Or ghosts as omens
Family Ghosts seem to be a form of Ghost widely recorded in folklore, and family history. The stories can have many different versions. They are attached to families and not to sites like a traditional haunting. Their appearing to members of the family is a signal of bad fortune, which is usually death.
The most well know Family Ghost is the Irish Banshee, bean-sidhe (woman of the fairies, Woman of Sorrow, The Woman of the Barrow etc.). They traditionally belong to members of only the oldest Irish families. O’Donnels, O’Connors, O’Briens, etc. They always appear just before a death, seen and heard by people nearest the person about to die. Often they described as beautiful with red hair and wearing a green mantle, which is a short cloak. Their weird crying and wailing is legendry. However in rare cases they will laugh and show happiness at the forthcoming death. These evil Banshees’s appearance can be hideous. Banshees are believed to be elementals, faire folk, or ghosts from family’s past. The Banshee will travel any where in the world to wail for the doomed family member. Many stories have told of many Banshees wailing before famous battles. Particularly the battle of the Boyle, were the list of the slain contained many Old Irish names. Reports also come from battles during the American civil war and the Napoleonic Peninsular War.
The Welsh have their own version in the Hag of the Dribble (Gwrach-y-Rhibyn). Again it is only the Old Welsh that has these family ghosts. Described as a hideous old hag who has bat like wings, they often fly to their victim. She not only wails but the flapping of her great bat wings are also heard. Sometimes she is known to tap on the window of the room of the doomed person. Families haunted by the Hag of the Dribble include the Stradlings, De Clares, the Barrys and many other ancient Welsh families.
Individual families usually have a reason for their family ghost. A murder, an unhappy love affair ending in suicide, someone hanged for sheep stealing etc.
It is because of this that family ghosts can take many forms, birds, shadows, footsteps, horse drawn coaches with headless horses and drivers, inanimate objects like clocks etc.
Famous families have their family ghosts. Lord Byron’s family had a phantom black robed monk, which was seen at Newstead Abbey, before a family disaster. Byron in a poem called it the goblin monk. It appeared just before Bryon married Anne Millbanke, which turned out to be a disaster only lasting a year. On the death of a member of the St Clair family, the famous Rosslyn chapel (famous from the De Vinci Code) was lit with an eerie red glow.
Family ghosts can take very strange forms. In Ireland at the end of Lough Corrib lies the badly ruined remains of Castle of Caisleen-na-Cearca, destroyed by Cromwell. It is said that before the death of an O’Connor, strange lights were seen on the Lough and phantom figures in boats wearing green clothes with red sashes appeared with much moaning and wailing rowed towards the castle and then just disappear.
An good example of a family ghost story is the story of the Scottish family the Kirkpatricks. They lived in Closeburn Castle in Dumfries, in the ground of which was a Lake. On the Lake every summer arrived two Swans. The Kirkpatricks considered them to be lucky. When the wife of the Laird was very ill she took a turn for the better when the swans arrived. At another time a dying boy had an immediate recovery when the swans returned to the Lake.
This all ended when the son of the Laird decided to find out if swan’s sang when they died, and shot one of the swans with a bow and arrow. Fearing what the family would think, he buried the bird. When the birds failed to return the family thought that they had died abroad.
However one day a single Swan with a dark red mark on its chest appeared on the lake of the castle. The family saw this as an ominous sign, and it would bring bad luck. A week later the Lord of Closeburn died and the swan disappeared not to be seen for many years. The next time it was seen was just before a Kirkpatrick drowned in a shipwreck. The last recorded time it was seen was the day of the third wedding of Sir Thomas Kirkpatrick. His son Roger was walking past the lake saw a swan with a red breast rise directly up from under the water. Now naturally depressed he returned to the castle. His father demanded that he cheer up as it was his Wedding Day. However Roger died suddenly that night.
Even the nation has a family ghost, in the form of Herne the Hunter. He is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor. One of the theories is that he was a royal gamekeeper in the reign of Henry VIII. He practised the black arts and then committed suicide. His ghost was then seen in stag horns gliding around the blasted oak that used to be in Windsor Great Park, just before a disaster affected the nation. The last time he was heard, as he is no longer seen, was during the stock market crash of the 1920’s
This type of ghost does not restrict itself to the British Isles. Famous families abroad have their own family ghosts. Napoleon Bonaparte was haunted by a man in red called “the little red man in the Tuileries, or the little red man of destiny” who visited him at important times in his career, and also haunted the Bourbons at times of trouble and death. The Prussia Royal Family had their White Lady. Other royal families had their own family ghosts, but they also haunt people at all levels of society across Europe and the World.
Some people are lucky to see a ghost. Some people can be very unlucky to see a ghost.