It was the clashing that was the most frightening. The devotional sound of the brotherhood’s nocturns mingling with the hellacious keening both wafting heavenward.

As Brother Donal felt the chills run about his body, especially his tonsured head, he already feared what the ghastly noise that wended its way over the mountains could mean and about the response of his brethren should he voice his concerns straight off. He needed to be sure they heard it also.

As the bellowing resounded off the stone walls of the monastery, Brother Donal recalled his most recent conversation with Abbot Patrick.

“Brother Donal, you’re young in years and to the ways of things here in Ballynascreen.”

The wind pushing the continuous vocalizations through the Sperrin Range invaded his flashback a moment.

“Be wary that you keep thine mind upon the Good Lord and our worship here and not on thine home, not with thine family and all that entails. Focus thine thoughts on godly things.”

There were certain things among his beliefs that were borne of paganism that he knew he must work out of his being. This was not an unusual circumstance. Souls all about the Emerald Isle were fought over; he had chosen his side. The battle would rage on; he just needed to be cognizant of it.

Brother Donal had nearly convinced himself that he was the only one of the hundred-plus men in the convent who was uneasy as they chanted “Pax Aeterna,” then he espied Brother Francis, who was far more aged than he was; there was a tremulousness in his jowls, a desiccated aspect to his skin, an alert, unblinking look in his eyes.

In the moment between the end of “Pax Aeterna” and “Crux Fidelis,” Brother Donal leaned forward. The fearsome screech still rent the delicate fabric of the night and unsettled the peace on their patch of earth.

“Dost thou hear that, Brother?” Brother Donal asked.

Brother Francis denied him. As they began the next chant, the persistent bombast echoed through the night sky still. Brother Donal thought back to when he was a really young boy who his mother christened Dara. He learned of the banshees as a matter of course; no great spectacle was made out of them. They just were. And he recalled the ear-piercing lament that presaged Uncle Eamonn’s demise. Through that remembrance, by force of habit, he had continued singing. Now that he was present anew, he saw there were anxiety-ridden faces amongst his brethren, more looks askance, more shiftiness as their prayers sung in solemnity were offered to the Holy Trinity.

As “Crux Fidelis” concluded, Brother Donal was still assailed by that demonic bemoaning. Brother Simon, who was also near him, looked afraid. Brother Donal leaned forward and asked if he heard that.

Brother Simon denied him.

As they began chanting “Christus Factus Est,” the wailing waned such that Brother Donal was allowed to wonder if he had imagined all he had heard. Then he thought of his family while singing to God and wondered if they were well or if the stories were true and one or more of his relations was in mortal danger.


In the hours between Vigil and Lauds, Brother Donal was usually able to sleep a bit. On this night, that was impossible. Brother Donal sat with a passion project of his, a translation of The Confessions of Saint Augustine into Gaelic. However, he was not able to get very far into that; his focus kept wandering.

Instead, he lost himself in prayer and read a devotional until 5AM.


As the brotherhood gathered before their abbot and were set to worship in unaccompanied song, Brother Donal was certain he would hear, through the ground-fog and the silver sliver of light on the horizon, the continued melancholy mewling of the banshee. He debated his beliefs again, but there was really no denying it now.

They were lined up by vocal part, and as in the distance he heard the dissonant cacophony, he took in those around him as reflex. There was not anything he expected to see, but when he had lain eyes on Brothers Francis and Simon, he saw identical fearful looks in their faces as they had sported before. Allowing his eyes to wander, not expecting to see anything that reassured him, it seemed like more among the ranks now heard the unforgettable ululations.

As they began “Evangelium passionis et mortis Domini,” which would be their longest chant on that Good Friday, Brother Donal noticed that the unease among them did not diminish, but deepened instead. The single voice within the monastery was joined not only by its echo but by the multitudinous, nefarious caterwauling that announced impending death.

As the lengthy chant wound down, Brother Donal leaned forward and asked Brother John, who was also quite a bit older than he was, “Do you hear that?” Brother Donal pleaded, desperation in his voice.

Brother John denied him.

Brother Donal was now more convinced than ever that his brethren lied to him.

Why can they not believe it? Does it really disprove what we believe or just show how much less we know than we thought we did?

