Next stop of #FairytaleFriday is Scotland. A land made of myths and legend, steeped in History and tradition. Its corners inhabited by fairies, elves, otherworldly animals, its power forged by brave warriors fighting for independence. This is one of the most well-known Scottish myths that is firmly linked to one of the most famous clans. The Fairy Flag of Dunvegan castle, Am Bratch Sith, belonging to the MacLeod clan of the Isle of Skye.
”Have you ever wished to see a true Fairy Flag? Then you must travel to the wuthering Isle of Skye in Scotland. There rises Dunvegan Castle, guarded by the freezing, stormy sea.”
Our story starts on a night of celebration. The Macleod heir has been born and the sound of joy for the future of the clan reaches the chamber where the precious boy is sleeping, guarded by his nanny, the old and wise Morag. Janet, her niece, convinces her to join the marvelous feast. But Janet cannot sooth the crying child and leaves the chamber to ask for her aunt’s help. The heir is now alone. But not for long. Two powerful fairies have heard his cries for it is a freezing winter’s night and the baby is cold. The eldest fairy covers the son with a fairy flag and sings a peaceful lullaby. Morag returns and is shocked and frightened.
-Do not be afraid, says the fairy, this flag will rescue the MacLeods in times of great need. But take heed of my words, it can only help them thrice. Then the fairies will return to take it back.
And the story goes that the Fairy Flag has indeed saved the clan twice…
(The Fairy Flag in Dunvegan Castle)
Now, this is only one version of the tale. The Fairy Flag can be seen in Dunvegan Castle but its origins are lost in the mists of time. According to tradition, the MacLeods descend from the legendary Norwegian king Harald Hardrada who possessed a magic flag. The flag was lost in the battle of Stamford Bridge. But how did it come into the hands of the MacLeods?
One version wants the flag to be a banner used in the Holy Land during the time of the Crusades. Another legend- and the one that seems to be more dominant- narrates the story of the love between a mortal and a fairy, and a third version connects the incident to a Gaelic lullaby, Taladh na Man Sithe (The Fairy’s Lullaby)
Behold my child, limbed like the kid or fawn, smiting the horses, seizing the accoutrements of the shod horses, the spirited steeds. My little child.
Oh that I could see thy cattle fold, high up on the mountain side; a green, shaggy jacket about thy two white shoulders, with a linen shirt. My little child.
Oh that I could behold thy team of horses; men following them; serving women returning home and the Catanaich sowing the corn.
Oh tender hero whom my womb did bring forth, who did swallow from my breast, who on my knee wast reared.
My child it is, my armful of yew, merry and plump, my bulrush, my flesh and eggs, that will soon be speaking. Last year thou wast beneath my girdle, plant of fertility! and this year fair and playful on my shoulder, thou wilt be going round the homestead.
Oh let me not hear of thy being wounded. Grey do thou become duly. May thy nose grow sharp ere the close of thy day.
*An English translation of the Gaelic lullaby—Taladh na mna Sithe, The Fairy’s Lullaby*
And the flag has been unfurled twice. In 1490 and in 1520 against the MacDonald clan. Let us hope they never need to unfurl it one more time…
In my opinion, what makes the tale special is its strong bonds to reality. Certainly, one may claim this is only a myth but it is a living, breathing piece of a family’s history and as such, a part of the Scottish culture that always fascinates us.
”Until our days, the flag has been unfurled twice. And so, it remains safely kept in Dunvegan Castle. And the fairies, who dwell in the caves and the valleys, have been patiently waiting to take it back.”
*I first read this tale in 1995, in an audiobook collection with the title Abra Kadabra, a treasure filled with popular and lesser-known tales from all over the world. I distinctly remember the sound of the bagpipes and how much I fell in love with it at the age of 10. This was the tale that made me fall in love with Scotland.*
*All extracts translated by me.*
*For those who can understand Greek, this is the tale narrated by Matina Karra:*