1770: Reverend Charles Bunworth’s Banshee

[Larger version here]

The Reverend Charles Bunworth was well-loved and respected in Buttevant and throughout County Cork, Ireland, and not just for his generous patronage of the last of the traveling harpists. When he became ill in 1770, many friends and family helped to care for him... therefore, a large number of people were witness to the many strange events that attended the Reverend's final day.

        About a week before his death, at a time when his illness was not yet thought to be of a grave nature, two strange things happened. First, early one evening, a noise like the shearing of sheep was heard to come from the hall-door... it was ignored at the time. Around 11 o'clock the same night, a man who had been sent out to fetch medicine returned; the Reverend's daughter, who received the medicine from the man, noticed he seemed very agitated, and questioned him on why. Overcome with emotion, the man began to cry... and told Miss Bunworth that he knew her father was going to die, despite his apparent health of the moment. When pressed for why he felt this to be true, the man informed her sadly that he, as well as others associated with the household, had become witnesses to a banshee... a female spirit that sings laments and mourns for a person before they die... and this banshee had clearly come for the Reverend.

        Miss Bunworth doubted the whole matter, but the man insisted he was sober and had seen the banshee. The strange being had traveled with him through part of his journey back, keening and singing the whole way, occasionally calling out the Reverend's name. As he passed an abbey, she flew from him to sit in a field under a tree that had been struck by lightning, where she began to wail and sing louder; the sound cut straight through him. Miss Bunworth asked him to not tell anyone else, for she didn't want to hear anyone panicking over what she felt was an untrue story.

        Things in general remained quiet for the next week, but the Reverend's health gradually declined; then came a night when any doubts about the banshee's existence were to be dispelled.

        On this night the Reverend's two daughters were finally getting some rest, thanks to a large number of relatives and friends who had come to help watch over their father. He had been moved earlier in the day to the parlor downstairs, with his bed in front of a window. An elderly lady, a relative in the family, was sitting up to attend to the Reverend; in the next room were a number of male friends of the family, and in the kitchen was a large gathering of the workers for the house and area. All was quiet until a rose-tree that grew outside the window the Reverend's bed was in front of suddenly scraped the window loudly as it was shoved to one side by an unknown power; at the same time, the sound of a low moaning and the clapping of hands, as if made by a woman mourning, was heard to come from the window.

        Two of the men went outside to investigate; the rose-tree was still pushed somehow to one side, though no one was standing in front of the window and there was no evidence of footprints in the bed. There was no sound of anyone wailing or screaming outside; so, the men carefully inspected the road to the house and saw no evidence of another person nearby. When they returned to the house they were informed that, despite how quiet it was for them when they were outside, inside the house the wailing, singing, and clapping never stopped!

        The sounds had, in fact, become louder and more distinct since the two men had gone outside to investigate. The screaming, clapping, and wailing continued to terrify all in the house, hour after hour, as the Reverend's health gradually failed, until, just before the sunrise, the reverend expired... and the sounds stopped.

A Singular Source

        The above summarizes an account of this strange event that was published in Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland, written by Thomas Crofton Croker and published in 1825, fifty-five years after the events would have happened. The story of the banshee is not mentioned in biographic references to the Rev. Bunworth, which generally praise him for his support of traveling musicians, especially harpists, which he himself had been skilled at playing.

        In checking the biographies of Bunworth, however, I did discover an interesting fact that Croker left out of his book; the Rev. Charles Bunworth was one of Thomas Crofton Croker's great-grandfathers... so it seems likely that Croker collected the banshee account from members of his own family! As such, the whole matter might just be a family legend, and so should be treated with suspicion as proof of a paranormal event.

        I am continuing to search for earlier sources for the account as, if it is true, with so many people involved there should be at least one or two other mentions of Bunworth's strange death somewhere.