Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Story of the Irish Banshee

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge is sponsored by the team at Two Writing Teachers. Join us
and write your slice. Link up every day in March and on Tuesdays throughout the school year. 

My father was the first in his family born in the United States. A few years ago, we were sharing stories from Boston and NCTE. 

I started with snow flurries and the amazing Sunday wind that made our hotel room shriek because the seal was so tight. 

That story triggered Dad's memory--my memory of that window seal shrieking--suddenly he was telling us about the Irish Banshee, a spirit known to shriek and wail at a loved one's death. I imagined a moor--lots of peat and heather, clumps of clover all looking deep gray nearly midnight blue at sunset. Because of course that is when a Banshee would shriek. 

Having activated our background knowledge (and curiosity) he connected to Banshee to our warrior grandfather.  

He told us a story about his father's fight in Fermoy, an area near the Cork countryside.

Dad and Aunt Bea (his mother's sister) in Donegal Ireland, 1980.

In Dublin, late 1990s.

My grandfather fought in the Irish Republican Army. He was a guerrilla in 1916.  He was traveling by foot across the countryside with his band of men when they heard a story about a woman who had passed away sitting up in a chair.

"Do you know what rigor mortis is?"my Dad asks my son.

"You know when a body stiffens after death," I clarify as Collin nods his head, eyes widening at the image of a person who died sitting up.

Well, my grandfather and his men had run out of food. Maybe it had only been a day or two, but they were hungry when they heard the sounds of a wake float across the field. They knew that the mourners would be well stocked with food and drink.

So, they made their way to the house. One man snuck into a window. He found the deceased laid out for viewing. The body was tied tightly to a bed to hold it in place (or straighten it out). This man crawled under the bed with a knife.  Another man in the squad started shrieking and soon a few fellows joined in the strange call. 

The mourners started to gather near the bed just as the terrible sounds started outside. Then suddenly, the deceased sprung up into a sitting position (the man hidded under the bed had cut the cords holding the deceased down).

As the story goes, the mourners ran screaming from the house. Once the house was confirmed clear, Grandpa and his squad moved in and ate a good meal. 

 That is only one of two Irish war stories he  ever told.You should have seen my son's eyes at this story and heard my Dad's laugh. My Dad was quite a prankster--perhaps it came by that trait honestly. 

Tomorrow we will hold our own version of a wake. He won't be on display for a viewing. It won't be a traditional Irish affair. But we will have a small feast and take comfort in a band of friends and an army of family. Dad had an adventurous eighty-three years on this side of the curtain: a wonderful life. 


  1. I thought about you today as my AP Lit students and I discussed Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried," specifically O'Brien's words about writing connecting the past with the present and the "happening again" that writing makes happen. Here you are now doing what O'Brien describes, and writing about a war memory.

    Ken and I are traveling to Ireland this summer, and I will think of this story during our travels.

  2. Love the narrative you've captured here! What a great story legacy you are leaving!