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.

Dunvegan Castle

MacLeod kept his word and the child was so well tended that he did not cry. He was so sad about the loss of his wife that his clan decided to hold a birthday party for him at Dunvegan Castle. During the night the nursemaid looking after the child left him untended to see the celebrations. The child woke a cried. This was heard by the fairy princess who came to the castle and comforted her son with a lullaby, wrapping him in a fairy shawl. When the nursemaid returned and saw the baby wrapped in the shawl and heard the sound of a distant lullaby she took it to the chief and told him what had happened.

As time moved on and the child grew to manhood he told his father that the shawl had magical properties. If in danger the clan could use the shawl as a flag and if it was waved three times the fairy folk would come to their aid. However, they could only use it on three occasions and then the magic and the flag would be lost to the clan. The flag was kept safe in the castle of Dunvegan, where it remains to this day. It has so far been used twice. Once to aid the clan in a battle with their enemies the MacDonald’s in order to save them from defeat. The other occasion was when their cattle were dying and the people starving. When the flag was waved the fairies cured the cattle. 

Arms of the Chief of MacLeod

Another legend is that the flag was handed down via the MacLeod lineage from their Viking ancestors. The Gaelic name Leòd thought to be a derivation of the Old Norse name Ljótr. The MacLeod’s are said to descend from the Norse Kings of the “Kingdom of Mann and the Isles”. In the Celtic world, there are many Scandinavian influences, particularly Norwegian. The Southern Isles forming the Kingdom of “Mann and the Isles” consisted of the Isle of Man, Hebrides and the islands in the Forth of Clyde and were known to the Norse as Suðreyjar. The Northern Isles of Orkney and Shetland were known as Norðreyjar.

Other articles of interest

Dunvegan Castle

Relevant links

Official website of Dunvegan Castle

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