The Fairy Flag of Dunvegan Castle

edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2009


Contents

  1. The Fairy Flag of Dunvegan Castle (Scotland).

  2. A Family Tradition (Scotland).

  3. Links to related sites.


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The Fairy Flag of Dunvegan Castle

Scotland

Among the treasures of Dunvegan is a green fairy flag, which some materialists believe to be only a relic of the Crusades -- a consecrated banner of the Knights Templars, but which all true Highlanders affirm to have been a gift to some ancestral MacLeod, from a fairy maiden. She promised that on three distinct occasions when he or his clan were in danger, he might wave the flag with certainty of relief.

MacLeod proved false to his fairy, and married a mere commonplace human maiden, whereupon his spirit wife waxed wroth, and ordained that every woman in the clan should give birth to a dead child, and that all the cattle should have dead calves. Then a loud and bitter wail rang through the green valleys, and along the shores, and MacLeod, in sore tribulation, bethought him of the flag. The fairy proved more true to her words than her lover had been to his, so she withdrew her spell, and the clan once more flourished.

Then came a terrible battle, when MacLeod and his men were well-nigh routed, and again, though he must have been sorely ashamed of himself, he waved the flag, and the victory was his. Why the flag was not waved for the third time, when the isles were ruined by the failure of the kelp trade, or during the potato famine, MacLeod best knows. Perhaps he thought it well to save one "last tune in the old fiddle." At all events the green flag still lies in its old case, and is such a treasure as no other laird can show.




A Family Tradition

Janet MacLeod Golden (age 13)

Once upon a time, way back in the middle ages, the clan MacLeod was a very strong clan in Scotland, and the fairies or "little people" favored it much. So the queen of the fairies gave to the chief a wonderful flag which possessed the quality of granting them three wishes, but only in time of great need. The flag was carefully laid away and not brought out for a long while.

At last there was great woe at Dunvegan, the castle of the MacLeods, for the heir was lost. Then someone thought of the flag and it was used, and soon after the boy was found.

A second time it was used to save the chief from death, and carefully laid away again, but, alas, so carefully that it could not be found till, in 1799, an iron chest that seemed keyless was broken open and found to contain an inner case in which was a scented casket, in that the fairy flag.

Now, before the finding of the flag a seer had predicted that when the third Norman son of an English lady should perish accidentally, the "Maidens" (three large rocks in the ocean belonging to MacLeod) should be sold to the Campbells; a fox should litter in the castle; and the fairy flag be found. The glory of the MacLeods would then depart, but to be more than recovered in the future when another chief called Ian Breac should arise.

In 1799 all these things happened, but at the present time the heir presumptive is called Ian Breac, so it is to be hoped that the glory of the MacLeod's will return.

The fairy flag is still shown at Dunvegan Castle, on the Isle of Skye. It is of fine yellow silk and has many so called "elf marks" on it in red silk thread.

Lovers of Scott's poems will recognize these lines of his translation of "Mackrimmon's Lament," an old song composed by a piper of the clan MacLeod:

MacLeod's wizard flag from the gray castle sallies,
The rowers are seated,
Unmoored are the galleys.
I have before me, as I write, a letter from the twenty-third chief of the clan, in which he tells me that though the belief in fairies is probably gone, the flag is still there to convince people of this tradition.




Links to additional legends about fairy artifacts

  1. The Luck of Edenhall (Eden Hall), the story of a famous drinking glass abandoned by fairies in Cumberland, England, and now on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

  2. The Osenberg Dwarfs (Germany). A pitcher abandoned by dwarfs brings good fortune to a family of innkeepers.

  3. Prilling and Pralling Is Dead (Germany). A mysterious being vacates a peasant's cellar, leaving an unusual mug behind.



Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Revised March 14, 2009.