Highland folklore holds that the Brahan Seer lived in Northwest Scotland in the 17th century. He was born Coinneach Odhar, or in English, Kenneth Mackenzie, on the Island of Lewis. It was said that he became afflicted with the gift of second sight as a child. Apparently he had a special stone with a hole through the centre, when he looked through the hole he was able to see the future.
As an adult he worked as a labourer for the Seaforth Mackenzie’s and is credited for many accurate predictions. Some of which include:
The Battle of Culloden in 1745
The joining of the Great Glen lochs by a canal
The railway coming to the highlands
The oil industry in Aberdeen
And the destruction of the Highland Clans
There were many more prophecies, too many to mention in this post but his last prediction is the one that lead to his death.
It seems that the Earl of Seaforth was away in Paris and his wife, Isabella, wanted news of her husband. She sent for Kenneth who assured her the Earl was well but wouldn’t elaborate. Isabella demanded details, telling Kenneth she would have him killed if he wasn’t more forthcoming, and so he told her that her husband was in the arms of a woman more beautiful than herself. Furious, Isabella had Kenneth thrown into a barrel of boiling tar. There’s a memorial at Channory Point where he’s believed to have died.
It sounds nasty doesn’t it? Imagine causing your own death by predicting the future. The only problem with this story is that historians can’t find any evidence that it’s true. There is no proof of Coinneach Odhar being born on Lewis in the 17th century. There is however a Coinneach Odhar that lived in the Highlands in the 16th century. Parliamentary records from 1577 show two writs were issued for his arrest as a principal enchanter. I suppose this could have been a result of the witch-hunts I talked about last week. It is believed the 16th century Coinneach was involved in a plot to murder the children and rightful heirs to the Munro clan at Foulis in Easter Ross.
And so how did a man accused of witchcraft and murder in one century become a seer in the next. Maybe there were two men with similar names living in the same area, or perhaps it’s an example of the enduring power of a good story. Look at Robin Hood. Historians widely agree that the way he’s depicted in popular legend is nowhere close to the real man.
So what is the truth about the Brahan Seer? Who knows, but I do know I prefer the story about the seer could predict the future, over the tale of the man involved in a plot to murder children.
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