|The fairy flag today, as it is
displayed in Dunvegan Castle
Many, many years ago, the Chief of Clan MacLeod was a handsome, intelligent man, and all the young ladies in the area were very attracted to him, but none suited his fancy. One day, he met a fairy princess, a bean sidhe, one of the Shining Folk. Like all the other females he met, she fell madly in love with him, and he with her as well. When the princess appealed to the King of the Fairies, for permission to marry the handsome Chief, he refused, saying that it would only break her heart, as humans soon age and die, and the Shining Folk live forever. She cried and wept so bitterly that even the great King relented, and agreed that she and the Chief could be hand-fasted for a year and a day. But, at the end of that time, she must return to the land of Fairie and leave behind everything from the human world. She agreed, and soon she and the young MacLeod were married with great ceremony.
No happier time ever existed before or since for the Clan MacLeod, for the Chief and Lady MacLeod were enraptured of each other totally. As you might expect, soon a strapping and handsome son was born to the happy couple, and the rejoicing and celebration by the Clan went on for days. However, the days soon passed and a year and a day were gone in a heartbeat. The King led the Fairie Raide down from the clouds to the end of the great causeway of Dunvegan Castle, and there they waited in all their glamourie and finery for the Lady MacLeod to keep her promise.
Lady MacLeod knew that she had no choice, so she held her son to her, hugged him tightly, and at last, ran from the castle tower to join the Fairie Raide, and returned with them to the land of Fairie. Before she left, however, she made her husband promise that her child would never be left alone, and never be allowed to cry, for she could not bear the sound of her son's cries. The Chief was broken-hearted with the loss of his wife, but he knew, as did she, that the day would come when she would return. He kept his promise, and never was the young MacLeod allowed to cry and never was he left unattended. However, the Laird of MacLeod remained depressed, and grieved for the loss of his lady.
The folk of the clan decided that something must be done, and on his birthday, a great feast was proclaimed with revelry and dancing until dawn. The Laird had always been a grand dancer, and at long last he agreed to dance to the pipers' tunes. So great was the celebration that the young maid assigned to watch the infant Laird left his nursery and crept to the top of the stairs to watch the folk dancing in all their finery and to listen to the wonderful music. So enraptured was she that she did not hear the young Laird awaken and begin to cry. So pitiful was his crying that it was heard all the way in the Land of Fairie, and when his mother heard it, she immediately appeared at his crib, took him in her arms, and comforted him, drying his tears and wrapping him in her fairy shawl. She whispered magic words in his ears, laid her now-sleeping son in his crib, kissed him once more on the forehead, and was gone.
Years later when the young lad grew older, he told his father of his mother's late-night visit, and that her shawl was a magic talisman. It was to be kept in a safe place, and if anyone not of the Clan MacLeod touched it, they would vanish in a puff of smoke. If ever the Clan MacLeod faced mortal danger, the Fairy Flag was to be waved three times, and the hosts of Fairie, the Knights of the Fairie Raide, would ride to the defense of the Clan MacLeod. There were to be three such blessings, and only in the most dire consequences should the Fairie magic be used. The Chief placed the Fairy Flag in a special locked box, and it was carried with the Chief wherever he went.
Hundreds of years later, the fierce Clan Donald of the Lord of the Isles had besieged the MacLeods in battle, and the MacLeods were outnumbered three to one. Just before the Donalds' last charge, the Chief opened the box, and placing the fairy flag on a pole, waved it once, twice, and three times. As the third wave was completed, the Fairy magic caused the MacLeods to appear to be ten times their number! Thinking that the MacLeods had been reinforced, the Donalds turned and ran, never to threaten the MacLeods to this very day.
On another occasion, a terrible plague had killed nearly all the MacLeod's cattle, and the Chief faced the prospect of a winter of starvation for all his people. Having no alternative, he went to the tallest tower of Dunvegan Castle, attached the Fairy Flag to a pole, and waved it once, twice, three times. The Hosts of Fairie rode down from the clouds, swords drawn, and rode like the wind over the dead and dying cattle. They touched each cow with their swords, and where there once had been dead and dying cows, now stood huge, healthy, and well-fattened cattle, more than enough to feed the Clan for the winter to come.
There remains one more waving of the Fairy Flag, and the Flag is on display at Dunvegan Castle, there awaiting the next threat to the Clan MacLeod.
It is said during World War II that young men from the Clan MacLeod carried
pictures of the Flag in their wallets while flying in the Battle of Britain, and not one
of them was lost to the German flyers. In fact, the Chief of Clan MacLeod had agreed to
bring the Fairy Flag to England and wave it from the Cliffs of Dover should the Germans
attempt to invade Great Britain.