Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Dunadd Fort & the Fairies

"Turn we now to the other side, and observe that curiously conical hill sticking up alone in the centre of the Crinian moss. this, taking its name from the river which winds round its base, is called Dun-Add, and from time immemorial has been the favourite haunt of the witches and fairies of Glassrie." 
The above quote from Rusticus' 'The Royal Route' (1858) provides a wonderful introduction to this grand historic site, steeped in folklore, and once the capital of the ancient kingdom of Dalraida. I'll start with a fairy story from this text that I never would have found if it wasn't for the wonderful Modern Antiquarian Website, thank you Rhiannon for mentioning this story, wouldn't have found it without your post. Here goes the story....

"A farmer laird of Dun-Add was blessed with the second sight, and one night he lay in bed with the churn placed before the fire in the room, as was customary in order for the cream to be ready for the morning's operation. When suddently he noticed the fairies enter with a new born child which they had just stolen. On it they began to perform a mystic site to ready it for the transition to fairy land. The laird quietly observed, knowing he was safe as he had a steel blade of magical virtue laid under his pillow, and this was sure to protect him from "the mischief of these sometimes spiteful little creatures". Much to his surprise he saw that as the fairies could find no water in which to wash the child, they proceeded to do so in the cream in the churn! Time flew quickly by and in no time at all the cock crowed and off they hurriedly trooped, leaving behind in their rush a little bag containing their valuables. The laird was no fool, and quickly claimed these for his own.

In the morning the "good lady and her domestics" thought the laird mad when he asked that the contents of the churn be emptied outdoors, but they were far more forgiving when they saw the dogs that lapped up the cream fall dead, and the laird told them of the strange events of the night before.

It is said that the fairies never returned to claim their lost property, but the author tells that the articles may be in existence still. They consisted of a little stone spade (similiar to the stone arrowheads known as elf shot), a little stone pot for making fairy porridge, some stone balls, and other items. It is said that each of these "was possessed of different virtues". "The spade was laid beneath the pillow of a sick person, and by the subsequent appearance or non-appearance of perspiration the recovery or death of the invalid was to be discovered. The round balls were to be immersed in a pail of water which afterwards was given as a drink to cattle, who thereby were cured of any disease that might have befallen them" and the other articles had powers too but Rusticus admits that he has forgotten these if he ever knew them.
Rusticus also mentions that the well near the crest of the hill "rose and fell with the sea tide", and speaks of the curious rock footprint that can be found on the summit. For those interested in the history of the fort and curious about the footprint, Ogham script, and boar carving, I recommend heading over to the Modern Antiquarian website or Mysterious Britain website.

Up we walked, navigating the rocky paths and spirals of the hill. If the fairies do live here, then they have certainly selected a most worthy palace...
 A curious cup in a rock, a fairies porridge bowl?
I couldn't resist trying the footprint on for size, a perfect fit!
 
Ogham script and boar carving below. According to the RCAHMS website the original stone is now covered with an artificial stone facsimile to protect the original beneath, not that you'd know for looking, they've done a wonderful job....
 
Sources & Further Information
The Royal Route, Rusticus
Dunadd (Sacred Hill), Modern Antiquarian
Dunadd, Mysterious Britain Website
Dunadd, RCAHMS
Dunadd Panorama, Stone Circles in Angus and Perthshire

Nant Wood Fairies, Argyll

 If I had to pick the most enchanting fairy site visited on this trip it would be Nant Woods, without a doubt. This mossy green woods with it's gnarled old trees seems to hide a secret or two, the minute we arrived it began snowing, and the minute we left it stopped.

Campbell's Superstitions of the Highlands (1900) tells us this story of the fairies of Nant Woods:
"A child was taken by the Fairies from Killichrenan near Loch Awe,  to the Shi-en in Nant Wood (Coill' an Eannd). It was got back by the father drawing a furrow round the hillock with the plough. He had not gone far when he heard a cry behind him, and on looking back found his child lying in the furrow."
Campbell also mentions the area in his Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands (1902):
"On the high road leading from the wood of Nant (Coill' an Eannd) to Kilchrenan on Lochaweside, two or three summers ago, the traveller was met by a dark shadow, which passed him without his knowing how. On looking after him, he again saw the shadow, but this time moving away, and a little man in its centre, growing less as the shadow moved off. The little man was known as "Bodach beag Chill-a-Chreunain.""
Another curious site nearby is 'Clach Na H'Annaid', said to signify the site of an early religious settlement. On this site is a disused graveyard, some say it was used to bury upbaptised children. In agreement with this the 1881 OS map marks the spot as an Infants Burial Ground.

