The term banshee is an anglicization of the Irish bean sídhe or bean sí, or the Scots Gaelic bean shìth, – both meaning “woman of the fairy mounds” or “woman of peace”. Both names are derived from the Old Irish ben sídhe: bean: “woman”, and sídhe: “of the mounds”
In Irish legend, a banshee wails around a house if someone in the house is about to die. There are particular families who are believed to have banshees attached to them, and whose cries herald the death of a member of that family. Traditionally, when a citizen of an Irish village died, a woman would sing a lament (in Irish: caoineadh, [ˈkiːnʲə] or [ˈkiːnʲuː], “caoin” meaning “to weep, to wail”) at their funeral. These women singers are sometimes referred to as “keeners” and the best keeners would be in much demand. Legend has it that, for five great Gaelic families: the O’Gradys, the O’Neills, the O’Briens, the O’Connors, and the Kavanaghs, the lament would be sung by a fairy woman; having foresight, she would sing the lament when a family member died, even if the person had died far away and news of their death had not yet come, so that the wailing of the banshee was the first warning the household had of the death.