One of the most treasured possessions of the clan MacLeod is the famous Fairy Flag of Dunvegan. The story behind the flag is one of the greatest romantic tales in all the highlands…
A great young Chief of the clan MacLeod fell in love with a fairy princess, a bean sidhe, one of the Shining Folk. The pair were determined to marry but the King of the fairies forbade the union. Such was the young fairy princesses distress that he finally relented and agreed to a period of ‘Handfasting’. This was a form of trial marriage which traditionally would last for a year and day and was common in the highlands at the time. however The king demanded that at the end of the handfasting the princess must return to her own folk and take nothing human with her.
The couple lived in harmony and soon a young son was born to them. Alas the time sped by and soon the handfasting was over. The couple parted with great sorry at the famous fairy bridge and the princess returned to the fairy kingdom. As she left she made her husband, the chief promise that her son would be cared for well and never allowed to cry for the sound of his cries would cause her untold grief even in the far away fairy realm. The Chief kept his promise and the young MacLeod was never left unattended and never allowed to cry.
However the young chief grieved terribly for the loss of his wife and the other clansfolk decided that they should organise a great party in the Castle of Dunvegan on the occasion if his birthday to take his mind away from his grief. The birthday celebration ran long into the night with high spirits and the young nursemaid assigned to watch over the infant crept from the room to watch the revelries. As she watch enraptured by the celebrations she did not hear the baby kick off his covers and begin to cry.
The Child’s mother heard the cries from her fairy realm and suddenly appeared by his side. She took up the young baby and cradled him back to sleep, covering him in a fairy shawl. She sang to the child and was still singing when the maid returned. The maid could hear the lullaby but not see where it was coming from. She immediately took the baby with the shawl she did not recognise to the chief and told him what happened.
Many years later when the child grew into a young man he recounted a tale to his father that the shawl was a great talisman for the clan and that should they ever find themselves in mortal danger they could wave the flag three times and the fairy legions would come to their aid. however this talisman could only be used three times whereupon it would return to where it had come form taking the flag waver with it. The Chief instantly realised the young man was telling the truth and the flag was kept safe.
The Flag has since been used twice; Once when the Macleod’s were vastly outnumbered by their bitter enemies the MacDonald’s. The chief took the flag from its case and waved it three times, at which point the battle suddenly turned in favour of the MacLeod’s. A second time the land was blighted by a plague on the cattle and the clan kinsmen were dying of starvation. The chief again raised the flag and the Fairies returned to bring the cattle back to life.
This may seem like a fanciful tale but many MacLeod’s believe wholeheartedly in the legend. So much so that during world War II many Macleod servicemen carried a picture of the flag in their wallets. It is said that of the Macleod airmen who defended these shores during the Battle of Britain not one who carried the picture was lost and indeed the Chief of the clan offered to bring the flag to Dover to wave at the Germans should they attempt to invade.
The flag can still be seen in Dunvegan Castle on Skye.