We had a wonderful wander around Nant Woods, just as the sun was dipping in the sky. Campbell's story doesn't give an exact location for the fairy hillock, but I have an inkling that the hill in the photo below has a faery inhabitant or two....
 This strange little structure may look like the work of the fairies, but according to the nearby sign it's a reconstruction of a charcoal burner....
Here are a couple of photos from charming Kilchrenan, where the child was stolen by the fairies... 

Sources & Further Information
Superstitions of the Highlands, Campbell
Witchcraft and the Second Sight in the Highlands, Campbell
Clach Na H'Annaid, RCAHMS

Kintraw Fairy Hill, Argyll

 On a lovely sunny morning we headed south to Kilmartin, with a special planned stop at Kintraw to see the beautiful standing stone and cairns. Kintraw is also said to be home to a Fairy Hill, though as far as I know the exact hill is unknown, though Westwood's Lore of Scotland (2009) suggests the location as the nearby hill of Gorlach.

Lord Campbell tells the curious story of the Fairy Hill in his Waifs and Strays of Celtic Tradition, Argyllshire Series (1889) and gives credit for the story to Mrs Annie Thorpe, nee Miss MacDougall of Lunga, Ardbecknish, Lochow:

"There is a green hill above Kintraw, known as the Fairies' Hill, of which the following story is told. Many years ago, the wife of the farmer at Kintraw fell ill and died, leaving two or three young children. The Sunday after the funeral the farmer and his servants went to church, leaving the children at home in charge of the eldest, a girl of about ten years of age. On the farmer's return the children told him their mother had been to see them, and had combed their hair and dressed them. As they still persisted in their statement after being remonstrated with, they were punished for telling what was not true.

The following Sunday the same thing occurred again. The father now told the children, if their mother came again, they were in inquire of her why she came. Next Sunday, when she reappeared, the eldest child put her father's question to her, when the mother told them she had been carried off by the "Good People" (Daione Sith), and could only get away for an hour or two on Sundays, and should her coffin be opened it would be found to contain only a withered leaf.

The farmer, much perplexed, went to the minister for advice, who scoffed at the idea of any supernatural connection with the children's story, ridiculed the existence of "Good People," and would not allow the coffin to be opened. The matter was therefore allowed to rest. But, some little time after, the minister, who had gone to Lochgilphead for the day, was found lying dead near the Fairies' Hill, a victim, many people thought, to the indignation of the Fairy world he had laughed at."

As you can see, Kintraw is a beautiful and enchanting location, with rolling hills and thick dark forests. The only question is, on which of these mysterious hills do the faery folk live?

Sources & Further Information
Waifs and Strays of Celtic Tradition, Lord Campbell
Lore of Scotland, Westwood
Kintraw Standing Stone, Modern Antiquarian
The Fairies' Hill, Mysterious Britain

Fairy Women & their Deer


My first post from the trip to Argyll earlier this month, and how glad I am that we missed the snow! Once again unfortunately I didn't spot any fae folk, but that won't stop me telling you all about the enchanting places I visited in search of them. We did spot a lot of lovely wildlife though including deers, and in this part of Scotland it is said by Campbell in his Superstitions of the Scottish Highlands (1900) that "the red-deer are associated with the fairies, and in some districts, as Lochaber and Mull, are said to be their only cattle". He also tells that it is believed that no deer is found dead with age, and that it's horns are not found because they are hid by the fairies. Fairy women in this area are also said to be able to assume the guise of the red deer. Though in the Mull area it is said that fairies only have one nostril, though I dare not ask one how they smell!

Although my posts usually focus on a specific location, I became intrigued by the folkloric connections between fairies and deer in this area of Scotland and decided to delve deeper into this fascinating topic. Here you'll find a few of the thoroughly intriguing stories I came across....

