Heritage and Culture

Folklore Friday - The Fairy Flag of Dunvegan Castle

Folklore Friday - The Fairy Flag of Dunvegan Castle
By Sophie

For as long as Clan MacLeod have had their seat at Dunvegan Castle, so has their flag. Since the 12th century, the most treasured possession of the clan has been placed safely in the castle drawing room. In rather a tattered condition, this precious faded brown silk flag has been carefully darned in places. Although many are uncertain where the flag came from, the MacDonalds claim that it is no ordinary piece of material.

Maintaining that the flag came from a 'far away place', legend has it that the chieftan of the MacLeods fell in love with a beautiful woman. Over time he realised that she was a fairy princess. Begging her father to allow her to marry the handsome chief, he agreed, on one condition. She must return to her fairy folk at the end of year and a day.

After agreeing, they were married, described as a happy couple. The year soon passed and the time came for her to return to the fairies. Before she left she made her husband promise that he would never let their son cry and the chief agreed.

As time went on, the chief's sadness grew. He was inconsolable and could not get over the departure of his wife. The castle residents organised a great feast to try and ease his suffering. While attending the feast, the fun and laughter were enough to entice the baby's nursemaid to creep away from the nursery to see the fun.

Waking up in the dark and finding himself alone, he began to cry. For ten minutes, no one was there to hear him and he wept loudly. When the nursemaid returned she was startled to see a woman bending over the cradle, comforting the child. After slowly wrapping him up in her shawl, the woman turned to face the nursemaid. Real ising it was the baby's mother, the maid tried to speak to her, but before she could, the woman vanished into the night.

Years from then, when the boy could speak, he talked of his memory of his mother's visit. He told his father that the shawl, in which she'd wrapped him, could be used no more than three times by the clan, when in trouble. Help would come to them in three times of trouble, however on the fourth the shawl would disappear. Taking his son's claims seriously, the chief ordered for the shawl to be stored away in a casket, to keep it safe.

Decades later, the MacDonalds had a bad reputation with the Island. One Sunday, they locked the doors of a MacLeod church and set fire to the building, killing most of the worshippers. A small band of MacLeod Clansmen gathered in fear and anger on the beach. Unfurling the shawl and hoisting it like a flag, something came over the troupes and they suddenly appeared magnified by ten times. The MacDonalds were slaughtered, with the flag returned to it's casket.

When the flag was used a second time there was a terrible plague which had wiped out nearly all of the MacLeod's cattle. Looking at a very real possibility of starvation, the MacLeods waved the flag once more. Appearing in front of them, the fairy host restored the herd to full health.

To this day it is believed that the flag will give protection. During the second World War, men with the MacLeod name carried pictured of the flag in their pockets. Whether this saved them or not will remain a mystery, however John MacLeod, the current chief, openly admits to having carried a picture of the flag in his wallet when he fought the Mau Mau in Kenya in 1950.

There remains, to this day, the third unfurling of the flag. The threat of the power of the flag is possibly enough for a third time to never come in to action. During the Second World War, the clan chief offered to bring the flag to the white cliffs of Dover, so that it could be waved to ward off the German Troups, if they ever invaded. Although there is no record of it, we can imagine that the War Cabinet slept better knowing that they had this 'secret weapon'.