Celtic Myth & legend

The Fairy Flag And The Chiefs Of Clan MacLeod

Fairy flag

The Fairy Flag (Am Bratach Sìth) is a flag which is said to have magical properties; it belongs to the chiefs of the Clan MacLeod. It is located in Dunvegan Castle, which is close to the town of Dunvegan (Dùn Bheagain) on the Isle of Skye in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. The fragile silk flag is about 18 inches squared. The origins of the flag are not clear and there are a number of legends which say that the flag was a gift from the fairies.

One such story was that a young chief of the Clan MacLeod fell in love with a fairy princess and proposed marriage. The King of the Fairies initially forbade his daughter’s betrothal to a mortal, but relented on seeing her distress. However, he stipulated that the marriage should last no more than a year and one day, at which time she should return to the Fairy Kingdom with no human possessions. The couple were much in love and had a son. On the day that the marriage was ordered to end the sad couple were rendered apart. One version of the story is that she presented her husband with the fairy flag for protection at the nearby “Fairy Bridge” from where she re-entered the Fairy Kingdom. Another version is that the fairy princess told her husband to look after their son well and not to let him cry as she would hear and it would break her heart.

Beauty and the Beast - The Legend of the Loch Ness Monster and Beautiful Loch Ness

Loch Ness

Loch Ness (Scottish Gaelic: Loch Nis) is a freshwater loch in the Scottish Highlands (Scottish Gaelic: A' Ghàidhealtachd). Renowned for its great beauty the Loch is a maximum of  twenty two and a half miles (36.2km) long with a maximum width of just over one and a half miles (2.7km).

The rivers Tarff, Coiltie, Moriston, Farigaig, Enrich, Foyers and Oich along with a number of burns flow into the loch which at its deepest is over 754 feet (230m). It holds about 16 million 430 thousand gallons of water and has just one outlet, the River Ness (Scottish Gaelic: Abhainn Nis), which flows down through the city of Inverness (Scottish Gaelic: Inbhir Nis) in the northeast of Scotland and out into the Moray Firth which is an inlet of the North Sea.

Manannán Mac Lir, Son of the Sea, Celtic Sea God and Protector of Mannin

Manannan Sculpture

Manannán is a Celtic sea god and associated with the Tuatha de Danaan (thoo'a-hay-day-danawn). They are the Gaelic pre-Christian pantheon that are known in Ireland, Scotland and Isle of Man. His legend is widespread throughout the Celtic lands.

His father was Lir, God of the Sea. Both Lir and his son Manannán are mentioned in the work of ‘Sanas Cormaic’ by Cormac mac Cuilennáin, King of Munster. In Cormac's 9th century glossary, he links both to the sea.

In many Celtic stories, we are told of Manannán's wife, the Fairy Queen Fand, his sons Ilbhreac (Fairy King), Fiachna and Gaidiar, and daughters Áine, Aoife and Griane. Manannán also had a foster son named Lugh; the Great Warrior, on whom he bestowed his magical belongings. Manannán, above all, is heavily associated with the Isle of Man (Mannin).

The Island’s name is derived from his and he was Mannin’s first ruler and protector. It is said he could bring down a cloak of mist that would hide the island from foreign threat. Using his magic powers he controls the wind and the waves and bring forces to defend the island.

Cashtal Purt ny h-Inshey as yn Moddey Doo - Peel Castle and the Moddey Doo: A Manx Story of the Supernatural

Peel Castle

‘Ta scanjoon 'sy cashtal shen! Drogh - cur twoaie da (That castle is haunted! Evil - beware of it)!’ Jimmy, looked down at the old woman who was clasping his arm with her cold, boney, white purple veined hands. Bright blue intense eyes stared into his, piercing like shards of Nordic ice. Her warning in Manx Gaelic was clear and there could be no mistaking that the message was meant to be taken seriously. Not sure about how to respond, he watched as she walked away from the entrance of the castle and across the narrow breakwater that separates St Patrick's Isle (Manx: Ellan Noo Perick) on which Peel Castle (Manx: Cashtal Purt ny h-Inshey) stood from the town of Peel (Manx: Purt ny h-Inshey) on the Isle of Man (Manx: Mannin). 