The Fairy Wife of Ben Breck
"The Fairy wife, who owned the deer of Ben Breck, is well known in the Highlands. It is told of her that on one occassion, as she milked a hind, the animal became restive and gave her a kick. In return she struck the hind with her open palm and expressed a wish that the arrow of Donald, the son of John (a noted hunter in his day), might come upon it. That very day the restive hind fell to Doil MacJain's arrow." - Superstitions of the Highlands, Campbell (1900) p122.

This same fairy wife also appears in a tale where she comes to the door of a bothy on Ben Breck where three hunters are passing the night. The hunter's dog sprang up to attack her and she retreated, requesting the hunters to tie up their dog. She asks 3 times but the dog's master refuses, finally giving the excuse of having nothing to tie it with. So the fairy wife pulled a hair from her head and told him to tie the dog with that, claiming it was strong enough to hold a four-masted ship at anchor.  The hunter was cunning and pretended to agree to this but when the fairy wife entered she found the dog had not been secured and she ran away in fury, saying that it was well for the hunter that the dog had not been tied, and warning that she would return.

Similar tales are told of the Glaistig, who is also said to fear dogs and also have a habit of bothering men in bothies! Campbell tells that the fairy wife of the story was last seen twenty years ago (c.1880) in Lochaber and that age had told severely upon her. Instead of being broad and tall she was now "no bigger than a teapot!" and wore a little grey plaid or shawl about her shoulders.

John McKay's 'The Deer-Cult & the Deer-Goddess Cult of the Ancient Caledonians' Folklore vol 43, No 2 (1932) is a fascinating read on this topic and refers to the fairy wife as the Cailleach of Ben Breck, and tells that she would "upon occassion take the form of a gray deer". He also tells that a gamekeeper at Corrour Lodge in Invernesshire told his friend Mr Ronald Burn in 1917 that the Cailleach of Ben Breck in Lochaber had "cleaned out a certain well of hers, and had afterwards washed herself therein, that same year."

MacDougall's Folk Tales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English (1910) speaks further of the lady of Ben Breck. A cow-herd named Donald Maclan from Achantore went with his cows to the summer pastures of Ben Breck. There he met a Glaistig on multiple occassions and whilst sheltering in the bothy at Ruighe-na-cloiche beside Ciaran Water he heard her voice again. Similiar to the previous tale his dog prevents her from entering and she promises to give him no more trouble if he removes the dog that is bothering her. He was a trusting young man and did as asked, and in return for his kindness she told him "Go to Ben Breck early to-morrow, Donald Maclan, and thou wilt find the White Hind which thou hast been hunting for many a day, but which thou hast not yet caught". He did as told and there he saw the Glaistig and a herd of deer before her with the White Hind at their head. "He took aim at the Hind, and let go the arrow. But before the arrow left the bend of the yew, he heard the Glaistig crying, in a spiteful tone: "Stick in the stomach, arrow. Stick in the stomach."" The arrow did as told and Donald took the hart home as promised.

MacDougall kindly shares with us the croon that the Glaistig of Ben Breck was said to sing to her hinds whilst driving them on the mountain side:

"Lady of Ben Breck, Horo!
Breck, horo! Breck, horo!
Lady of Ben Breck, horo!
Lady of the fountain high.
I ne'er would let my troop of deer,
Troop of deer, troop of deer;
I ne'er would let my troop of deer,
A-gathering Shellfish to the tide
Better liked they cooling cress,
Cooling cress, cooling cress;
Better liked they cooling cress,
That grows beside the fountain high."

MacDougall also tells of two brothers who met the Glaistig and were not quite so fortunate. She would visit them regularly but the hunters had no pleasure in her visits for she delighted in causing them bother and trouble. One brother was patient with her and afraid of provoking her, but the other was not so sensible and when she teased him he told his terrier to attack her, followed by his greyhound too. She angered and raged and threatened as she ran "Perhaps I'll pay thee back for this yet, my lad". Sure enough she returned and the dogs were urged out to meet her, with the brothers staying safely in the bothy. They heard the expected barking, first close, then further away. The fight ceased as night turned to day and the dogs returned, only the big dog was left with nothing but a tuft of hair and the terrier came as hairless as a newly plucked hen!

