The Brahan Seer, known in his native Scottish Gaelic as Coinneach Odhar, and Kenneth Mackenzie, was, according to legend, a predictor of the future who lived in the 17th century.
The Brahan Seer is regarded by some to be the creation of the folklorist Alexander MacKenzie whose accounts occur well after some of the events the Seer is claimed to have predicted. Others have also questioned whether the Seer existed at all.
Nevertheless, Mackenzie is thought to have come from Uig (Lewis) on lands owned by the Seaforths, and to have been of the Clan Mackenzie, although both these details are in themselves questioned. He is better known, however, for his connections to Brahan Castle near Dingwall, and the Black Isle in Easter Ross.
As with Nostradamus, who wrote in Provençal, most of his prophecies are best known in translation, which can in itself be deceptive. However, there are no contemporary manuscripts or accounts of his predictions, so it is impossible to verify them.
Having become famous as a diviner and wit, he was invited to Seaforth territory in the east, to work as a labourer at Brahan Castle near Dingwall, in what is now the county of Easter Ross, where he met his downfall.
This move led to an unfortunately unforeseen sequence of events on the Seer's part, leading to his barbaric murder at Chanonry Point, when he was allegedly burnt in a spiked tar barrel, on the command of the Earl's wife, Lady Seaforth. The simple prediction that led to his downfall – that the absent Earl of Seaforth was having sexual adventures with one or more women in Paris – seems likely, but of course was highly outrageous to Lady Seaforth, as it cast her husband in a scandalous light and heaped embarrassment on her.
The Caledonian Canal
"One day ships will sail round the back of Tomnahurich Hill"
This is a remarkable prediction - firstly, there was already a passage for shipping - the River Ness, on the opposite south side of Tomnahurich Hill from today's canal - and the only choice for boats in the Brahan Seer's day. To say that ships would sail round the opposite side of the hill from the river seemed highly illogical to those who first heard the prediction.
But the prediction came true. Today the 19th century Caledonian Canal forks off from the River Ness at the eastern head of Loch Ness - which continues its route through Inverness town centre - and heads north-east "round the back of Tomnahurich", exiting into the Moray Firth at Clachnaharry.
According to this prophecy, "The day will come when the MacKenzies of Fairburn shall lose their entire possessions; their castle will become uninhabited and a cow shall give birth to a calf in the uppermost chamber of the tower." This apparently heralded the demise of the MacKenzies of Kintail and Seaforth.
In 1851, the now-ruined tower was being used by a farmer to store hay, and a cow gave birth in the garret. It is believed that the animal, following a trail of hay, entered the tower, climbed to the top, and got stuck. Both the cow and the calf were taken down five days later, allowing enough time for people to come and see the prophecy fulfilled.
This was one of four prophecies by the Seer regarding Fairburn, at least three of which are reputed to have been fulfilled.
The deaf Seaforth
He predicted that in a few generations, the chieftaincy of the Mackenzies would pass to a man who was both deaf and dumb. All the sons of this chief would predecease him, and thus the ancient Mackenzie line would be extinguished. Following this, a hooded girl from the East would come to claim his possessions, and would kill her sister. They would be able to tell when this was going to happen when all four of the great Highland lairds had some physical defect: one would be buck-toothed, one hare-lipped, one half-witted, and one a stammerer.
This eventually came to pass in the late 17th century. The four deformed lairds were the chiefs of the Chisholms, the Grants, the MacLeods of Raasay, and the Mackenzies of Gairloch. The deaf-mute was Francis, the sole surviving male heir of the Seaforths, who caught scarlet fever at the age of twelve, causing him to lose both his hearing and speech. He later had four legitimate sons, all of whom predeceased him. Afterwards, his eldest daughter Mary, now the heiress of the family, returned from the East Indies to receive her inheritance. She would go on to lose control while driving her sister in a pony trap, causing her to be killed.
Bridges over the River Ness
He predicted that when there were five bridges over the River Ness in Inverness that there would be worldwide chaos. In August 1939 there were five bridges over the Ness and on September 1 the same year, Hitler invaded Poland.
He said that when there were nine bridges that there would be fire, flood and calamity. The ninth bridge was built in 1987 and in 1988 the Piper Alpha disaster happened.
Bonar Bridge swept away
According to Alasdair Alpin MacGregor's The Land of the Mountain and the Flood, the Brahan Seer predicted that the bridge over the Kyle of Sutherland at Bonar Bridge would be "swept away under a flock of sheep".
On January 29, 1892 the Bridge was swept away by a flood. Eyewitnesses "likened the foam-current to a densely packed flock of sheep".
There is no historical evidence that a prophet known as "Kenneth Mackenzie" existed. For example, it is alleged that Mackenzie was born on the Isle of Lewis during the early 1600s but no historical documentation or records demonstrate this.
Historian William Matheson has argued that Alexander Mackenzie's statements about Coinneach Odhar living in the 17th century were inaccurate. There are two records for a Coinneach Odhar, a sixteenth century man who was accused of witchcraft. For example, there is a Scottish Parliament record, dated 1577, for a writ of his arrest. Such details contradict the statements of Mackenzie and those passed down through folklore.
- Macleod, John. (2011). None Dare Oppose Birlinn, Edinburgh. pp. 35-36. ISBN 978-1841589091
- Thompson, Francis. (1976). The Supernatural Highlands. R. Hale. p. 72. "There is, however, in an otherwise well-documented century, no direct evidence that Coinneach Odhar ever existed."
- Wilson, Damon. (1999). The Mammoth Book of Nostradamus and Other Prophets. Carroll & Graf. p. 211. ISBN 978-0786706280 "In her conclusion to the 1977 edition of Mackenzie's Brahan Seer, the historian Elizabeth Sutherland hypothesizes that Coinneach Odhar might never have existed as an actual individual. Instead, she suggests, he might be a conglomeration of hundreds of years of taibhsear folklore."
- The Legend of the Brahan Seer
- "Seers and Witchcraft". The Baronage Press. Retrieved 2015. Check date values in:
- Seafield, Lily. (2006). Ghostly Scotland. Barnes & Noble. p. 358
- Matheson, William. (1969-1970). The Historical Coinneach Odhar and some Prophecies Attributed to Him. Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness 46: 66-88.
- "Brahan Seer" Archived November 15, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.. Scottish Archive Network Knowledge Base.
- Hilda Roderick Ellis Davidson. (1989). The Seer in Celtic and Other Traditions. John Donald Publishers.
- John Keay, Julia Keay. (2000). Collins Encyclopaedia of Scotland. HarperCollins.
- Alexander Mackenzie. (1899). The Prophecies of the Brahan Seer. Inverness.
- Alex Sutherland. (2009). The Brahan Seer: The Making of a Legend. Verlag Peter Lang. (thesis version online)
- Elizabeth Sutherland. (1985). Ravens & Black Rain: The Story of Highland Second Sight, Including a New Collection of the Prophecies of the Brahan Seer. Constable.
- Elizabeth Sutherland. (1996). The Seer of Kintail. Constable & Robinson.
- The Prophecies of the Brahan Seer, by Alexander Mackenzie (1899)
- The Brahan Seer: The Gaelic Nostradamus - BBC