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. He 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 Dhu is the eponym for the ghillie suit.[1]


Ghillie is an English equivalent of the Scottish Gaelic word gille;[2] Edward Dwelly, a Scottish lexicographer, lists gille as a "lad", "youth" or "boy"[3] with dubh translating as "dark" or "dark-haired".[4]

Folk beliefsEdit

Description and common attributesEdit

According to folklorist and scholar Katharine Briggs the Ghillie Dhu was a gentle and kind-hearted mountain spirit,[5] or a "rather unusual nature fairy."[6] 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.[5][7] The fairy was generally timid, yet he could also be "wild".[8]

Residing in the birch woods near Loch a Druing,[9] in the north-west Highland area of Gairloch,[10] he was mainly seen in the latter part of the 18th century.[5] The woods are in a dip alongside a hilly area[11] around 2 miles (3.2 kilometres) from where Rua Reidh Lighthouse was later built.[9] One summer evening a local child named Jessie Macrae wandered into the woods and became lost.[9] Jessie was found by the Ghillie Dhu who looked after her until the next morning when he took her home.[9] Over a period of four decades the fairy was frequently seen by many people but Jessie was the only person he conversed with.[9] Generally of a dishevelled appearance,[12] he used green moss and leaves taken from trees as clothing.[9] As implied by his name, he had black hair;[9] he was of a small stature.[13] His fondness of children is similar to that displayed by the little known Hyter sprite of English mythology.[14]

Attempted huntEdit

Shortly after the Gille Dhu rescued 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.[9] The team of five hunters congregated at the home of one of Mackenzie's tenants where they were provided with a complimentary evening meal before setting off on their mission to shoot the child-rescuing, kind Ghillie Dhu.[9] Despite searching extensively throughout the night, the hunters could not find their prey;[15] according to Patricia Monaghan, a writer on Celtic mythology, the Ghillie Dhu was never seen again.[12]


After researching folklore traditions gathered primarily from Gaelic areas of Scotland,[16] 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;[17] other academics, such as Carole G. Silver, Professor of English at Stern College for Women,[18] agree and suggest he was a dwarf.[13] Eberly maintained several other solitary or individual fairies, including the Brownie and the Manx Fenodyree, could also have a medical, rather than supernatural, explanation.[19]

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ David Amerland (2017), The Sniper Mind: Eliminate Fear, Deal with Uncertainty, and Make Better Decisions, St. Martin's Press, p. 53, ISBN 978-1-250-11368-9
  2. ^ MacKillop, James (2004), "ghillie", A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology (online ed.), Oxford University Press, retrieved 12 September 2014
  3. ^ Dwelly (1902), p. 492
  4. ^ Dwelly (1902), p. 367
  5. ^ a b c Briggs (2002), p. 49
  6. ^ Briggs (1961), p. 517
  7. ^ Mackenzie (1921), p. 233
  8. ^ Briggs (2002), p. 284
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i Mackenzie (1921), p. 234
  10. ^ MacKillop, James (2004), "gille dubh", A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology (online ed.), Oxford University Press, retrieved 13 September 2014
  11. ^ Dixon (1886), p. 334
  12. ^ a b Monaghan (2009), p. 214
  13. ^ a b Silver (2000), p. 120
  14. ^ Rabuzzi (1984), p. 74
  15. ^ Mackenzie (1921), p. 235
  16. ^ Black (2005), p. liv
  17. ^ Eberly (1988), p. 72
  18. ^ Strange and Secret Peoples, Oxford University Press, archived from the original on 7 March 2016, retrieved 15 September 2014
  19. ^ Black (2005), p. liii