Perhaps most curious of all comes the tale of a hunter returning from Ben Breck. As he passed the foot of the mountain he heard a strange sound, like the clacking of two stones striking or the rattling of a stag's horns against a rock. He continued on until he passed a large rock at the side of the path, and "there he saw, crouching at the foot of the stone, the semblance of a woman, with a green shawl about her shoulders, and in her hands a pair of deershanks, which she kept striking against one another without ceasing." He knew at once that she was the Glaistig, and he boldly spoke to her "What are you doing there, poor woman?" But she spoke only to say, "Since the wood was burnt, since the wood was burnt" and this she repeated over and over again for as long as he was in earshot.

I find this story slightly chilling, and can't help but wonder if the Glaistig's herd of deer had cruelly perished in a forest fire, or perhaps since the woods were burnt her deer had deserted her. Or perhaps this tale is no more than a sorrowful story of a mortal woman whose house burnt down, taking her mind and sanity with it. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this curious story.

Scalasdal, Mull
Campbell leaves us guessing with his short intriguing comment that "On the lands of Scalasdal in Mull, a deer was killed, which turned out afterwards to be a woman." (p126). Alexander Carmichael writes in his Carmina Gadelica volume 2 (1900) of women using Fath Fith to change into animals including hinds, and men into stags. He writes that this could be voluntary or involuntary, and was especially useful to hunters, warriors, and travellers.

Lochaber Deer Glaistig
A young man named Donald Cameron from the Braes of Lochaber met the Glaistig and her deer in the first half of the past century, tells MacDougall in 1910. Donald was a famous deer-hunter, and gifted with the second sight. One day while looking "up from the bottom of the Glen to the top of the Yellow mountain, he said to a neighbour who was standing near him: "Tis I who behold the sight! Place your foot on mine, and you will see it too." His neighbour did as he was told, and he now beheld, what he saw not till then, the finest view of deer he had ever witnessed." So on a calm morning Donald went to a deer-pass on the ben and stood wait for the deer herd to descend the mountain for their morning drink from the fresh waters of the spring. "At length he saw them coming out of the mist which hid the rocky summit above him, and a tall Glaistig driving them before her. She at once noticed the hunter, and before the foremost deer came within shooting distance she cried to him: "Thou art too heavy on my hinds, Big Donald. Thou must not be so heavy on them as thou art." Big Donald was read-witted, and so he put her off with his apt answer: "I never killed a hind where I could find a stag." He allowed the hinds to pass with the Glaistig behind them, and she gave him no further trouble."

This Lochaber Glaistig was perhaps one of many, as a further tale tells of four Glaistig visiting four hunters in a bothy in the Braes of Lochaber. Three of the hunters had retired to a corner of the bothy when soon after four women entered the bothy, having the appearance of the hunter's sweethearts. Three joined the three hunters in the corner and the forth approached the remaining hunter and tried to trick him into giving her his hand. He was a sensible young man and had his wits about him, and kept a tight hold of his dirk. When she asked him for some snuff he agreed but gave it to her on the point of his dirk and prodded her with it, leading her to withdraw to the other side of the fire. The women made their depart at cockcrow, and when the forth hunter went to the corner of the bothy to check on his comrades he found them "cold and dead, with their throats cut, and every drop of blood sucked out of their veins. He had now no doubt that the women were Glaistigs".

In defense of Glaistigs I'd like to point out that this does not seem to be typical Glastig behaviour, and in many tales they are harmless creatures, though they do seem to take pleasure in playing tricks and causing mischief, and some claim them to be mortal women under enchantment. That said, this is not the only tale by far of fairies drinking the blood of mortals, and should you find yourself in a lonesome bothy be sure to keep a watchful eye on the door and a faithful hound at your side.

Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to visit the Braes of Lochaber or Ben Breck on this visit, but I hope to update this page one day with photos of these beautiful locations. I hope instead you'll settle for some photos of a beautiful fearless stag I met on the edge of a loch on Mull...

