Scottish fact of the week: Scottish Nostradamus

A re-enactment of the battle of Culloden, the battle that was predicted almost 100 years before by the Seer. Picture: TSPL
A re-enactment of the battle of Culloden, the battle that was predicted almost 100 years before by the Seer. Picture: TSPL
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Did you know that Scotland once had its very own Nostradamus? Coinneach Odhar, or Kenneth MacKenzie was also know as the Brahan Seer and was a supposed predictor of the future.

Born in the 17th century, in Uig on the island of Lewis, the Seer was thought to be a member of the MacKenzie clan. 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.

The fate of the Seaforths and the Seer were to be entwined for both would meet their end through the connection they shared. First the Seer met his at the hands of a Lady of the Seaforth household, and then the Seaforth family themselves, who succumbed to the fate promised them by the Seer, in his last ever prophecy.

Legend has it that he gained his talent for clairvoyance after napping on a fairy hill and finding a small stone with a hole through its centre in his coat, which allowed him to view the future.

Odhar’s Predictions

Many of the Seer’s prophecies are said to have been fulfilled, including his most famous, which occurred while he walked through an expansive moorland.

The Seer supposedly fell to his knees and uttered: “Oh! Drumossie, thy bleak moor shall, ere many generations have passed away, be stained with the best blood of the Highlands. Glad am I that I will not see the day, for it will be a fearful period; heads will be lopped off by the score, and no mercy shall be shown or quarter given on either side.”

This proved to be chilling prediction of the Battle of Culloden, many years before the armies of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Duke of Cumberland finally met at the Battle, the decisive clash of the 1745-46 Jacobite uprising.

He then announced that when men ‘could walk dry shod from England to France’, Scotland would once more have a Parliament, proven when the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994 was followed a few years later by the opening of the first Scottish Parliament since 1707.

The Seer also supposedly predicted the future success of the oil industry, “A black rain will bring riches to Aberdeen.” That the Bonar bridge would be swept away by “a flock of sheep” and indeed it was on January 29, 1892. Eyewitnesses “likened the foam-current to a densely packed flock of sheep” and that one day Policemen would be common on every street.

He then predicted both World War 2 and the Piper Alpha disaster, both through the medium of the River Ness.

First saying that when five bridges spanned the river there would be worldwide chaos. In August 1939 this chillingly came true as the fifth bridge was completed, the very next month Hitler invaded Poland.

He followed this by saying that when there was nine bridges over the Ness there would be fire, flood and calamity. The ninth bridge was built in 1987 and in 1988 the Piper Alpha disaster happened.

Other predictions included mentions of great black, bridleless horses, belching fire and steam, that would draw horseless carriages through the Highlands. Over 200 years later the first railways were built throughout the highlands.

The Airship and the Stone of Petty

Two of his final prophecies were also the strangest, the first, alluded to the stone of Petty, “that the day will come when the Stone of Petty, large though it is, and high and dry upon the land as it appears to people this day, will be suddenly found as far advanced into the sea as it now lies away from it inland, and no one will see it removed, or be able to account for its sudden and marvellous transportation.”

The stone is an immense boulder, of at least eight tons weight, which formerly marked the boundary between the estates of Culloden and Moray. On the 20th of February, 1799, it was mysteriously removed from its former position, and carried about 260 yards into the sea. To this day, how the stone was moved has never been proven.

The second and strangest prophecy came true in a similar fashion. Pointing to a field far from seashore, loch or river, he said that a ship would anchor there one day. “A village with four churches will get another spire,” said Coinneach, “and a ship will come from the sky and moor at it.” This happened in 1932 when an airship made an emergency landing and was tied up to the spire of the new church.

Death at the hands of the Seaforths

At the height of his fame and powers, Odhar made his most notorious prediction which would ultimately cost him his life. Isabella, wife of the Earl of Seaforth and said to be one of the ugliest women in Scotland, asked for his advice. She wanted news of her husband who was on a visit to Paris. Odhar reassured her that the Earl was in good health but refused to elaborate further.

This enraged Isabella, who demanded that he tell her everything or she would have him killed. Coinneach told her that her husband was with another woman, fairer than herself, and he foretold the end of the Seaforth line, with the last heir being deaf and dumb. (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.) Isabella was so incensed by this that she had Coinneach seized and thrown head-first into a barrel of boiling tar.

Legend versus fact

History has struggled to reconcile with the Legend of the Seer with little or no proof actually existing of his life other than the story and prophesies themselves, many claim the Seer to be a figment of myth. Others go as far to say that he was simply a fictional character created by the folklorist Alexander MacKenzie.

There is however, a stone slab by the light house at Chanonry Point, near Fortrose, that is said to mark the spot where he died. The inscription reads: “This stone commemorates the legend of Coinneach Odhar better known as the BRAHAN SEER - Many of his prophesies were fulfilled and tradition holds that his untimely death by burning in tar followed his final prophecy of the doom of the House of Seaforth.”

Whatever the truth, the legend is well known and respected today. A Celtic stone, the Eagle Stone, stands in Strathpeffer, Ross-shire. The Seer said that if the stone fell down three times, then Loch Ussie would flood the valley below so that ships could sail to Strathpeffer. The stone has fallen down twice: it is now set fast in concrete.