Appraisal of Informant's use of Folklore
I have heard the informant tell these legends before. The telling was
always in her own house. She did not tell these legends in front of strangers.
It was usually winter when we would hear Mary telling stories when we
were stuck inside because of the weather.
Other stories Mary told me are about warts and their removal. One method
Mary talked about is to cut-up a turnip and rub the wart with it, then
you bury the turnip and the wart will disappear. Another method is to
have someone buy the wart from you, and it will go away.
5. Collectors Appraisal of the Storytelling Event
and the Story
Banshee legends always occur in a rural setting and in these legends
it is in farm land in rural Co. Galway, Ireland. The esoteric group are
farmers and their families; in both legends elements of farming were mentioned.
These legends do not apply to city dwellers, the exoteric group. I am
part of that exoteric group, but the function of Mary telling these legends
was not to exclude me. Rather the function of the original telling was
primarily to entertain us. In addition, I believe, Mary used to tells
us these legends to let us see into her life as a child. She did not like
living in the city and retired to the same area she grew-up in about ten
years ago. I believe these legends reminded Mary of her home and entertained
her as much as they did us. Part of the function was to show me her esoteric
Banshee legends function as a discussion of death with the effect of upholding
the mysticism and scariness associated with death. The Banshee is similar
to the "Grim Reaper Death" who comes knocking on the door. The
theme of the Banshee legend is that Death warns friends and/or family
of those who are about to die. A Banshee is female as opposed to the male
"Grim Reaper." Ireland has mythology entrenched in her storytelling
and in Ireland's early mythology the earth was female. When a person dies
it is believed that they are returned into the female earth. As noted
above, these stories relate to farmers who work the land and it is symbolic
that when they die they will be returned to the land.
The meaning can be that death is predestined and when the Banshee cries
it is someone's turn to die. It is said that the Banshee only cried for
certain families, perhaps this was a way of adding a special importance
to someone's death because the Banshee cried for them. People have many
superstitions and fears about dying and the Banshee crying gives a warning
and a sign that someone special is about to die. When a person dies many
people react by saying they knew it would happen, that they had a feeling,
and other such remarks. The Banshee comes from this desire to be in control
of the uncontrollable event of death.
As can be noted from the Informant, these legends are not told much anymore
which suggest the meaning and function are no longer valid. With the age
of television children are entertained without adults having to tell them
stories. Science and technology have eroded the mysticism and uncertainty
of medical illness and death.
6. Collector's Comments on the Fieldwork Process
Although I had heard the legends before, I was nervous telephoning the
Informant to ask her to re-tell them. I was not sure if she would understand
why I needed the story after so many years after her telling me. I explained
that I was doing a paper for college and that I always remember the stories
she used to tell. I reminded her of the Banshee legends in particular.
Mary laughed and thought it was funny that I would remember them after
such a long time. Contrary to my feelings that she would think it was
silly, she was actually delighted to recount them and said she should
write them down for me some time. I hope she does.