Sources & Further Information
Superstitions of the Scottish Highlands, Campbell
Folk Tales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English, MacDougall
The Deer-Cult & the Deer-Goddess Cult of the Ancient Caledonians, McKay, Folklore Vol 43, No 2
Carmina Galedica Volume 2, Carmichael
The Hair and the Dog, Davidson & Chaudhri, Folklore Vol 104, No 1/2

Friday, 8 February 2013

The Marble Palace of Llyn Cynwch, North Wales


In North Wales, a little north of Dolgellau, is a beautiful Welsh lake named Llyn Cynwch. According to legend there is a beautiful marble palace at the bottom of the lake belonging to the fairies. T.P. Ellis writes in his 'The Story of Two Parishes: Dolgelley and Llanelltyd' (1928):
"The most famous of all were the fairies of Llyn Cynwch, and the beauty of the place is so entrancing that no wonder fairies loved the little dell. At the bottom of the lake is a marble palace, which only one human being has ever been privileged to see. He was a servant of Nannau, in love with the dairy-maid at the farm of Dol-y-clochydd,-isn't that a beautiful name, the Meadow of the Bellringer? - and one dark night, when going to see his lady-love, he fell into the lake, saw all its wondrous glories, and was eventually led by no less a person than the King of the Fairies along a marble passage, at the end of which was a slate slab, which, when lifted, turned out to be the hearth stone of Dol-y-clochydd, by the side of which the lost lover discovered the dairy-maid weeping over him, for he had been absent for months."
Rhys, Celtic Folklore (1901) also names the house as Dol y Clochyd and calls the young man "the sweetheart of one of siwsi's girl's" and tells he lost his way to her from Nannau. When he falls in the lake he finds it clearer the lower he gets until "at least he alighted on a level spot where everybody and everything looked much as he had observed on the dry land. When he reached the bottom of the lake, a short fat old gentleman came to him and asked his business, when he told him how it happened that he had come." He stayed here a month without knowing that he had been there three days, and he was greatly welcomed. The inhabitants of the lake led him out and through the hearthstone, where he met his sweetheart as she was by the fire weeping for him.

The author attributes this story to the first volume of the Taliesin, published at Ruthin in  1859-60, by a writer called Cofiadur. "It was Glasynys, I believe, for the style seems to be his: he pretends to copy from an old manuscript of Hugh Bifan's - both the manuscript and its owner were fictions of Glasynys' as I am told. These jottings contain two or three items about the fairies which seem to be genuine", including the above story.

The story also appears in Volume 16, No. 10 of the Welsh outlook, Oct 1929. The article is also written by T.P. Ellis but contains greater detail than the version in 'The Story of Two Parishes' published in the previous year. The author writes that when the young man sinks down to the bottom of Llyn Cynwch he "found himself in the fairest garden he had ever beheld. All the flowers he knew, and a lot of flowers he didn't know, were blooming together, spring, summer, and autumn flowers, all at the same time. Journeying through the flowers, he alighted on a marble palace, shining white and picked out with the rarest of gems and glittering with gold and with silver. At the palace door he met the King of the Fairies and the King of the Fairies, recognizing him as lover, led him through the marble palace, down corridor after corridor, until, at last, they came to a great white slab, brighter and whiter even than the palace itself. It was the hearthstone of Dol-y-clochydd. The King pushed the stone aside, and, stepping upwards, the lover found himself in the kitchen of the farm, side by side with the maid he had set out to see, and who was weeping because he had not arrived."

We visited Llyn Cynwch whilst in Wales in September (Sorry I'm a little late in typing this up!). We followed the Precipice Walk that takes you alongside the Llyn and includes lovely dramatic views from the side of the hill above the Llyn, details of the walk can be found here. The Llyn is curious and reflective, and surprisingly dark in places. The water levels must have been particularly high as there were trees sat deep in the water in places. Despite many long and lingering glances into the depths of the Llyn, the marble palace stayed hidden on this occasion.

Sources & Further Information
The Story of Two Parishes: Dolgelley and Llanelltyd, Ellis
Welsh Fairies, Vol 16, No 10, Welsh Outlook Oct 1929, Ellis
Celtic Folklore, Rhys
Precipice Walk, Snowdonia National Park

The Water-horse Skeleton, Ord


Well, here's something you don't see every day... the skeleton of a water-horse! Whilst visiting Skye I bought Geoff Holder's very interesting book 'The guide to Mysterious Skye and Lochalsh', and a photo on page 60 caught my eye, a mossy overgrown skeleton, accompanied by a nearby photo of a plaque reading: 
'Each Uidge Earballach, Hydro Equus Extendus, Long-tailed Water Horse. This is the only known example of this rare beast - a distant relative of the better known Monstra Nessium Hydro E.E.is usually sighted only twice a year when it swims inshore to browse on whelks. This specimen was stranded at an exceptionally low tide in 1967.' 

