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The Banshee in Italy

The Banshee on a yacht in Italy

Let’s go now to a lake away in Italy, where a group of distinguished visitors – all elegant and intelligent folk, we can be assured – had gathered on the private yacht of a good friend of theirs, an Italian Nobleman by the name of Count Neilsini.

He was a proper gentleman, of refined tastes and company; so one of his guests, a Colonel, was very surprised to notice a crooked, grubby woman with her back to them, right down at the end of the boat.  Due to the seating arrangements, the other guests were not in a position to observe as he was.  Politely, he said nothing, but continued to watch her shuffling and swaying about down there, with no apparent purpose or employment.

Eventually his curiosity got the better of his manners, and he queried the Count as to who the queer looking old thing could possibly be, while keeping her in view out of the corner of his eye.  The Count’s response concerned him, for he was assured that there were only the visiting ladies present, and one young stewardess elsewhere.

The other guests looked on in trepidation as he quickly rose from his seat, turning the corner and disappearing from their view, but not from their hearing, as he continued to protest that he was indeed correct, and he would fetch back the strange woman to prove it.  His assertions turned to a scream of horror though, and when the other guests got to him he’d collapsed in a heap on the deck.  There was nobody else to be seen at all.

By the time they’d brought him round, and the gibbering had stopped, he was the fuller for three large brandies but not exactly calm yet.  The Count of course was demanding to know what had happened, but all the sense they could get from him was that he’d seen the woman’s face as she turned on his approach, and it was like “nothing belonging to this world.

It was a woman of no earthly type, with a queer-shaped, gleaming face, a mass of red hair, and eyes that would have been beautiful but for their expression, which was hellish.  She had on a green hood, after the fashion of an Irish peasant.”

One of the ladies present was American, of Irish descent, and had heard of such a thing before.  When she suggested that the description was like that of an Irish Banshee, the others laughed, but the Count grew pale, and decided to partake of some restorative brandy of his very own.

It turned out he was actually an O’Neill, or at least descended from one.  His family name was Neilsini, but had been O’Neill not more than a century before, when his great-grandfather served in the Irish Brigade.  On the Brigade’s dissolution at the time of the French Revolution, the Count’s grandfather had escaped the massacre of officers, and fled across the frontier to Italy in company with an O’Brien and a Maguire.  When he died, his son (who had been born there, and was far more Italian than Irish) changed his name to Neilsini, and from then on the family was known by that name – but the blood in his veins was still Irish.  None of the others knew what it could mean?

His concerned American guest solemnly explained that the appearance of the Banshee is a harbinger for the death of someone close in the family, though the person who shall die will never see the Fairy Woman for themselves.  The Count quickly sent word to land that his wife and daughter were to be looked after well that night, and he would return first thing in the morning, for he was frightened it’d be them the Banshee claimed.

He needn’t have worried so much about them though, because just as his yacht touched shore – but before he set foot on Italian soil again – wasn’t the Count himself seized with a violent attack of angina pectoris, and died before the morning.

And that’s not the only time I’ve heard such tales of the Banshee, not by a long shot, but sure, they are all stories for another day.


 

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Lora O'Brien

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