The Royal Scots Cap Badge

 

The Fairy Flag

 

The Fairy Flag, Bratach Sibh, has an ancient connection with the MacLeods of Harris and Dunvegan. Although there is uncertainty as to its origin, a likely tale is that it came to the family through their Norse progenitors. The Norse raided and traded in the Middle East, an area from which the flag probably originated and then came on a twisty route to Dunvegan in the period circa 1200 – 1300.

 

There is a great deal of mythology about fairies and their interest in the MacLeod Chieftain and his family and also their pipers, the MacCrimmons. That this should be so is not surprising, given an age when belief in fairies and magic was the norm. During the 100-year feud with the MacDonalds of Sleat and Clanranald (circa 1490 – 1601), the tune would be furled on a staff and carried to the battle site.

 

It could be unfurled three times to save the Clan if in desperate straits. After three unfurling's, the flag's magical properties would be dissipated. It was unfurled twice: at the Battle of Glendale, 1490, and at the Battle of the Spoilt Dyke, 1578. Clansmen believed that the unfurling turned the tide of battle and gave them victory in both instances. Songs and tributes sprang up like new blades of grass in spring to celebrate the prowess of MacLeod's Fairy Flag.

 

After all these centuries, the remnant fairy flag is still preserved in Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye.

 

The fairies who favoured MacLeod also were reputed to have endowed the MacCrimmons with musical genius. This belief was ingrained in the ancient MacCrimmons and it would be remarkable indeed if this belief did not have a strong influence. Their remarkable dedication to cèol mor over several centuries would seem to attest to belief in magically endowed powers.

 

The piobaireachd reflects the reverence with which the ancients regarded this tune and paid honour to the fairies who had endowed the flag with magical properties. Which MacCrimmon composed the piobaireachd is unknown.

 

Exit The Fairy Flag and return to the General Piobaireachd Stories

 

 


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