The author kindly tells the reader where they can find this delightful beast, in the garden of 'An Acarsaid' on the shore at Ord. He gives details of access to the garden with opening times and how visitors can give donations to charity, but when I visited I couldn't spot the charity box unfortunately, or the sign. I think perhaps no one is currently maintaining the garden? Though it does appear to still be open to the public via the little gate opposite the beach.


 Sources & Further Information
The guide to Mysterious Skye and Lochalsh, Geoff Holder

The Fairy Flag of Dunvegan Castle, Skye

 
This is a story that I've been putting off writing about for fear that I cannot do it justice. It's a beautiful story, with romance and tragedy, but it's such a varied and traditional story that I'm simply not sure where to start. The more I researched it, the more variations I came across, and the longer and longer my notes became. Hopefully these notes will make sense and form some sort of order as I write them!

What is the Fairy Flag?
For those unfamiliar with this curious relic, the Fairy Flag is a piece of ancient looking fabric, that some say originally belonged to the fairies. Norman MacLeod in 1799 described it has consisting of "a piece of very rich silk, with crosses wrought on it with gold thread, and several elf spots stitched with great care on different parts of it." The crosses are no longer visible but the elf spots remain.

The flag is currently on display at Dunvegan Castle and truly worth a visit as such wondrous fairy relics are few and far between. The Dunvegan Castle website tells that the flag is thought to have been dyed yellow and is made of silk from the Middle East, and has been dated between the 4th and 7th centuries AD. An image of the flag can be seen here on the castle website. 

Stories of the Fairy Flag
An early version of the tale can be found in 'A tour in Scotland and voyage to the Hebrides' by Thomas Pennant (1772):
"Here is preserved the Braolauch shi, or fairy-flag of the family, bestowed on it by Titania the Ben-Shi, or wife to Oberon king of the fairies. She blessed it at the same time with powers of the first importance, which were to be exerted on only three occasions: but on the last, after the end was obtained, an invisible Being is to arrive and carry off standard and standard-bearer, never more to be seen. A family of Clan y Faitter had this dangerous office, and held by it, free lands in Bracadale. The flag has been produced thrice. the first time in an unequal engagement against the Clan-Roland, to whose fight the Macleods were multiplied ten-fold. The second preserved the heir of the family, being then produced to save the longings of the lady:  and the third time, to save my own; but it was so tattered, that Titania did not seen to think it worth sending for."
Notes of the Relics preserved in Dunvegan Castle, F Macleod
'Notes on the Relics preserved in Dunvegan Castle, F Macleod (1915?) includes two tales told to the author by Rev RC Macleod that he heard in his boyhood of how the Flag came into the possession of his forefathers.
"The first relates that an early Chief espoused a fairy, whose married life was limited to a period of twenty years. Summonsed to leave him at a spot about three miles from Dunvegan, which now bears the name "Fairy Bridge," she flew away, dropping in her flight a portion of her silken attire - the Fairy flag - which was found and preserved by the Chief."
"The other relates that on the occasion of the birth of an heir to a former Chief great rejoicings were held in Dunvegan Castle; that, as the child was slumbering peacefully, the nurse, who was anxious to join in the festivities, slipped away and left the infant alone. Being restless, the clothes in which the infant had been wrapped fell off, and he lay exposed to the cold. The fairies watched over the sleeping babe, and wrapped his body in the flag. Meanwhile the clansmen had been clamouring to see the young heir, and the nurse, returning, found him thus clothed, and brought him into the hall. As she entered, an invisible choir was heard singing the magic powers of the Flag."

Image: The Fairy Bridge, near Dunvegan
This book goes on to tell more stories of the Flag, including a version given in a manuscript history of the MacLeods written around 1800 that tells of the importance of the flag bearers and how it was once stolen. This version tells of a She-Devil rather than a Fairy:
"The legend of its origin is that a MacLeod who had gone on a Crusade to the Holy Land when returning home in the garb of a pilgrim was benighted on the borders of Palestine in a wild and dangerous mountain pass, where by chance he met a hermit who gave him food and shelter. The hermit told him that an evil spirit guarded the pass and never failed to destroy the true believer; but by the aid of a piece of the true Cross and certain other directions given by the hermit this MacLeod vanquished and slew the 'She Devil' called Nein a Phaipen, or Daughter of Thunder, around whose loins this banner had been tied; and that in reward for conveying certain secrets which she wished some earthly friends to know she revealed the future destinies of the Claim to her conqueror, in whose family this knowledge was supported to be deposited to its final extinction, and desired that her girdle should be converted into this banner, which was to be attached to her spear, which became the staff which is now lost. The secrets were never known and are likely to remain unknown forever, although many editions have been recited."

