Hilary Fannin: There are two types of banshee – good-girl and bad-girl banshees

It’d be hard to imagine a banshee turning up nowadays in our prosperous suburbs

‘Banshees – they cast no shadow.’ Above, a scene from Darby O’Gill and the Little People

We paid a mad amount of money for two breakfasts of poached eggs on toast that came with a sprinkling of Middle Eastern spices and a little bowl of chorizo jam. It was a treat, though, to lick my teaspoon and look around the pleasant neighbourhood cafe, where groups of women in Lycra lingered over their lattes.

The waitress had pink hair and an aquamarine nose ring. Throwing caution to the wind, we asked her for two more coffees and then remortgaged to pay for them. I visited the toilet before we left – it was lovely, with scented soap and oceanic-inspired potpourri, and the ornamental driftwood was an awfully nice touch too.

Having tipped the waitress, we said goodbye and set off for a walk along the leafy suburban roads. Revelling in the abundance of flowering magnolias in all the pretty gardens, we entertained ourselves further by peering at other people’s site notices. A whole heap of residents in that particular neck of the redbrick woods, it seems, are planning on wrapping their wallets around a wraparound kitchen.

As we walked, we spoke about ghosts and the tradition in our shared extended family (many of whom once lived in this neighbourhood) of banshees rocking up to herald the passing of our progenitors.


It'd be hard to imagine a banshee turning up nowadays in any one of the prosperous dwellings we were strolling past

One of these banshees was discovered, by the son of a dying relative, sitting on the end of the bed the night before his father died. Another caped lamenter, also espied by the son of an imminently dying father, was traversing the middle of the road under the moonlight just outside the family home.

“She had no shadow,” my companion informed me.

“Sorry?” (I’d been distracted from the conversation by a frisky japonica.)

“Banshees – they cast no shadow.”

“Neither does a glass extension,” I said, looking at a slice of biophilic architecture abutting a handsome house at the end of the road, which was doing a sterling job of connecting building and occupants to abundant nature.

“Do you believe in ghosts?” she asked me.

“Maybe,” I replied. Not to, I thought, would seem churlish, having grown up with a mother who quite regularly, it seemed to me, had wandering spirits intrude on her reality.

Enchanting women

Mind you, it’d be hard to imagine a banshee turning up nowadays in any one of the prosperous dwellings we were strolling past. The keening chanteuses would have to circumnavigate the advanced home-security systems, make sure not to trip over the modular sofas and be damn sure that they fitted in with the overall aesthetic before they opened their gummy mouths.

There are the bad-girl banshees whose unearthly howls chill you to the bone. These are women with reasons to hate

I read somewhere that there are two types of banshee. First, there are the good-girl banshees who appear as beautiful, enchanting women who sing a sorrowful song filled with concern and love for their families. (That particular brand of sweetly compliant banshee is generally rewarded with a Dyson Airwrap in her Christmas stocking, a dress allowance, a plug-in Mini Cooper and an apartment close to the city centre.)

And then, of course, there are the bad-girl banshees whose unearthly howls chill you to the bone. These are women with reasons to hate, women who aren’t lamenting the loss of a loved one but celebrating the future demise of someone they abhor.

I couldn’t tell you if our antecedents’ banshees were of the wailing or the lilting variety – still, decent of them to turn up at all, I suppose.

Awaiting probate

We walked on through the pleasant suburb, cutting through verdant lanes, past steepled churches. Some roads sported more than one “Sale Agreed” sign. On closer inspection, the properties appeared empty, with raggy gardens, draughty window frames and rusting front gates. Apparently the local estate agents have waiting lists of moneyed clients ready to pounce once probate is sorted out, clients itching to gut, to extend, to modernise, to begin transformative journeys of restoration.

My companion and I didn't stop outside the house to reminisce. It's out of my league now

The house my mother grew up in (the dwelling place of the restless banshees) is up for sale again. It had stayed in the family for many years after she left it. I remember playing hide-and-seek in the long back garden there. I remember, too, climbing up to the bedroom she’d lain in as a child for months and months, recovering from peritonitis. Sitting on the turning stair, I imagined I could smell the lilies in her sickroom, left there to disguise the scent of poison leaking from her gut.

My companion and I didn’t stop outside the house to reminisce. It’s out of my league now, pricing me out of any lingering sense of attachment. The ghosts and their guides are all one now, bygone souls drifting over the floor plans, silent witnesses to earthly progress.