Bean Sídhe Abhainn an Laoi

This is originally a short story written by Michael Scott and found in his 1991 book “The River Gods: Irish River Legends”. It is fiction based on folk legends of the main rivers of Ireland. I made a few changes in the narrative as some of the fiction got a tad outlandish. It is based on the river Lee which flows though my native county Cork.

Le meas,

Seán Ó Tuama.

This river gives me life. Its waters sustain me. While it flows, I live. I feed not on flesh and water, but memories and emotions.

I was once human, now I am legend.

I am the Bean Sídhe.”

“My people were the Tuatha Dé Danann, the people of the Goddess. I was with them when we sailed from the Dé Danann Isle in the Western Ocean. In our ships of gold and silver we fled across the sea in search of a new homeland. Some of my people settled on Lyonesse… but Lyonesse is no more, sunk beneath the waves for that same reason the Dé Danann Isle sank. Perhaps those who settled there were just especially stupid, or perhaps the arrogance that had destroyed our own race still drove them to believe that they were invincible. It matters little now: what matters is they had not learned the lesson of our own land. On Lyonesse, they used their magick to raise buildings, palaces, observatories and theatres in a day and a night. The wild uncontrolled magick stripped the earth of much of its power and allowed the sea to encroach. It was the tragedy of our own land all over again, but it had taken centuries to overwhelm the Dé Danann Isle – though the end came in a day and a night – with Lyonesse it was only a matter of decades and the end, when it came, was sudden and cataclysmic. Now only the water-folk inhabit its watery depths and swim through the once proud towers.

              “I was amongst the group which came to the land which one day be known as Erin. This was a wild and mysterious land then….nor was it unaccustomed to magick. When the world was young, the Old High Magick from the land of the Egyptians had been used to make the island grow from little more than a rock to something approaching its present size. That same magick had permeated the very rocks and lakes possessed a consciousness. Here was a land in harmony with the peoples and the beasts who walked its fields, here was a country sensitive to the moods of its people.

              “We too used our magick to make the land grow, but what we drew from the earth, we returned to the earth….even the beasts replenish the fields which nourish them, though they were fierce and fearsome warriors and cost us dearly in warriors and leaders. But once we had defeated our estranged kin, the Fir Bolg, we set out about making the land of Erin something like our magickal homeland.

              “For generations, we ruled this place, until the Sons of Mil came in their ships of wood and leather. We laughed at them. What could they do to us?

              “Our laughter was short-lived when we discovered that the Milesians had brought with them a fearsome weapon, something we could not hold, could not bear to look upon: the metal, iron.

              “We resisted the invaders for many seasons, but the end was envitable. The Milesians’ iron tools and artifacts slowly poisoned the land, the rivers, the very air we breathed, and so the Tuatha Dé began to retreat from the world of mortals. And by the time a new invader had entered our world. These were the brown-robed followers of the blood thirsty White Christ. And these were even more dangerous than the Milesians, because they turned the people away from us, gave them a false god to believe in, a new magick to worship. There were few of us left by that time though; most had already gone, even before the last of the Tuatha Dé had leftErin, the new people were beginning to called us the Sídhe, the faery-folk, magickal folk.

              “We finally left the land of Erin on the morning when the world turned and the seasons changed. Some went into glens that were hidden from human sight by rite of spells of magick; others retreated beneath the ground into the hills and mounds, Still more went to the magickal islands – Tir na nÓg, Tir Tairnigiri, Hy Brasil, Magh Míl – or the land beneath the waves, the Tir Faoi Thuinn.

              “I came to this river.”

“I had lived in a rath close to its source, in the Shehy mountains. It’s metallic tinkling had wakened me each morning, lulled me to sleep in the evenings. I had drunk its sweet waters, bathed in its icy chilliness. It had become such a part of my life that I saw no reason to leave it. But in accordance with the decision with the Ard Nasad – and through necessity too – I moved apart from the world of mortals, slipping slightly into the Otherworld.

              “And so now, existing partly in the Otherworld, partly in this realm, I wander the banks of the river that had been such a friend in life. This is not life as the humankind know life, nor is it death: but something between, I have no need to eat, no desire to drink. Now the emotions of the humans sustain me, keep me alive. I share their pain and passion, their fear and loathing.

              “I find death the hardest emotion of all to bear. Perhaps it is that humankind fear death so much. There is always much pain then, so much agony. There are times that I fear it will overwhelm me. Emotions are always so acute at the time of death.

              “And I am cursed with a little of the Sight. I know when one of them has been marked for death. I can see dark Macha spread her invisible crow-like wings and enwrap her next victim. Once death has claimed them, they are doomed……….and sometimes I cry aloud, venting my despair and agony.

              “And those unfortunate enough to hear me, those with a little of the Sídhe blood in them, will stop and whisper, Banshee…bean sídhe….faery woman.

              “My cry has become a portent of death.

              “Some of the human kind – those with a drop of the old blood in their veins- have seen me too. Occasionally they chance upon me as I sit on the riverbank combing my hair. When I am at ease that spell that cloaks me sometimes slips, rendering me visible. Others have stumbled upon me as I wash my robes in the river’s pure water. Sometimes they see meas a young maid, or a matron and sometimes a crone. They are not seeing me, they are seeing a reflection of their own desires. But they have all come to fear me…and without cause too. The Bean Sídhe heralds a death, she does not cause it.

“The human-kind have nothing to fear from the last remnants of a once-proud race.

              “Even now my power wanes. I wander the banks of this mighty river seeking, searching. Waiting…for one of the human kind to spare me a kindly word. I have been waiting from centuries. I doubt it will happen now. Soon I will be gone, but the legend will remain.

              “Bean Sídhe…..Banshee…….Baaaaansheeeeeeeeeeee……….”


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