The Macleods of Dunvegan, Rev RC Macleod
Rev RC Macleod in 'The Macleods of Dunvegan' (1927) narrows the Fairy Flag story down to three versions. Version 1 tells of the 20 year romance with the fairy, and the author writes that we owe this tradition and the lullaby that the fairy sings to the infant, to "Mr Neil MacLeod, the clan bard in the latter half of the nineteenth century. He obtained the version given below from several old women in the MacLeod country, and published it in the Gael in October 1878."
"According to the tradition, on a fine evening in autumn a beautiful fairy paid a visit to Dunvegan Castle. Without any difficulty she passed through several closed doors, and made her way to the nursery where the infant heir of the Chief was lying in his cradle. With him was his nurse, but if she had wished to oppose the fairy's entrance, she would have been powerless to do so, for some potent spell made it impossible for her to move. 
Taking no notice of the nurse, the fairy went straight to the cradle, took the child on her knee, and sang to him the famous lullaby. Both the words and the tune were so remarkable that they impressed themselves on the nurse's memory, and from that time forward she habitually lulled the child to sleep by singing to him the fairy's lullaby. 
As time went on it came to be believed that any infant of the Chief's family over whom this lullaby was sung would be protected by the fairies in any dangers which might assail him during his life and, for a long time, no nurse was engaged to take charge of the Chief's children who could not sing the lullaby to them."
The author's friend Miss Tolmie, gave him this version of the fairy's lullaby in English rather than the traditional Gaelic:

Behold my child, limbed liked the roe or fawn,
Smiting the horses,
Seizing the accoutrements of the shod horses,
Of the spirited steeds,
Behold my child.

Oh, that I could see thy cattle folds,
High up upon the mountain side,
A green shaggy jacket about thy white shoulders,
And 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 didst swallow from my breast, who on my knee wast

reared.

My child it is, my armful of yew [bow and arrows],Merry and plump, my bullrush, 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,
My little child.

Oh, let me not hear of thy being wounded.
Grey do thou become duly ;
May thy nose grow sharp [with advancing years],
Ere the close of thy day.

Oh, not of Clan Kenneth [MacKenzie],
Oh, not of Clan Conn [MacDonald],
Descendant of a race more esteemed.
That of the Clan Leod of swords and armour,
Whose father's native land was Scandinavia [Lochlann.]


According to version 2 of Roderick Macleod's version the flag is of Eastern origin. A Macleod joined a crusading army in the Holy Land and was sent on a mission requiring a lengthy and lonely ride through the desert. After narrowly escaping the clutches of a wicked old witch, which is a whole different tale, he came to a river and proceeded to cross it by a ford. Suddenly a fairy maiden rose from the water, blocking his passage. After a "severe struggle he overcame her, and made good his passage over the river. After this he made friends with the maiden, and before they parted, she gave him a box of scented wood. In this, she told him, were several smaller boxes, each of which exactly fitted the one outside it. In the inmost box was a magic banner, the waving of which would bring forth a host of armed men to help its owner. ' Take it home with you,' the fairy said, ' and wave the banner in danger's hour but in any case do not dare to open the box for a year and a day. If you do, for another year and a day no crops will grow in your land, no sheep or cattle will produce their young, no children will be born." He took it home and presented it to the Chief's wife and told her the warning but her curiosity got the better of her and she opened the box. The events foretold by the fairy followed, but the chief was impressed by it's power and preserved it to be used when he would need it most.

Version 3 is the same version I have already told above, where a fairy lady wraps the heir to a former Chief in the fairy flag after the nurse sneaks off to join in the festivities. The author also relates information from the Bannatyne Manuscript, including the circumstances of when the flag has been used, these events also vary greatly from text to text.

