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The Fairy Flag of Dunvegan Castle

by Nancy MacCorkill, Author, F.S.A. Scot USA

Scottish History and Culture
"another page in my book"

Picture of the Actual Enchanted Flag.

©He who stealeth my written words,stealeth my soul,
and my attorney will go soul searching!!©

Fairy Flag of Dunvegan Castle

Dunvegan Castle, ancestral home of the MacLeods, Isle of Skye.

I would like to write something light -- about a Fairy Flag and it's magical properties. It is lore from the MacLeod of MacLeods' members of my clan. As a sept to both MacLeod and Gunn Clans, I belong to both as my father before me - Clan Gunn and Clan MacLeod.

I believe this shows the Norse-Irish connection of Clan MacLeod of Lewis and Harris, not only in folklore, but due to fact that the Norse Leods intermarriage with Celts of Dalriada as well as Picts. The Clan's direct descendancy is definitely Norse (or Viking) settlers in the Inner Hebrides. This was an intentional settling in the Hebrides due to over population in Norway at the time. Olaf the Black, from which Clan Gunn descends, and Leod, his brother, from which Clan MacLeod descends settled with the definite intent of staying, and staying they did. Dalriada Scots were Scots who came from Ireland. They broke relations with the leaders of Ireland and started their own land, called Dalriada, in what is now called Scotland. For more on this, read my History of MacLeod of Harris, and the History of MacLeod of Lewis. (on this web site).

There is a tale I would like to share with you, it is a tale about a Castle, a Fairy Flag, and it's lore: ~~ (or perhaps it's true! I'll leave it up to you, the reader.....)

"It has been said that there is no finer castle in all its splendor and age in Scotland than that of Dunvegan, on the Isle of Skye. It stands proudly on an prominence a little distance from the villege of Dunvegan, and from its towers one can gaze across tree-tops and blue waters to the hills of Duirinish, MacLeod's Tables, Healaval Moor and Healaval Beg, southwards to the Cullins and eastwards across brown rolling moors. It is the only castle in Scotland that has been, continuously, occupied by the original owners, the MacLeods. I should mention that Leod married a prominent widow of the Nichols Clan and thus acquired the castle. It has been continually occupied by the MacLeods ever since.

It is not surprising that many legends have been woven around so impressive and beautiful a fortress which, according to old tales, dates back to the tenth century. But, without doubt, the best known story is told about the Fairy Flag. This relic is still to be seen hanging in a glass case upon a Dunvegan Castle wall. It is no more than a faded scrap of cloth, yellow and fragile with age, ready it would seem, to crumble to dust if touched by human hands.

The orgin of the Fairy Flag must remain unknown as it is oral history that we depend upon and cannot be proven. One tale tells of a chieftain of the MacLeods who entered a fairy hill where he met a beautiful maiden. He fell in love with her and begged her to be his wife. The fairy maiden agreed on condition that he would release her from mortal life at the end of twenty years. They lived happily in the great castle until the time came for MacLeod's lady to return to fairyland.

One day as they stood on a little bridge near the castle MacLeod was dismayed to hear her remind him of his promise. He loved her dearly, and the thought of parting grieved him so much that he tried to hold her back. But the call of Fairyland in her ears was stronger even than the love she bore for her lord. She escaped from his embrace, ran into the woods before he could follow and was never seen again. MacLeod was left in sorrow, with a piece of her cape clutched in his hand, and this is said to be the magic Fairy Flag of Dunvegan.


Another tale claims that the Flag is part of a cover that the fairies, one day, laid on an infant MacLeod chieftain to preserve him from evil; while yet another relates its orgin to a crusade undertaken by a chief to the Holy Land. There he encountered a she-devil who fought with him and left the hem of her dress in his fingers as she tore herself from his grasp, before she fled back to the underworld.


Whatever its origin, the Flag was known to have supernatural properties. Three times could its possessors wave it to 'call for help' in distress. It has been waved on two occasions. The first time an infant MacLeod was at the point of death; the Flag was waved and the child recovered. The second time it was waved, it rallied MacLeod's men to victory in battle. The *Flag has yet to be waved for the last time. When that occasion arises it is doubtful if the fabric will do more than fall in dust. Meantime it remains for all to see, an interesting and awe-inspiring reminder of a promise given to the great chiefs of MacLeod by the mysterious wee folk "hundreds of years ago".

Folk Tales of the Highlands, Gregor Ian Smith;
Carmenia Gallactica
Lore of the Hebrides;
and Lady MacCorkill's own articles.

Nancy A. MacCorkill, F.S.A.Scot,
Author, Poet,
Clans Gunn; MacLeod of Lewis and Keith (Marshall).
Historian of the Ancient Clans of Scotland.

Picture of the Actual Enchanted Flag.

This is what is left of the Fairy Flag of Dunvegan. When warriors went into battle, they took bits of the flag to protect themselves, that is why it looks so torn and tattered. Even military men from Clan MacLeod, it has been said, took a small piece with them into WWII. The Fairy Flag does indeed resides on the Castle wall, preserved under glass, at Dunvegan. It is silk and the colour is yellow, whether from the original colour or the aging of time. The many small pieces cut from it about the size of postage stamps, were cut by MacLeod warriors to carry it into battle with them, to get the magical protection.

Sounds like an Irish tale does it not? Aye!, but it was the Scottish Islands of the Hebrides including Skye and Lewis and the Irish influence is a mere six miles away.~~~ makes you think, aye? Sometimes truth is much stranger than fiction.

Nancy A. MacCorkill, F.S.A Scot,
Author, Poet
Clan MacLeod of MacLeod, Clan Gunn and Clan Keith
Historian of the Ancient Clans of Scotland.
©All rights reserved March 1998 to present, N.MacCorkill


Nancy A. MacCorkill, F.S.A. Scot USA,
Author, Poet,
Clan MacLeod of Lewis and Clan Gunn, and Keith(Marshall)

Sources: Rev. Alex. Macgregor, M.A.
Clans of Scotland by Innes
MacNaughton, Clans of Scotland
Scottish Clans, Innis
Lord Lyons Office, Agent of the Queen
[Credits] Standard Disclaimer Researched

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