By Mike Scruggs “I worked like a banshee,” she said. “A curious expression,” I thought. Ireland is a land of mystic legend, haunting music, lilting poetry, and colorful expressions, and these have followed the Irish and their descendents around the world.
I happen to be fond of all these things in addition to a good bowl of Irish stew. I seldom write poetry, but hearing this reference to banshees as an expression of hard work set me to researching and reminiscing about Irish culture, and the words came. This poem was written in May 2008 after taking an evening walk in the mountains of Western North Carolina.
Aine, the Banshee Queen
A full and golden moon is rising in the East.
Signal of the Elf-Queen Aine’s ancient magic feast.
Listen as the leaves rustle in the gentle wind
Enchanted Elven voices whisper in the glen.
Louder now their voices rise in mystic song,
In the darkness of the oaks, a thousand voices strong.
Swifter is their dancing to the music of her lyre,
Alluring are the banshees robed in celestial fire.
But beware the glimpse of this enchanted scene.
Beware the haunting beauty of the Elven Queen.
Look not into the depth of her enchanting eyes
Or allow her lilting laughter to leave you less than wise.
For you are only mortal man, and she is Queen of Ainemor,
The land of twilight dreams, hidden on an ancient shore.
Fair are her banshee sisters who wear the silver comb,
Enthralling are the rhythms of their ancient rites and home.
Is there more winsome music than the voice of Aine in her
As she plays on her golden lyre the hymns that stars and
angels have sung?
Rise golden moon, above the shoulders of these mountains
and their Druid trees.
But how can I forget the haunting beauty of the Elven Queen
and her woodland melodies?
In the mythical history of Ireland, Aine came to Ireland with the Tuatha De Danann–the people of the goddess Danu—possibly a Celtic river goddess associated with the Danube in Central Europe. It is pronounced “Awnya” in the Gaelic dialect of Connacht and “Enya” in the Gaelic dialect of Ulster.
Banshees are best defined according to Irish mythology as “fairy women” or women of the People of Peace or women of the goddess Danu. They are essentially the same as elves. In later Irish history they became associated with announcing the death of a loved one. This association is probably linked to an early Irish and Scottish Celtic custom of having a woman sing at the funeral of a loved one. In the most ancient traditions, banshees were noted for their captivating beauty and singing and wore white or green, not black. Banshees traditionally carried a silver comb.
The Tuatha De Danann are said to have landed on the west coast of Ireland and defeated the Fir Bolg. According to one legend, the Fir Bolg had been slaves of the Greeks for 300 years, before stealing ships and arriving on the west coast of Ireland. Is this connected to the Trojan War? Again according to legend, the Tuatha De Danann granted the Fir Bolg permission to remain in the western portion of Connacht, while they took the rest of Ireland and made the Hill of Tara their capital.
According to a document called the Annals of the Four Masters, authors unknown, which gave the history of Ireland since the Great Deluge, eight De Danann High Kings ruled Ireland from Tara from 1897 BC to 1700 BC. They were said to be advanced in science, arts, and magic, and having themselves supernatural powers. Both the De Danann and the Fir Bolg have been speculatively linked to the huge Megalithic burial mounds containing passage graves and said to be built by Neolithic tomb builders in Ireland over 5,000 years ago.
In 2001, I visited the largest of these mounded passage graves—Newgrange in County Meath. Newgrange was built around 3200 BC and is thus older than Stone Hinge in England or the Egyptian pyramids. It is an impressive 249 feet in diameter and engraved with many mysterious symbols that have become symbols of Ireland and its Celtic heritage. Tourists may walk down into the center of the passage graves, where some of their ancestors may have been buried over 5,200 years ago. It is located in a beautiful and pleasant area close to the River Boyne. Tara is also located in County Meath.
The great treasures and symbols of De Danann power were:
The Stone of Fal, also called the Stone of Destiny, seated on the Hill of Tara, which tested the legitimacy of kings. This legend resembles the historical Stone of Scone on which Scottish kings were crowned.
The Spear of Lugh, which could not be defeated. The hero Lugh also had a magic sling-shot that never missed. Perhaps the story of David and Goliath has been mixed in here.
The Sword of Light, a shinning symbol of the De Danann, which was also invincible and bears a resemblance to Excalibur in Arthurian legends.
The Cauldron of Dagda, which supplied endless food and healing. Dagda was a Druid-like tribal father-figure deity of the De Danann, who carried a magic staff and wore a hooded cloak. In this he bears a resemblance to the Norse god Odin and J.R.R Tolkien’s good-guy wizard Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
According to legend, the De Danann were defeated by an invading Celtic tribe or group of tribes called the Milesians and later called the Irish. Although late additions to the legend claimed they came from Spain after wandering the globe for many years, their
Q-Celtic language strongly suggests that they came from Great Britain or nearby areas of the European continent. Modern DNA studies have found that there is a huge layer of pre-Germanic Celtic DNA in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and southern Norway. The Germanic Cimbri tribe in Jutland evidenced strong Celtic underlying affinities. It may have been the arrival of Germanic tribes that drove large numbers of these Celts to Britain and Ireland.
Again, according to fantastic legend, the De Danann agreed to take the part of Ireland beneath the surface and the otherworld, while the more recent Irish Milesians kept the surface of Ireland. So we have legends of banshees, faeries, leprechauns, cauldrons of gold, magic swords, and wonderful music, poetry, and imaginative literature.
The Irish did not discard their legendary heritage, but they adopted Christianity, and Irish missionaries brought Christianity to Scotland and much of Britain and northern Europe.
The Tuatha De Danann were probably an actual Celtic people that originated around the Danube River on the Continent. Their symbols are everywhere in Ireland, including the Celtic or Irish harp, which is on the Irish Coat of Arms. God bless Ireland!