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In Ireland the mythological figure of the Banshee was a harbinger of death. She often came close to the house of the dying person and sang an eerie melody. It is said that the dying person rarely heard the melody, though it served as a signal to others that death was near and a new phase of mourning was about to begin.

The Banshee legend, first recorded in the 8th century, harkens back to a time when mourning was communal and grief a public affair. The Banshee has only recently disappeared from rural Irish life, as television and transportation changed the texture of the countryside and death increasingly became a more private affair, with hospitals and strangers substituted for the community of family and neighbors.