Waving the Fairy Flag is said to provide salvation to the Clan MacLeod in the event of disaster, by summoning a fairy army. The flag has been waved twice, in the Middle Ages, but only one wave is left.
In the first waving, the MacLeods were greatly outnumbered in battle with the MacDonalds. At the exact point when the chief waved the Fairy Flag, the battle turned in favor of the MacLeods.
In the second waving, the clan's cattle were dying of pestilence. To avoid starvation, the chief summoned the fairy armies, who magically restored the cattle to health.
The 28th Chief, Dame Flora MacLeod of MacLeod, offered to wave the Fairy Flag over the cliffs of Dover should the Germans look victorious. MacLeod fighter pilots were known to have carried pictures of the flag with them, and it is said that not one was shot down. Dame Flora is also remembered for cutting off pieces of the flag for soldiers during this time.
Many legends exist on the origins of the fairy flag. In one such story, the chieftain's baby son was wrapped in the cloth by a fairy lady; in another, the chieftain took a fairy woman as a wife and she brought the cloth to the marriage, however she could only stay for seven years, after the seven years were gone she left, but she left the flag to protect her children; in a third, the banner was brought to Dunvegan by a MacLeod chieftain after years spent with the Sidhe.
A popular version of the legendary origin of the Fairy Flag is that there is truth in all of these stories: an early clan chieftan spent some time in the fairy realm. In his time there, he fell in love with the daughter of the fairy king, and they were married. Clan duty called, and he and his bride returned to the mortal realm. However, the fairy princess could only live in there for 7 years. Towards the end of this time, she gave birth to a baby boy, whom she tearfully left behind with the chief. Just before crossing over the fairy bridge back into her world, she begged that the baby never be left alone, as the sound of his crying would be too much for her to bear. That night, the clan had a feast, to distract the chief from his grief. As the MacLeods are famous for their piping and dancing, the nursemaid in charge of the baby sneaked away from the nursery to join the party. When she was discovered, the chief immediately ran up to his son, only to find his fairy wife already there, singing the child back to sleep. When the chief entered the room, the fairy vanished, but left behind a blanket on their son, which became the Fairy Flag. The song she was singing is still sung within the clan, known either as the Dunvegan Lullaby or the Fairy Lullaby.
A long version of a second tale is available at the Fairy Flag page on Seoras.com However, true believers in the Fairy Flag legend may prefer this tale about Sir Reginald. When he had the Fair Flag mounted in its current frame, he hired an expert from the V&A. The expert told him that the Fairy Flag was very likely the Land Ravager. Sir Reginald replied that, although he respected the expert's opinion, he himself knew that the flag had been given to his family by the fairies. The expert politely deferred to Sir Reginald's superior knowledge.