Ghillie Dhu

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In Scottish folklore the Ghillie Dhu or Gille Dubh (Scottish Gaelic pronunciation: [ˈkʲiʎə ˈt̪u]) was a solitary male fairy. He was kindly and reticent yet sometimes wild in character but had a gentle devotion to children. Dark haired and clothed in leaves and moss, he lived in a birch wood within the Gairloch and Loch a Druing area of the north-west highlands of Scotland.


Ghillie is an English equivalent of the Scottish Gaelic word gille;[1] Edward Dwelly, a Scottish lexicographer, lists gille as a "lad", "youth" or "boy"[2] with dubh translating as "dark" or "dark-haired".[3]

Folk beliefs

Description and common attributes

According to folklorist and scholar Katharine Briggs the Ghillie Dhu was a gentle and kind-hearted mountain spirit,[4] or a "rather unusual nature fairy."[5] The Ghillie Dhu was an individual male modern day fairy described by Osgood Mackenzie, a Scottish landowner and horticulturist, in his memoirs that were published in 1921.[4][6] The fairy was generally timid, yet he could also be "wild".[7]

Residing in the birch woods near Loch a Druing,[8] in the north-west Highland area of Gairloch,[9] he was mainly seen in the latter part of the 18th century.[4] The woods are in a dip alongside a hilly area[10] around 2 miles (3.2 kilometres) from where Rua Reidh Lighthouse was later built.[8] One summer evening a young local child named Jessie Macrae wandered into the woods and became lost.[8] Jessie was found by the Ghillie Dhu who looked after her until the next morning when he took her home.[8] Over a period of four decades the fairy was frequently seen by lots of different people but Jessie was the only person he conversed with.[8] Generally of a dishevelled appearance,[11] he used green moss and leaves taken from trees as clothing.[8] As implied by his name, he had black hair;[8] he was of a small stature.[12] His fondness of children is similar to that displayed by the little known Hyter sprite of English mythology.[13]


Shortly after the episode with Jessie, a group of Mackenzie dignitaries were invited by the landowner, Sir Hector Mackenzie of Gairloch, to get together to hunt and capture the Ghillie Dhu.[8] The team of five hunters congregated at the home of one of Mackenzie's tenants where they were provided with an evening meal before setting off on their mission to shoot the Ghillie Dhu.[8] Despite searching extensively throughout the night, the hunters could not find their prey;[14] according to Patricia Monaghan, a writer on Celtic mythology, the Ghillie Dhu was never seen again.[11]


After researching folklore traditions gathered primarily from Gaelic areas of Scotland,[15] an authority on congenital disorders, Susan Schoon Eberly, has speculated the tale of the Ghillie Dhu may have a basis in a human being with a medical condition;[16] other academics, such as Carole G. Silver, Professor of English at Stern College for Women,[17] agree and suggest he was a dwarf.[12] Eberly maintained several other solitary or individual fairies, including the Brownie and the Manx Fenodyree, could also have a medical, rather than supernatural, explanation.[18]

See also



  1. ^ MacKillop, James (2004), "ghillie", A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology (online ed.), Oxford University Press, retrieved 12 September 2014, (Subscription required (help))
  2. ^ Dwelly (1902), p. 492
  3. ^ Dwelly (1902), p. 367
  4. ^ a b c Briggs (2002), p. 49
  5. ^ Briggs (1961), p. 517
  6. ^ Mackenzie (1921), p. 233
  7. ^ Briggs (2002), p. 284
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Mackenzie (1921), p. 234
  9. ^ MacKillop, James (2004), "gille dubh", A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology (online ed.), Oxford University Press, retrieved 13 September 2014, (Subscription required (help))
  10. ^ Dixon (1886), p. 334
  11. ^ a b Monaghan (2009), p. 214
  12. ^ a b Silver (2000), p. 120
  13. ^ Rabuzzi (1984), p. 74
  14. ^ Mackenzie (1921), p. 235
  15. ^ Black (2005), p. liv
  16. ^ Eberly (1988), p. 72
  17. ^ Strange and Secret Peoples, Oxford University Press, archived from the original on 16 September 2014, retrieved 15 September 2014
  18. ^ Black (2005), p. liii


  • Black, Ronald (2005), "Introduction", The Gaelic Otherworld: John Gregorson Campbell's Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands and Islands, Birlinn – via Questia Online Library, (Subscription required (help))
  • Briggs, Katharine Mary (1961), "Some Late Accounts of the Fairies", Folklore, Taylor and Francis, 72 (3), JSTOR 1258579, (Subscription required (help))
  • Briggs, Katharine Mary (2002) [1967], The Fairies in Tradition and Literature, Psychology Press, ISBN 978-0-415-28601-5
  • Dixon, John H. (1886), Gairloch in North-west Ross-shire, Edinburgh Co-operative Printing
  • Dwelly, Edward (1902), Faclair Gàidhlìg air son nan sgoiltean, 2, E. MacDonald
  • Eberly, Susan Schoon (1988), "Fairies and the Folklore of Disability: Changelings, Hybrids and the Solitary Fairy", Folklore, Taylor and Francis, 99 (1), JSTOR 1259568, (Subscription required (help))
  • Mackenzie, Osgood Hanbury (1921), A Hundred Years in the Highlands, Edward Arnold
  • Monaghan, Patricia (2009), The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore, Infobase Publishing, ISBN 978-1-4381-1037-0
  • Rabuzzi, Daniel Allen (1984), "In Pursuit of Norfolk's Hyter Sprites", Folklore, Taylor and Francis, 95 (1), JSTOR 1259761, (Subscription required (help))
  • Silver, Carole G. (2000), Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness, Oxford University Press – via Questia Online Library, (Subscription required (help))
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