Among the Sidhe, the ‘fairy folk’ of Scotland, you will find mysterious women much like the Irish Banshee. First, the Caoineag: harbingers of bad news all over the highlands and islands. If you hear one keening outside your home, this is an announcement that someone within will die soon. Caoineag mourn for the dead before they have passed.
Around bodies and streams of fresh water, you may encounter Bean Nighe, green-clad washerwomen with webbed feet and just the one nostril. They perform solitary work, washing the clothes of those who are soon to die. Neither spirit can alter fate. They simply announce death, they do not cause it.
On Islay, you must be doubly careful not to surprise a Caointeach. They are sidhe with the attributes of both Caoineag and Bean Nighe. Every clan is said to have its own attendant Caointeach, who may keen outside houses or wash the linens of those whose time has come. Less mild than her counterparts, a Caointeach hates to be interrupted at her work and may whip at the legs of interlopers with her wet laundry. There is magic and malice in her strike, because those who are hit may lose the use of their legs – or even have their legs drop off entirely. Show kindness to a Caointeach, however, and she will leave your family in peace: she knows that loudly predicting death is not necessarily a comfort to those who hear it.