Skye: The Island & It's Legends, Swire
In Swire's 'Skye: The Island & It's Legends' (1961) the author relates the story of the fairy lover,  she names the Macleod who married the fairy as Ian the forth Chief or his father Malcolm, and says that marrying a fairy was not an unusual practice at this time. In this version of the tale she is called back to her own people after giving birth to a son. Her husband accompanied her as far as he could, and at the Fairy Bridge they said their final goodbyes. The story then turns to the story of a heir being born, only in this version it is the fairy wife's child with the chief. During the celebrations when the nurse sneaks away, the baby cries as he wakes cold and miserable after his covers have fallen away. His mother, the fairy, hears his cries and covers him with the fairy flag and sings him a lullaby to comfort him. The nurse hears the singing and returns to the room and takes the baby to the banqueting hall, where fairy voices were heard singing about the powers of the flag and how it can be used only 3 times. The baby's nurse ever after sang the lullaby to him and told her descendants that although she never forgot a note, she found the words hard to remember, and whenever she hesitated or stopped she was helped by "voices all about her taking up the song." she also sang the lullaby to her own baby  and she believed he was also guarded and protected by the fairies as he never suffered any accidents. The author then gives Miss Tolmie's version of the lullaby, and a version by a Kenneth Macleod:

Sleep my little child,
Hero, tenderling,
Dream, my little child
Hero, fawn-like one,
high on mountain brows
Be thy stag tryst
Speed thy yew arrow straight antlerwards

Sleep my little child,
Hero, gentle-bred,
Dream, my little child
Hero, battle-bred.
skin like falling snow
Green thy mail coat
Live thy steeds, dauntless thy following

I think this is my own favourite version of the tale. It's certainly the most romantic and heartwarming. The author then gives detail of the times the flag is said to have been waved, and gives suggestion that it could be the magic banner "Landoda, the Land Ravisher, which when waved brought certain victory. It belonged to Harald Haardrada of Norway who saw service in the East including Jerusalem and returned with the flag banner." He is said to have brought it into battle whilst fighting in England but it was too late to save him, and what happened to the banner is unknown.

A Summer in Skye, Alexander Smith
In Alexander Smith's 'A Summer in Skye' (1865), a man named Malcolm tells that author that that the fairy Flag is "kept in a glass case, and never shown to strangers, at least when the family is from home." The author asks him how the Macleods came into possession of the flag and he replies "Well the old people say that one of the Macleods fell in love with a fairy, and used to meet her on the green hill out there. Macleod promised to marry her; and one night the fairy gave him a green flag, telling him that, when he or one of his rae was in distress, the flag was to be waved, and relief would be certain. Three times the flag was to be waved; but after the third time it might be thrown into the fire, for the power would have gone all out of it. I don't know, indeed, how it was, but Macleod deserted the fairy and married a woman." This version of the tale ends in tragedy, the fairy woman heard of the marriage and was in a great rage. "She cast a spell over Macleod's country and all the women brought forth dead sons, and all the cows brought forth dead calves. Macleod was in great tribulation. He would soon have no young men to fight his battles, and his tenants would soon have no milk or cheese wherewith to pay their rends. the cry of his people came to him as he cat in his castle, and he waved the flag, and next day over the country there were living sons and living calves. Another time, in the front of a battle, he was sorely pressed, and nigh being beaten, but we waved the flag again, and got the victory, and a great slaying of his enemies." He tells that it has not been waved a third time yet, not even during the potato failure when people were starving.
 
Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands, Campbell
In this book, written in 1900, the author briefly mentions the banner, calling it the Bratach Shith MhicLeoid, and tells of it's powers. He also mentions that "Every pregnant woman who sees it is taken in premature labour (a misfortune which happened, it is said, to the English wife of a former chief in consequence of her irrepressible curiosity to see the banner), and every cow casts her calf."

This brings me to the end of my research at present. I apologise for not going into further details of the times the flag has been used, but those are also as varied as the story itself! Whilst visiting Skye I couldn't resist paying a visit to Dunvegan Castle and the Fairy Bridge.

 
 
Primroses, picking them is said to call the fairies....
 
Dunvegan Castle & it's gardens....
 
 
 
Sources & Information
The Dunvegan Castle Website
A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides, Pennant
Notes of the Relics preserved in Dunvegan Castle, F Macleod
The Macleods of Dunvegan, Rev RC Macleod
Skye: The Island & It's Legends, Swire
A Summer in Skye, Alexander Smith
Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands, Campbell