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Fairy Flag of Dunvegan

Dunvegan Castle

The Fairy Flag of Dunvegan, Isle of Skye, Scotland, when waved in battle, brought victory to the MacLeods. Dame Flora MacLeod of MacLeod, 28th chief of the clan, wrote that, "I firmly believe that the magic is still there and that the Flag does guard the Castle and the Clan."

There are several traditions about the Fairy Flag's origins. One tells how an early chief went off to fairyland and married a fairy princess. After 19 years he returned to Skye and parted from her at Fairy Bridge, where she gave him the Fairy Flag. If waved in battle, the flag would summon up reinforcements, but the flag could only be waved three times.

Another tradition associated the acquisition of the flag with a fairy lullaby. A nurse, minding the MacLeod's new young heir in the southeast tower of Dunvegan castle during the christening festivities, left her charge and joined the clansfolk in the hall. After kicking off his blanket the child became cold and cried out. A fairy, who had been keeping watch over him, covered the baby with a fairy cloth. Meanwhile, below, the clanfolk clamoured to see the new heir. The nurse was sent to fetch him. She returned to the hall with the child wrapped in the magic cloth, and accompanied by a chorus of fairy voices that sang of the virtues of the flag and the good that it would bring to the clan in battle. A 'Fairy Lullaby', in archaic Gaelic, has survived.

So important was the flag to the clan that a family became the hereditary standard bearers and it was protected by the most valiant fighters of the clan. The Fairy Flag was used on two occasions against the McDonald's of Clanranald in the battles of Glendale, about 1490, and Trumpan, about 1530, when the MacLeods were victorious.

In 1922 the Fairy Flag was sent to London, where it was examined at the Victoria and Albert Museum. In the opinion of Mr Wace, who had also been examining the Tutankhamun fabrics, the silk had been made in Rhodes or Syria in the 4th to 7th centuries. The red darns, called 'elf spots', were contemporary, suggesting that the flag had been a prized possession, lovingly mended, and perhaps a holy relic, like a saint's shirt. Mr Wace suggested to the chief that the flag might have been acquired on a crusade. "Mr Wace", said the chief, "you think that, but I know that it was given to my ancestor by a fairy."  "Sir", replied Mr Wace, "I bow to your superior knowledge."

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