Western People – The Night Ballina Heard the Banshee’s Moans

By Conor McGuire


All old towns and old houses have their ghosts, and why not Ballina? Were there not acts which had passed there in the past, in 1798, for example, where the inhabitants were hanged from the branches of the trees at the moment when they were hanging the men and the women; if not for the wearing of green, then for another form of patriotic fervor, which prepares the imagination of the non-Orthodox? Weren’t there, even today, not ten years ago, incidents sowing death and destruction on the streets of cities which, so to speak, served as the basis for supernatural visits to the era.
“When cemeteries yawn and graves abandon their dead?”
And when could we more appropriately imagine a return, for purposes of salvation and farewell, then at the hour when the last day of the old year merges with the first hour of the new, when the imagination of everyone civilized is centered on tipping?

We hate to think that Ballina should be an odd town among old towns, but that’s the way it is. We really don’t have a satisfying and colorful imitation of one of our ghosts, except in these dreary times the ghosts of vanished prosperity. But no one wants to be reminded of this class of ghosts. It is of a variety too common in every town and city. Ghosts are only appreciated when they do unusual or threatening things – something exciting and spectacular. There’s a thrill in the sound of chains in a dark alley at midnight. But none but the least original ghost ever descends into this sort of vulgar terrorism these days. We expect better behavior from ghosts at this advanced age, and perhaps realizing this, they have stopped worrying since the tax on their originality has proven too much for them.
A type of politician tells us that the spirit of freedom is dead in Ireland. Perhaps that’s why we never hear of the ghost of Liberty, even from the least patriotic among us – and why so many of us who think we’re super patriots aren’t haunted.
Now, although we don’t believe in ghosts – and it takes something very substantial to convince the young man or woman of the 20th century – the Banshee is a relic about which even the burliest of us must have apprehensions. The reason the Banshee survived may be that this particular kind of spirit only attached itself to the oldest and best families. Therefore, none of us want to put her away, although we are not eager to hear her voice.

Hundreds of people in Ballina heard the moans of the Banshee on New Year’s Eve, just as the old year was passing. And the visitation being quite unexpected, as we were, in one jovial way or another, seeing the old year pass by, it was all the more terrifying.
It wasn’t a single moan that lasted a moment and went away. It was a series of prolonged moans, so loud and each time ending in cadences so impressive that no one could doubt their ears. And we who were trembling with laughter the moment before, we were shivering with fear; repented of our wrongdoings and made resolutions for total abstinence or better lives for the future.
We learn that at least a dozen strong and generally incredulous men turned pale at this voice which rose near the cemetery. We have been assured, and may well be believed, that two lone bachelors had, upon hearing it near their back door, gathered their short skirts around them and fled to neighbors no less frightened than themselves. . And it is recorded that the two lonely bachelors had nearly lost their minds before the neighbors’ door was opened to admit them, their beating and screaming – following the Banshee’s moans causing the neighbor’s husband’s knees to shake inexplicably and keeping him, in spite of the entreaties of the neighbor, to open the door.
They tell how residents of Hill Street and the surrounding area knew for sure that the moans came from a now little-used cemetery in the neighborhood, and when the clamor died down, agreed in low tones that the unearthly sounds could not have only one origin. Weren’t the clothes of many murdered children dug up at the same time, a long time ago now, in a certain place nearby? Hadn’t their grandfathers talked about the discovery?

The Ballina marching band was playing happily in the new year. He had just finished his initial greeting when the Banshee moaned. The little boys who had disobeyed their parents’ orders to go to bed and had run away to follow the mob, felt their hair stand on end and collectively rushed back to their homes. Men who had imbibed the end-of-year freedom of wine from the country, or another country, stopped short and became sober. Women of all ages who had been lured out of their homes by the music emitted protective ejaculations and fled inside; the band went into a blowing frenzy and blew till the instruments seemed to burst, and their lungs gave up the contest still above their best efforts, floated in the air the moan of the Banshee.

The moan was first a deep bass – like the protest of a million maddened bulls. Then it rose far beyond the top note of the highest soprano the world has ever known; it seemed that all the women in the lower region had come together in a groaning protest against the leap year death. For five long minutes, an eternity – it went on, then renewed, and finally, it died down when the new year was about ten minutes old.

Ballina had her ghost – and no private or party ghosts. Finally, something to talk about – it didn’t speak for itself – the New Year’s nights to come in the lives of those who heard it and the unborn thousands yet to be told something – but why prolong the history, because if the thrill is still remembered, its origin is no longer a mystery. It sprang from the mighty gorges of the foghorn and siren of the steamer ‘Fermanagh’, which was on a prosaic visit to unload a cargo of cement at Ballina Quay and exercised its six county privilege of joining to the jubilation of Saorstat Eireann.
Ballina’s only ghost has been buried.


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