The cock crowed on the land adjacent to the monastery, as Brother Donal stood expectantly awaiting a response. Brother Donal repeated his inquiry.

The denial had only just escaped Brother John’s lips when the gash of grey light over the horizon widened and brightened, the moon sunk into the oncoming sunrise, and the cock crowed a second time.

Brother Donal was more frightened by this third and final denial than he would have been by confirmation of his suspicions. Confirmation would have left him convinced and not as concerned. Instead, against the current of denials, he was left with a receding uncertainty and the belief—based on the pallid looks on many of their faces—that many of his brethren were prepared to lie and say they heard it. How many of them had heard the banshee that time he wondered with increasing disquiet.


It was nearly time for vespers when there came a rapping upon the monastery door. Many of the brethren were already walking to their gathering place. Abbot Patrick was not far from the front door upon which the furious rapping fell. Brother Donal was one of the few aside from the abbot who heard the rapping in the first place and was more unsettled by the sudden cessation of the panicked sound than by its onset. The door squealed open in a most unholy manner. Brother Donal stopped. He did not overhear everything, but enough to deduce that several nearby villages from which they had hailed before devoting their lives to the Lord had been sacked by Norsemen.

Vespers were delayed. Brother Donal was almost certain he would have an audience with the abbot soon. First, Abbot Patrick summoned those who’d been on the periphery of his section. Then Brothers Francis, Simon, and John, who had lied to him directly, went in. Abbot Patrick called on Brother Donal last of all.

“Who hath perished?” asked Brother Donal in a blunt, knowing fashion after having paid his respects and taking his seat.

“Hast thou no fear or humility before the Lord, Brother Donald?” asked the abbot taken aback.

“Who amongst my family?” he asked undeterred.

Abbot Patrick considered questioning this assumption for a moment, but his better angels prevailed knowing it would be torturous to belabor imparting the news to the young man. He had enough intelligence to know that a series of private meetings between the abbot and individual brothers could not bode well and few occurrences could prompt such a thing.

“Thine whole clan save for Tadgh.”

Brother Donal did not try containing his emotion. He had been on tenterhooks all throughout the night and this released all that pent-up tension. His grief was all for his kinsman, but not all his tears were of grief; some were over the sense of betrayal he had hearing confirmation that his brothers, men of faith, were unwilling to accept the truth that they knew the banshee’s cries signaled. When Brother Donal stemmed the flow of his tears, he asked “Will Tadgh go to an orphanage?”

The abbot cleared his throat.

“He’s not ready for a life here. However…” he said allowing the silence to hang there a moment. “You’ll remember we’ve had a number of conversations about your dedication and future.”

“Art thou expelling me, Abbot?”

“Nay, but—”

“Dost thou not think I hath a calling?”

“Of course, but we canst ne’er imagine that as mortals we understand God’s ways and his calls immediately. Any errors I may have made…”

It wasn’t that Brother Donal did not appreciate the apology that may have been forthcoming regarding the abbot’s prior comportment, but he had to know if he understood his prior statement correctly.

“Then you believe—”

The abbot would not tolerate such interruptions under normal circumstances.

“This may be how thou must serve,” the abbot confirmed.

Brother Donal nodded.


Before the morning’s light shined on the earth in its full glory anew, Dara—who could no longer think of himself by his monastic name—walked down the road in silent prayer.

The cloistered existence the monastery had afforded him was one that was supposed to be safe. Even with the recent Norse invasion, he believed his life still could be as he traveled gazing upon the fading, nearly drowned day-moon.

Dara had had a brother and two sisters. He thought he had only heard the banshee thrice; Abbot Patrick reported the same news believing only Tadgh lived. Dara’s sisters and Ma had perished during this Norse invasion; his father had died pitched in battle not long before his calling. It was hard to tell if he was correct. These circumstances were not ordinary

As the braying of the banshees recommenced at daybreak, Dara stepped livelier. Was it Tadgh who was dying now? Had his aunt and uncle come to stand guard of Tadgh and laid down their lives for him?

Dara then wondered if Tadgh could hear the banshees now. Dara’s pulse raced; he broke into a run and found that he could no longer pray. His vestments, which he wore only to warm him until the sun brightened up, now burdened him. He undid his cincture, tore off his robes, and broke into a sprint.