Tag Archives: spirits

THE O’CONCHOBHAIR BANSHEE By T.R. Heinan

For TR Sept 24 banshee-public-domain

  My great uncle had just celebrated his eighty-second birthday but he was dressed in his old police uniform, resting in the kitchen of his house on Chicago’s south side.  Until my sister lifted me, all I could see was a fair allowance of flowers and his nose sticking up past the rim of his coffin.  I recall thinking that old people sure had a lot of hair in their noses. It was that night, at his wake, after the grown-ups offered fifty-thee “Hail Mary’s” and more than a few toasts from some bottles of Jameson’s, that I first heard the word “banshee”.   The deceased was from the Walsh side of the family, a common surname indicating that some ancestor had once emigrated from Wales to Ireland.

The Walsh brothers, and one sister, my grandmother, traveled one by one from Ballylongford in County Kerry to Chicago, the lads each joining the Windy City’s constabulary soon after stepping off the train from New York.  The last to arrive, in 1889, was little Mary Ellen.  Twenty-three years later, that girl with the black pin curls and Irish brogue became my mother’s mother after marrying Edward Conners, an Episcopalian member of the Ó Conchobhair clan. She liked to say that she had rescued him from several generations of Orangemen who had so “miserably butchered” the family name.  According to my aunts, Catholicism was Grandma’s gift to Edward and the O’Conchobhair (O’Connor) banshee was his gift to her. Grandpa could be forgiven for saying there was too much superstition among the Catholics.  Too often, that was true. Being devout was not the same as being well instructed. On the other hand, it was his family that claimed to have a banshee.

Given the times and the Troubles, my grandparents seem to have done a remarkable job of removing bigotry, resentment, and prejudice from their lives.  Edward, a bridge tender for the railroad, admired the dedication that his wife’s Catholic brothers put into keeping the peace.  When Prohibition arrived, they all had enough rank to make sure you could still even have a drink in peace. They may have been guilty of accepting some “gratuities” but they weren’t afraid to put their lives on the line. One of them died in the line of duty trying to rescue a young girl who was being attacked in an alley.  Grandma shared her husband’s religious tolerance.  She admired the pioneering spirit of Grandpa’s family and would at least allow that the outhouses in England probably didn’t smell any worse than the ones in Ireland.

Grandma was not altogether unfamiliar with Protestants even in a Catholic village as small as Ballylongford.  She grew up only a few doors away from the childhood home of Horatio Herbert Kitchener, First Earl of Khartoum, and Great Britain’s Secretary of State for War. While city folk might dismiss Ballylongford as merely a wide spot on a road that followed the estuary of the River Shannon, our family knew it was home to Earl Kitchener, home to the former Jesuit writer Malachi Martin, and home to Grandmother Mary Ellen Walsh Conners.   It was also the first village in Ireland to have a refrigerator for their pub.  Nobody from Cork or Dublin or Derry could claim any of that!

Some of this might have been part of the conversation the night of my great uncle’s wake.  I only remember bits and pieces, scenes frozen forever in my mind, snippets of conversation.  I was a child, and had the scene not seemed so very peculiar to me, I might have forgotten it entirely.  Perhaps the only reason I remember any of it was that I was quite sure we never ever kept a dead guy in the kitchen at our house.

“Did he hear the banshee?” my mother asked.  No doubt, some of the retired cops in the room smiled, perhaps even smirked at the question.  I don’t recall.  What I do remember is my Aunt Harriet saying, “She means was he prepared.”   At the time I couldn’t begin to imagine how one prepares to recline and remain motionless in a wooden box while dozens of folks cry, laugh, pray and talk about you.

The Walsh brothers may have scoffed at the notion, but to my mother, the banshee was very real, a family spirit that came to help you prepare for death.  Apparently there is no Walsh family banshee, but the tradition of the O’Conchobhair Banshee has been passed on for centuries.  The O’Briens, the O’Neills and the O’Gradys each had their family banshee.  The Fitzgeralds, I was told, were not allowed to have one.  I don’t know if that was a blessing or a curse. Often in literature and film, a banshee is a terrifying creature. To some Irish families, a banshee is a fairy-like being. To others it is a frightful female spirit that sounds like the mournful keeners at an Irish funeral.  Our family banshee was always portrayed as an angelic spirit who came with a beautiful song to remind you to repent, to forgive, and to let go of earthly attachments.  My grandmother claimed to hear the banshee shortly before she died.

The tradition of the banshee goes well past the shores of Ireland.  It can be found in Scotland and Wales and some Vikings even carried tales of the banshees back to Norway.  Once out of Ireland, banshees appear to no longer tie themselves to clans or families.

According to my mother, Grandma Conners attended Mass every Sunday before praying the rosary.  After that, it was her tradition to sing as she prepared Sunday brunch for her husband, son, and five daughters.  The song she sang was always the same, “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”.  “I never heard that song in Ireland,” she would say, “but I think it’s so beautiful.  If ever I hear the banshee, I pray she will sing something beautiful like that.”