Oh well! That was one thing about the Manx, superstition ran deep within them and always had. After all, he was a born and bred Manxman so he should know. This castle did have stories of ghosts attached to it. But then so did many of the sites they had visited in all of the Celtic lands. Manx views of supernatural entities should not have surprised him really. However, he had been off the Island for many years now and forgotten how deep they were embedded in peoples psyche here. Work had taken him abroad and he had spent the last ten years living in New Zealand. A place of outstanding beauty and perfect for his passion for photography. Mannin always drew him back though. It is the same with all Manx people; a connection to their homeland that could never be broken. Just like with all of the Celtic peoples he had met around the world; a sense of belonging to these ancient lands on the very edge of northwest Europe.

Mysterious Stones under a Celtic Dome of Darkness

Cairnholy

Ruined castles and ancient monuments can be mysterious places. Often their remote locations contribute to the sense of being in the presence of something beyond modern comprehension. Perhaps a feeling of something special, magical and unearthly, as if the stones themselves are trying to communicate with us. It is something as a Celt that touches you; that drags a memory from deep within. A secret message passed on to us by our ancient ancestors that remains in the hidden depths of our mind, struggling to emerge from our subconscious.

Around the Celtic world there are many cairns, stone circles, standing stones and carvings in rock from times of prehistory. Anyone visiting megaliths such as, to mention just a few, those found in Carnac in Brittany, Ring of Brodgar in Orkney, Newgrange in Ireland, Cashtal yn Ard in Isle of Man, Bry Celli Ddu in Wales, Hurlers Stone Circles/An Hurlysi in Cornwall, can feel the spiritual importance passed down through the centuries. Made by our ancestors in the dark Celtic lands of north-west Europe, we are their direct descendants. No surprise really then that the monuments that they created with such effort, care, skill and reverence should reach out to us from beyond the grave of their original creators, for we carry within us their genes.

Mysterious Halloween in Ballantrae - A Scottish ghost story

Ardstinchar Castle

Ballantrae (Scottish Gaelic: Baile na Tràgha) is a village on the south-west coast of Scotland. It is in South Ayrshire (Scottish Gaelic: Siorrachd Inbhir Àir a Deas). Ballantrae is famous as the setting for the novel The Master of Ballantrae by Robert Louis Stevenson published in 1889. In the distance can be seen the magnificent uninhabited island of Ailsa Craig. Formed from volcanic remains it is some ten miles from the Scottish coast and rises to a height of 1,110 feet (338m).

As Robbie walked from his home in the village he looked out across the sea towards the Ailsa Craig, but the mist had shrouded the small island. It felt strange not to see it looming in the distance so dominant is it on this part of the Scottish coastline. Robbie had finished work early today the 31st October. He had arranged to meet up with some friends in the evening to celebrate the night of Halloween. However, with time on his hands until then, he decided to use this opportunity to take some exercise and wander around the many paths that made this area such a ramblers paradise. Ballantrae is sometimes referred to as the gateway to Carrick. Carrick is a name derived from the Scottish Gaelic word Carraig meaning rock or rocky place. It is a district that was part of the old Kingdom of Galloway. This Kingdom is associated with the same Norse-Gael world of Isle of Man, Hebrides and Dublin. These old Norse colonies and the Vikings that had settled there had been subject to Gaelicisation. They had integrated into Gaelic society and adopted the language and customs of the Gaelic people who lived in these lands.

Kernow - Land of the Saints - or perhaps not?

Cornubia - Land of the Saints

Like so many other Celtic Nations, Cornwall's folklore is rich with tales of giants, of ancient kings, of little people, Druids and pagan beliefs and so on.

Almost to balance much of its ancient folklore, it has also been frequently called 'the Land of the Saints' so profuse are the hamlets, villages and towns named for a plethora of Celtic Saints. Indeed, the magnificent painting in Truro Cathedral by the late John Miller and entitled 'Cornubia - Land of the Saints' portrays the peninsula bathed in Heavenly light, with rays of sunshine reflecting across the many churches and with a host of angels approaching from the Isles of Scilly.

