Scotland is a beautiful and mysterious land steeped in myth and legend. Famous for being the home of the Loch Ness monster, the country is also known for other mystical figures – one of the most well-known of these is the Brahan Seer (Coinneach Odhar), dubbed the ‘Gaelic Nostradamus’ for his ability to predict the future. Little is known of this gifted seer, not even the time in which he lived. Legend states that he spoke his prophecies in the 17th century, but no records have been found of a Coinneach Odhar in those times. Very interestingly almost a hundred years earlier, in the 16th century two writs were sent out for the arrest of a man by this name, and those writs point to a dark and turbulent life.
The man who had garnered the issuing of the writs was said to be a gypsy who helped a wealthy clanswoman named Catherine Ross poison her step-sons to that her own sons could inherit their father’s money. As well as hiring the services of Coinneach, Catherine also paid 26 witches to help her rid the world of her step-sons – a number of these witches were later arrested by the police and burnt at the stake for their crimes. But what about the gypsy named Coinneach? No one knows of his fate, although legend has it that he too was captured and burnt in a tar barrel at Chanonry Point where a stone slab is said to mark the exact place of his death.
Others believe that the 16th century Coinneach is directly related to the mythological 17th century seer by blood. But who was this strange man who supposedly prophesied so many events, from television to the construction of Inverness’ Caledonian Canal? If the oral traditions speak truthfully his English name was Kenneth Mackenzie and he was born in the Isle of Lewis in around 1650, later moving to Loch Ussie and working on the Brahan estate as a labourer in the employ of the Third Earl of Seaforth.
Gifted with ‘the second sight’ Kenneth made many predictions and a number of them astonishingly came to pass or are still waiting to be fulfilled. He predicted Strathpeffer’s conversion into a popular health spa, stating that “crowds of pleasure and health seekers shall be seen thronging its portals”, and also said that if the ancient Eagle Stone located at Strathpeffer fell down three times the valley would flood and ships would sail to the town. The stone has since fallen down twice and cement has been laid down at the base to anchor it more securely into the ground. If it should fall down a third time supposedly the waters of Loch Ussie will soon rise up and pour over the land where it now stands.
Perhaps the most astonishing of his prophecies – or at least the most obscure – is the prediction that Fairburn Tower would become uninhabited and a cow would give birth in its uppermost chamber. Unbelievably this prophecy came true; over the ensuing years the tower was left abandoned until one day in the 1850’s a cow climbed up to the garret and calved there, producing a strapping calf. People travelled for miles to look at the cow and her young one, for Kenneth’s prophecy had never been forgotten and to this day it remains an incredible story.
Some of Kenneth’s final – and most grim – predictions were closely linked to the illustrious Brahan estate, where he worked. He predicted that no future chief of the Mackenzie clan should rule it. This came to pass over the coming years; the castle was torn down in 1951 and the estate was taken over by the National Trust. He also foretold the end of the male line of the Seaforths and, fatally, passed on knowledge of the Third Earl of Seaforth’s affairs in France to the earl’s wife, Isabella, who was so incensed that she ordered Kenneth to be put to death.
Here the stories of the 16th century gypsy and the 17th century Seer merge, for just like the gypsy Kenneth was burned alive in a barrel of boiling tar at Chanonry Point. Before he died he threw his oracle stone into Loch Ussie and foretold that it would one day be found in the belly of a fish. As yet the stone has not come to light…but perhaps when it does another great Scottish seer will be revealed to prophecy the future once again. One thing is certain – the incredible prophecies of the Brahan Seer will not fade into obscurity anytime soon; in fact many people even today still believe in his predictions, such is the power of Coinneach Odhar’s mystical legacy.