I don’t know if Grandma really heard a banshee.  I don’t know if they are the stuff of fairy tales or actual manifestations of heavenly spirits.  What I suspect is that in a society where we tend to avoid thinking or discussing preparation for death, the song of the O’Conchobhair banshee might just be worth hearing.  The simple fact is that sooner or later we all die. I suspect that no matter what we believe, or even if we believe in nothing at all, we would probably have a better death if first we forgive others and let go of our resentments and earthly attachments.  Like it or not, the day of the banshee is seldom as distant as we want to believe.  My own hope is that some spirit will remind me of all that before I get stuffed into a wooden box, be it in a Chicago kitchen or elsewhere.

T.R. Heinan is the author of L’immortalité: Madam Lalaurie and the Voodoo Queen, a reflection on justice and compassion set in the historical context of a haunting 19th century New Orleans legend.http://www.amazon.com/LImmortalite-Madame-Lalaurie-Voodoo-Queen/dp/0615634710

We Are Not Alone by Maggie Tideswell

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Ghosts and apparitions have held great interest to humankind through all the ages. At first, ghosts of the dearly departed were accepted as fact and formed part of everyday life and rituals, but as we became gradually more technologically sophisticated, so the skepticism grew. It is a basic instinct to fear what one doesn’t understand or can’t reasonably explain.

Because “ghosthunting” isn’t a real science and has depended on amateurs with imperfect methods and imperfect equipment, knowledge has remained rather sketchy. Of course ghost stories are steeped in folklore. As tales get passed on from generation to generation, they becomes embellished and distorted. These stories were told to warn and to entertain and weren’t necessarily meant to be accepted as fact.

Personally I’ve always been interested in the paranormal, and have recently started questioning the nature of apparitions of the dead. I wanted to know why the spirits of some people linger after death and others not. To find answers, I first had to explore the nature of ghosts in general.

Let’s be honest. We’ve all heard inexplicable little sounds we hear at odd times for which we couldn’t find reasonable explanations. And because we’re scared of ghosts and things that go bump in the night, it makes one feel better to blame the noisy neighbors. And what about the movement we catch from the corner of the eye that we assign to shifting light casting shadows? Sometimes when we can’t come up with a logical explanation, it’s just more comforting to blame our own overactive imagination. But is it possible that all this space around us is not empty?

I believe we’re all born with the ability to “see.” Unfortunately our perception changes over time as we mature. This suggests that in the process of socialization, the ability is blocked when it’s assigned to the child’s imagination.

Here are a few interesting “facts” regarding the experience of ghostly activity:

•                Whereas children can see ghosts, only about one in ten adults retain that ability.

•                Women are more likely than men to see a ghost.

•                The higher the IQ, the lower the likelihood of seeing a ghost.

•                People actively looking for ghosts are the least likely to see one, and by the flip of a coin, those who disregard their presence are quite likely candidates to have a ghostly experience.

The most common explanation of what ghosts are, is that they’re the spirits of people who have died prematurely and so still have unfinished business to complete. The soul incarnates into each new life with a set of prescribed tasks to complete in that life for the development of that soul. When death comes unexpectedly or early, some of the tasks might still be incomplete and the soul is unable to cross over to the spirit world. The spirit then lingers around his or her old haunts and friends and family. This kind of sighting is highly interactive, and not only is a conversation possible, one may even capture the spirit in a video or photo. Some people stick to this theory of the nature of ghosts because they seem to accept it as proof of life after death.

Another theory is that high-impact events are recorded in the surroundings where the event takes place. The recording is then replayed so to speak, over and over, but can only be seen by people who have retained the sensitivity. This could manifest as the actual seeing of the apparition, but it could also take the form of recurring smells or sounds. The recording consists of a very strong emotion or a violent event. As this is only a recording of an event, it makes sense that there can be no interaction with the ghost as such. This is what is called poltergeist activity, as a poltergeist is attached to a place or house or even a single room in a house and doesn’t respond to the people occupying the space.

Recently in South Africa, our own Paralympic athlete, Oscar Pistorius, was accused of murdering his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in the early hours of Valentine’s Day 2013. The trial is still continuing as of this writing. The state has tried to prove that it was premeditated murder, while Pistorius has claimed that it was a case of mistaken identity.

Then Pistorius’ legal team announced that Pistorius’ home, where the murder took place, was to be sold to offset his escalating legal fees. It is a beautiful house, in a good neighbourhood in Pretoria, South Africa. But the intense fear and violence of Reeva’s death has to be recorded in that bathroom where she was killed. Also, as in all murders, life is cut off prematurely, which leaves the soul with unfinished business, making it impossible for her spirit to cross over. For some this house will be even more desirable for this possibility; for others it will become a place to avoid.

A third theory of what ghosts are, states that they are naturally occurring electromagnetic events. We all leave impressions on the places we visit during our lives. So, one place could have the impressions of many people who had visited it over time. I’m not sure if these impressions would be interpreted as ghosts, though.

Similarly, there is a theory that ghosts are actual people living in parallel dimensions that overlap our dimension for a time. I suppose one must consider all options, but this one seems unlikely.

And the theory that ghosts live only in the imagination would seem to satisfy only those who have lost their ability to perceive.

Whatever the nature of ghosts, I believe they are there, whether one accepts them or not. And remember, if you don’t believe in the existence of such spirits, then you stand a much better chance of being  visited by one.

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South African born and bred, Maggie loves all things paranormal. Her stories reflect her interest of things unexplained. Maggie loves books (the smell of paper), tea, wine, and her cat Felix, who is her constant companion. https://www.amazon.com/author/maggietideswell