The legend of the Brahan Seer

No one knows if the legendary Highlander even existed - other than several stories handed down through time.
River Orrin near Muir of Ord
R, which flooded after a prediction was madeRiver Orrin near Muir of Ord
R, which flooded after a prediction was made
River Orrin near Muir of Ord R, which flooded after a prediction was made

Many people believe that if he did exist, the Brahan Seer was more likely the alter ego of Alexander MacKenzie, a folklorist.

The Coinneach Odhar was supposedly gifted with “the sight” after his mother encountered an other worldly spirit. Helping her pass on to the underworld, the mother asked that her son be blessed with the gift.

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The next day, Alexander found an Adder stone - a stone with a hole in the middle - which he used to see his visions.

The Culloden Battlefield. Cairns of The Clans. Picture: Robert PerryThe Culloden Battlefield. Cairns of The Clans. Picture: Robert Perry
The Culloden Battlefield. Cairns of The Clans. Picture: Robert Perry

Born in the early 17th century in Uig, on the island of Lewis, which is the northernmost island of the Outer Hebrides, a chain of islands to the west of Scotland’s northern coast, he has often been compared with Nostradamus.

However, the biggest problem is that no contemporary records exist naming such an individual, which is not really surprising given the start of Scottish written sources from that period. All accounts were oral tales, which were only written in the late 19th century, which no doubt grew arms and legs with every retelling.

There is, however, proof of someone called Coinneach Odhar being accused of witchcraft approximately 100 years earlier.

Court records from 1577 indicate that Coinneach was implicated, as a “principal enchanter”, in a plot to kill the rightful heirs to the Munro clan at Foulis in Easter Ross.

Culloden monument, the battle of which the Seer reportedly predictedCulloden monument, the battle of which the Seer reportedly predicted
Culloden monument, the battle of which the Seer reportedly predicted

Records show that two writs were issued for the arrest of the “principal enchanter” Coinneach Odhar. This Coinneach was apparently a gypsy who supplied poison to a Catherine Ross, who wished to remove the rivals to the inheritance of her sons.

She had already recruited 26 witches who had failed to carry out the plot. The police were called and records show that while many of the witches were caught and burnt, what happened to Coinneach remains a mystery.

Another legend exists that say his downfall was a case of killing the (psychic) messenger. 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.

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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.

There is 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.”

Some of his supposed prophetic visions that came true in the years following his death include:

The Battle of Culloden (1745), which he uttered at the site, and his words were recorded as being said: “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.”

The joining of the lochs in the Great Glen: This was accomplished by the construction of the Caledonian Canal in the 19th Century.

Trains in the Highlands: He talked of great black, bridleless horses, belching fire and steam, drawing lines of carriages through the glens, saying “I would not like to live when a black bridleless horse shall pass through the Muir of Ord.” More than 200 years later, railways were built through the Highlands.

North Sea oil was foretold: “A black rain will bring riches to Aberdeen.”

Scottish Parliament would reopen: Coinneach Odhar 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 in 1994 was followed a few years later by the opening of the first Scottish Parliament since 1707.

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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.

“The sheep shall eat the men” During the Highland Clearances, almost 200 years after his death, families were driven from the Highlands by the landowners and the land they farmed was given over to the grazing of sheep.

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 and it fell for the second time, the Cromarty Firth rose up and flooded the neighbouring town of Dingwall. It is now set in concrete.