Am Bratach Sith: The Fairy Flag

There are many stories regarding the origins of this most treasured relic of the clan MacLeod, which can still be seen today in Dun Bheagan (Dunvegan) castle. Legend has it that the flag can only be unfurled 3 times in dire consequences and the clan shall be triumphant. It is widely believed to have been unfurled only twice but has been carried (furled and cased) on may occasions. Certainly the flag is still regarded by many as a powerful relic, in fact it is said that MacLeod pilots during the second world war carried pictures of the flag as a talisman. Also a fire at Dun Bheagan in 1939 is said to have abated when the flag was removed to safety.The Fairy Versions:

Ver 1:

It is said that the fourth chief Ian Ciar MacLeod of Dunvegan (or his father Malcolm the “fat & good”) married a fairy with whom he had a son. On the child’s first birthday the fairy mother had to return to her own folk. Ian loved them both dearly and pleaded for her not to go but she was obliged to fulfill her promise to return. The three of them walked from the village and at a bridge known as Beul-Ath nan Tri Allt (the ford of the three burns, on the road from Dunvegan castle to Edinbane) the fairy rose above her husband and son and dropped a piece of silk saying, “keep this flag and unfurl it to the wind whenever you are in real danger and it will protect you”.

Ver 2:

Lady MacLeod heard singing coming from her babies bedroom, on entering the room she saw an old woman wrapping the child in silk and singing a fairy lullaby. The old woman disappeared leaving the fairy banner. A variation of this tale is that a nurse left the chiefs son in his room and went to join the celebrations in the great hall. The child was restless and so the fairies, particularly his own mother came to comfort him and wrapped him in silk. On returning the nurse found the child wrapped in the fairy flag which she took to the chief in the great hall, upon which the sound of the fairy lullaby was heard but no-one was seen to sing.

The Historical Version:

Harald Sigurdson immortalized in history as Harald Hardraada {hard council} was one of the most heroic figures of the Viking Age. He was half-brother to king Olaf Haraldsson of Norway who later was elevated to sainthood. Olaf, with 15 year old Harald at his side, fought a battle at Stiklestad where Olaf met his death. Severely wounded Harald fled the battlefield to begin his far-ranging travels. Journeying to Russia he married Elizabeth, daughter of Yaroslav king of Novgorad-Kiev. Later Harald traveled south until reaching Constantinople, today’s Istanbul, Turkey, the then capital of the Eastern Roman Empire of Byzantium. When established in that faraway place he was made captain of the Varangian Guard that formed the personal bodyguard of the Byzantine emperor; Varangian was the name given to Scandinavians by the Byzantines and Arabs.While in the emperor’s service Harald obtained the sacred flag he christened ‘Lord-Ravager’ (sometimes styled LandWaster). Because silk was popular and widely used by eastern people, but much less used in Europe at that time, Harald’s flag would undoubtedly have been made of silk.

Returning to Norway in 1046 Harald Sigurdson took with him his battle flag and the following year was proclaimed king. In 1066 Harald sailed with a Norse-Viking army and accompanied by English king Harold’s traitorous brother Tostig, from his kingdom of Norway to land in England on the coast of Yorkshire. On September 26th the army of the English king, Harold Godwinson, clashed with the Norse army at Stamford Bridge. Harald Hardraada perished in the battle and his Norse army vanquished. The Norse king’s battle-flag, Lord-Ravager, was carried from the field of battle in Yorkshire by his faithful comrade-in-arms Godred Croven.

Godred Crovan, son of Harald the Black of Iceland, had Hardraada’s Fairy flag in his possession. Despite the Norsemen’s defeat at Stamford Bridge, Croven’s roving days were not yet over. By 1079 he had established himself as king of Man, (immortalized as king Orry). The line of Norse kings established by Godred Croven ruled these islands until 1265. There appears little doubt that Hardraada’s battle flag, Lord Ravager, stayed with Croven’s successors.

A book written in 1982 by the eminent Scottish historian, Sir Iain Moncreiffe in tracing the ancestry of the British Royal Family, considers that ‘very probably’ Harald’s battle flag and the Fairy Flag of the MacLeod are one and the same. Inspection of the Fairy Flag, albeit an ancient, tattered remnant of its former condition, revealed it to be made of silk fabric, being unquestionably of oriental origin about one thousand years old. When this information is considered together with the known historical wanderings of Harald Hardrada and Godred Croven, then speculation of the two flags being one appears reasonable. Hardraada’s flag too, came from the Mediterranean area, traveled with him back to Norway and in 1066 after the battle at Stamford Bridge passed into the possession of Godred Croven who established the line of kings of Man and the Western Isles from whom the chiefs of Clan MacLeod claim descent.

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