A sighting of a banshee, or Bean-Nighe as she is known in Gaelic, was believed to signal an impending death.

A typically hideous banshee

The name means "washing woman", and she usually appeared near a river, stream or loch, where she could wash the blood-stained clothing of the unfortunate whose death she had come to foretell. The banshee would also make a blood-curdling wailing or crying noise, and legend has it that on the night before the Massacre at Glencoe, a banshee's howl was heard all night.

Banshees, perhaps not surprisingly, were not the most attractive of women and usually had certain defining physical defects. These included having only one nostril, one long protruding tooth and one long, withered, dangling breast.

It was believed that anyone bold (or stupid) enough to creep up behind her and grab her breast would be granted a wish. "I wish I hadnae done that," springs instantly to mind.

Some Highland legends claim that banshees are the spirits of women who have died in childbirth, obliged to perform their ritual of warning others of their impending demise until the day when they themselves should have died.

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