Researched and compiled by
Hugh D.P. McArthur, FSA Scot
Clan Arthur Seannachie
High Commissioner for Clan Arthur in Britain
© 2020 Hugh DP McArthur
"Stop screaming like a Banshee!" my mother declared on frequent childhood occasions, and only recently have I fully understood what was meant. Far from being some sort of demon of the night, as one's younger intelligence imagined; a Banshee is in actual fact a female faery!
The Gaelic for faery is Sith (pronounced Shee) and the evidence for an ancient faery people in parts of Scotland and Ireland is considerable. Scotland is abundant with faery place names and lore, the most obvious are Glen Shee - The Faery Valley, and Schiehallion - The Faery Mountain, there is even a Blar nan Sith - The Battlefield of the Faeries. Literally hundreds of other places referred to as faery hills, glens, woods, lochs and waterfalls are strewn throughout the West of Scotland.
An interesting phenomenon is the proliferation of faery mounds or knowes known in Gaelic as Sithean (pronounced Sheean). Traditionally, Scottish and Irish faeries lived in mounds, and the description fits well with the sunken wheelhouses that are found dotted around the islands of the Scottish West Coast. The Isles of Colonsay and Oransay, in particular, still bear the place names of:
- Sithean Beag
- Little Faery Knowe
- Sithean Cnoc Riabhach
- Brindled Faery Knowe
- Sithean Mor
- Big Faery Knowe
- Sithean Phort Chrag
- Rock Harbour Faery Knowe
Most poignant of all though, are the living descendants of one of the faery clans - the MacPhees of Colonsay. The name MacPhee comes from Duffie, which in turn is a corruption of the Gaelic Dubh Sith (pronounced Dooshee) which almost unbelievably, means Black Faery! Perhaps a forgotten Pictish people really did sing and dance on top of their faery mounds, above the beaches where their canoes drew to rest in the magical islands of the Scottish Hebrides, in a place where time still meanders slower.
So what have all these faeries got to do with Oor Arthur? - He slaughtered them!
These faeries were the small painted Pictish warriors who haunted the Otherworld - The misty mountain tops and islands on the western fringes of Oor Arthur's domain. They were sailors, probably red haired, with green or blue eyes, and they were Pagan's. They had only just met Saint Columba, the harbinger of Christianity, in a few years time they would meet Oor Arthur, the enforcer of Christianity.
The evidence for such a rash statement lies within the tradition of the Welsh speaking Strathclyde poet Taliesin, Oor Arthur's companion - 'To reach Caer Siddi you travel by the narrow track, and always by the mounds of the Sithean'. Caer is Welsh for fortress, and the 'dd' is sounded as 'th'. Caer Sithi undoubtedly translates as Caer Shee - The Faery Fortress. These directions will help us in future articles where the quest for the origin of the Grail Castle can be achieved.
For now, the last, literal shred of my evidence for ancient faery warriors in Scotland is 'The Faery Battle Flag'; a frail fifteen hundred year old piece of faded silk still treasured by the MacLeods of Dunvegan on the misty mountained Isle of Skye.
The MacLeods, hereditary keepers of the flag, claim that it was given to them by the faeries, and there is a belief that the flag is only to be unfurled in times of the gravest peril and even then, its magic can only be used three times. The unfurling has already been carried out twice and it would appear that the Faery Battle Standard has only one last magical act of protection to perform.
Once you have seen the full extent of Arthur's deeds, it becomes obvious why the mourning wails of the faery widows - "The Screaming Banshees" - are still remembered as being the most tormented.
And what about Pixies? The answer is a very simple corruption of Pict Shee.
Loder, John De Verre, "Colonsay & Oronsay in the Isles of Argyll" ISBN 095240909
Newton, Norman, "Colonsay and Oronsay" ISBN 0715392395
Squire, Charles, "Celtic Myths and Legends" ISBN 0517101572
Lethbridge, T.C. "The Painted Men"