Banshee or 'Bean-sidhe' is Irish for faerie woman - ban (bean), meaning a woman, and shee ( sidhe), meaning faerie. The banshee can appear in one of three guises: a young woman, a stately matron or a raddled old hag. These represent the triple aspects of the Celtic goddess of war and death, namely Badhbh, Macha and Mor-Rioghain.
She usually wears either a grey, hooded cloak or the winding sheet or grave robe of the unshriven dead. She may also appear as a washer-woman, and is seen apparently washing the blood stained clothes of those who are about to die. In this guise she is known as the bean-nighe or washing woman.
She always has long flowing hair and eyes red from crying.
When someone is about to die, the Banshee appears at the family's home during the night and weeps and wails. Sometimes, the Banshee cries for several nights in a row. Her sharp, cries and wails are also called 'keen'. The wail of a banshee pierces the night, it's notes rising and falling like the waves of the sea, it always announces a mortal's death.
She is solitary woman fairy, mourning and forewarning those only of the best families in Ireland, those with most ancient Celtic lineages, whose names begin with 'Mac/Mc' or 'O'. According to tradition, the banshee can only cry for five major Irish families: the O'Neills, the O'Briens, the O'Connors, the O'Gradys and the Kavanaghs. Intermarriage has since extended this select list.
Each Banshee has her own mortal family and out of love she follows the old race across the ocean to distant lands. Her wails or keen can be heard in America and England, wherever the true Irish have settled.
When a member of the beloved race is dying, she paces the dark hills about his house. She sharply contrasts against the night's blackness, her white figure emerges with silver-grey hair streaming to the ground and a grey-white cloak of a cobweb texture clinging to her tall thin body. Her face is pale, her eyes red with centuries of crying.
She is also know as White Lady of Sorrow and Lady of Death. Unseen, banshees attend the funerals of the beloved dead. Although, sometimes she can be heard wailing, her voice blending in with the mournful cries of others.