The bean-sidhe (woman of the fairy may be an ancestral spirit appointed to forewarn members of certain ancient Irish families of their time of death. 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.
Whatever her origins, the banshee chiefly appears 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 (washing woman).
Although not always seen, her mourning call is heard, usually at night when someone is about to die. In 1437, King James I of Scotland was approached by an Irish seeress or banshee who foretold his murder at the instigation of the Earl of Atholl. This is an example of the banshee in human form. There are records of several human banshees or prophetesses attending the great houses of Ireland and the courts of local Irish kings. In some parts of Leinster, she is referred to as the bean chaointe (keening woman) whose wail can be so piercing that it shatters glass. In Kerry, the keen is experienced as a “low, pleasant singing”; in Tyrone as “the sound of two boards being struck together”; and on Rathlin Island as “a thin, screeching sound somewhere between the wail of a woman and the moan of an owl”.
The banshee may also appear in a variety of other forms, such as that of a hooded crow, stoat, hare and weasel – animals associated in Ireland with witchcraft.
H/t >The Banshee
I belong to the Kavanagh clan, so in essence the Banshee would/should forewarn me of impending death.
I remember as a child sometimes being told by some adults (who took me out of Goldenbridge at week-ends and at holiday-time up to the age of nine) to never pick up a dirty comb that was lying on Boyne street. It really does make sense on a hygienic level as to why I was told not to do that whilst out playing with other children. As at the time a favourite past-time of mine was playing music with a comb and silver paper, the latter of which was taken from a cigarette packet and was thus pressed against the comb, and then fiercely blown into by me. The humming into the silver paper and comb caused such a tickling sensation that made me want to scratch the lips intermittently. The music that emanated from the comb was all soaring and loud and uproariously joyous to the ears. It never ceased to amaze me. Nonetheless, the main reason as to why one should never have stooped to pick up a comb off the street was because the comb would have belonged to the Banshee who had long straggly dirty hair. One should never touch or play music with a dirty comb. Sounds laudable enough, doesn’t it?
I’ve been to lots of wakes in rural Ireland and have heard mourners talk of the Banshee having keened before the death of the loved ones. The cry is supposed to be like no other human cry and the experiences remain with them for forevermore.
Be warned: if you are of timid disposition please don’t read any further on some of the Irish Fairies below as they might just upset your equilibrium.
Update: I googled Banshee and was pleased to see that the myth about the comb is mentioned at wiki here.
This comb detail is also related to the centuries-old traditional romantic Irish story that, if you ever see a comb lying on the ground in Ireland, you must never pick it up, or the banshees (or mermaids — stories vary), having placed it there to lure unsuspecting humans, will spirit such gullible humans away.