Hibernian relatives of Arial and Puck have a weird attractiveness
for the student of Irish folk lore, for many reasons and especially
because the traditions connected with them explain almost all those
superstitious peculiarities which are observable among the Irish
peasants. It is the duty of the poet to express in rhythmical periods
the aerial origin of what are sometimes called `those grovelling
superstitions of the Irish,' but for us it is only left to place
before our readers in round quotidianal prose some few of the countless
happy and poetic traits peculiar to our Irish elves.
The Irish word `sig' of `sighe,' pronounced `shee,' is the usual
generic title applied to this class of preternatural beings. The
`feas-shee' and the `ban-shee' belong to this category, meaning
respectively man and woman fairy.
The terror with which the name of the banshee is still received
by peasants throughout the length and breadth of the land, show
us clearly how widely-spread and how deeply-rooted was once the
belief in the `good people.'
Thousands of lovely, sensible Irish maidens tremble nightly at
their ruddy hearths when the whining of some `moon-baying' mongrel
re-echoes in the night air; and stalwarth bouchils, whose brawny
frame and supple limb bespeak Sampsonian prowess, grow pale at the
mention of the Banshee--the wailing prophetess of anticipated death.
So widespread a feeling as this would justify us in writing a volume,
if by doing so, while retaining the antique and the poetic portion
of the tradition, we succeeded in eradicating the foolish superstition.
Our senses, as several able metaphysicians argue, give no evidence
directly of the existence of the outer world, but only of our own
material organism as extended in plain words, we often seem to see
and to hear when there is neither sight nor sound presented to us.
This we are especially prone to when in an excited state of mind.
The poor, dreadful banshee, then, to the philosophical mind, is
a fraud, but yet no philosopher would be justified in annihilating
what by a little skill may be metamorphosed into a very beautiful
and harmless myth.