But to this day, many in Kernow see things slightly differently, perhaps through Celtic eyes, and in a recent survey of spiritual beliefs, pre Christian and related pagan beliefs ranked a remarkable third. Alternative Spiritual beliefs are all around in the Duchy and are accepted as being completely normal by many indigenous Cornish folks as well as by those who have made the place their home recognising that special sense of place.

The Faeries of the Cornish Tin Mines – Cousin Jack and the TommyKnockers

Cornwall coastal mine

The tin mines of Cornwall have an ancient history that extends back into the mists of time.  Cornish trade links with the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, which pre-date the arrival of the Romans in Britain, are documented by Greek historians.  Around 2500 BC a trade started growing in tin and copper with these foreign traders exchanging bronze tools and gold ornaments for the minerals.

Faery faith and folklore has enjoyed a central role in the foundation and development of Celtic culture and Celtic Cornwall has many myths and legends involving Faeries which include a particularly Cornish variant in the form of the Faeries of the tin mines. These strange subterranean residents of Cornish mines are known by various names, one of the most common being Knockers (TommyKnockers). Over the centuries the legends surrounding these creatures became imbedded in the folklore and Faery faith of the Celtic miners to a remarkable degree. These folkloric traditions then followed the Cornish immigrants as they fanned out as prized mine workers around the world.

Ravens in Celtic and Norse Mythology

Hooded Crow

Animals and birds are a significant feature in Celtic and Norse mythology. We know that the Celts had and continue to hold a great respect for the environment. Nature, the elements and the other creatures which shared their land held a sacred significance. Animals and birds were vital to everyday life and wellbeing and they feature in art, literature, rituals and religious beliefs. We recently wrote about the horses in Celtic mythology.

In the Celtic world there have been many Scandinavian and Viking influences over the centuries that remain evident today. The Viking incursions in the Celtic lands began in the 8th century. All of the present six Celtic nations felt the impact of the Viking raids. They brought with them their legends and sagas the legacies of which are found in literature, folklore and carvings in many parts of the Celtic lands. As with the Celts animals and birds affected the everyday life of the Norse people and held a crucial place in their belief systems. In this article we take a particular look at the place of ravens, crows and their relatives in Celtic and Norse mythology.

The Mystery of Scotland’s Flannan Isles Lighthouse

Lighthouse on Eilean Mor, Flannan Isles

Na h-Eileanan Flannach is the Scottish Gaelic name of the small group of islands known in English as the Flannan Isles, located in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides (Na h-Eileanan Siar). Also known as the Seven Hunters they stand just over 20 miles (32 kilometres) from the Isle of Lewis (Leòdhas ). They are a bird sanctuary and at times a place of beauty. At others these remote islands bear the brunt of severe Atlantic storms, which whip the seas into frenzy and force even the hardy gulls to stay sheltered in the cliff face crags. For many years they have remained uninhabited, the last residents of any length being the lighthouse keepers, who between 1899 and its automation in 1971, kept the light burning on the highest point of the island group, Eilean Mòr.

Until the lighthouse had been built between 1895 and 1899 it is probable that Na h-Eileanan Flannach had not been inhabited permanently since the days of the Celtic Church. The Celtic Church was predominant across the Celtic speaking world in the early middle ages (5th to the 10th century). On the island of Eilean Mòr is the ruin of an old chapel dedicated to St Flannan. However, over many centuries for many of the Gaelic Hebridean community the islands have been viewed as a place of superstition and bad luck. A view that was reinforced by the tragic and mysterious events that befell the lighthouse keepers on Eilean Mòr in mid-December 1900.

It is the fate of the lighthouse keepers in 1900; just over one year after the island’s lighthouse came into operation that is the cause of much mystery and speculation. For all three keepers, Thomas Marshall, James Ducat and Donald Macarthur disappeared without trace. It was on 15th December 1900 that the ship Archtor which was sailing for Scotland from Philadelphia had reported that as they passed the islands the lighthouse was not in operation. In those days there was no radio communication between the keepers on Eilean Mòr  and the shore station of Breasclete on Lewis. When the lighthouse tender Hesperus arrived on St Stephen’s Day (26th December) 1900 having been delayed due to adverse conditions, they found the lighthouse abandoned.

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