The Brahan Seer: Scotland's Nostradamus

SCOTLAND had its very own Nostradamus in the form of the Brahan Seer. The pair are thought to have lived around the same time, but while the French futurist had the ear of Renaissance King Henry II the Seer worked as a labourer on the Brahan estate.

Details about the Seer are just as sketchy as his predictions, but stories involving this simple man carry a special fascination to this day.

The Seer was thought to be born one Coinneach Odhar in Uig on the Isle of Lewis in about 1650. He lived at Loch Ussie near to Dingwall in Ross-shire and worked as a labourer on the Brahan estate, seat of the Seaforth chieftains, from somewhere around 1675.

Odhar was said to carry a black and blue stone with a small hole in it, into which he peered to make his predictions. And predict he did.

According to authors on the subject, the Odhar foretold of the Battle of Culloden, the last battle held on British soil in which British forces overcame the Jacobite army of Charles Edward Stewart. Odhar is to have said: "Thy bleak wilderness will be stained by the best blood of the Highlands. Glad I am that I will not live to see that day where heads will be lopped off in the heather and no lives spared."

He is also said to have predicted the Caledonian canal some 200 years before it was built and foresaw the advent of the steam train - "great black, bridleless horses, belching fire and steam, drawing lines of carriages through the glens".

Odhar is even credited with predicting the Second World War and the North Sea oil boom. He also spoke of the day when Scotland would once again have its own parliament. This would only come, he said, when men could walk dry-shod from England to France. The opening of the Channel Tunnel allowed such a walk, and now Edinburgh is home to a shiny new Scottish parliament.

At the height of his fame and powers, Odhar made his most notorious prediction.

Isabella, wife of the Earl of Seaforth and said to be "one of the ugliest women in Scotland", asked for his advice. She had become suspicious of her husband's late return from a visit to Paris.

Odhar reassured her that the Earl was in good health but he was unusually reluctant to elaborate. But Isabella threatened to have him killed unless he revealed all he knew. He decided to tell her what he had seen.

"Your husband is this moment with another who is fairer than yourself ... The line of Seaforth will come to an end in sorrow. I see the last head of his house both deaf and dumb. He will be the father of four fair sons, all of whom he will follow to the tomb. He will live careworn, and die mourning, knowing that the honours of his line are to be extinguished forever, that no future chief of the Mackenzies shall bear rule at Brahan or in Kintail."

The Seer's prediction was fulfilled when Francis Humberston Mackenzie, deaf and dumb from scarlet fever as a child, inherited the title in 1783. He had four children who died prematurely and the line came to an end.

The prediction so enraged Isabella that she ordered her guards to seize him. Screaming that he had insulted both her husband and herself by his lies, she had the guards drag him to the courtyard and throw him head-first into a barrel of boiling tar.

A Celtic stone that stands in Strathpeffer, Ross-shire, is a reminder of the Seer's enduring power on people today. He said that if the stone should fall three times, nearby Loch Ussie will overflow its banks. The stone has fallen twice. Fearing a third collapse, the stone has since been cemented in place.

The legend of the Seer was passed down through oral Gaelic history from generation to generation and even today his life and terrible demise still live in the fireside traditions of Scotland.