The Seer

Most of what we know about the Brahan Seer is derived from the local oral tradition of the Gael. These traditions were recorded by the historian and folklorist, Alexander Mackenzie in his Prophecies of the Brahan Seer, first published in 1894. According to this source, Kenneth Mackenzie (also known as Coinneach Odhar, or “sallow” Kenneth) was born in Baile-na-Gille in Uig on the Isle of Lewis about 1650. He lived at Loch Ussie near Dingwall in Ross-shire and worked as a farm labourer from about 1675 on the Brahan estate, the seat of the Seaforth Mackenzie chiefs.

The Second Sight, more correctly called the Two Sights, is the ability to see both this world and another world at the same time. The Second Sight has never been regarded as witchcraft in Scotland: it is seen more as a curse. According to legend, it was through his mother that Kenneth the Sallow was given the sight. At a graveyard one night when ghosts were known to roam the earth, his mother encountered the ghost of a Danish princess on her way back to her grave. In order to allow her to pass back into the grave, Kenneth’s mother demanded that the princess should pay a tribute and asked that her son should be given the Second Sight. The legend goes that later that day, Kenneth found a small stone with a hole in the middle, known as an “adder stone”, through which he would look and see visions. An alternative version said that he gained clairvoyance after napping on a fairy hill and finding a small stone with a hole carved through its centre in his coat when he woke up and peering through this object bestowed the Second Sight upon him but cost him his vision in that eye. 

The first known written reference to him as a seer comes in 1769 in Thomas Pennant’s A Tour in Scotland: “Every country has its prophets… and the Highlands their Kenneth Odhar.”

The only historical reference so far uncovered exists in the form of two Commissions of Justice, ordering the Ross-shire authorities to prosecute a certain Keanoch Owir for witchcraft. Parliamentary records from 1577 show that two writs were issued for the arrest of the “principal enchanter”. This Coinneach was reputedly a gypsy who supplied poison to Catherine Ross, the wife of Munro of Foulis, who was accused of wishing to remove the rivals to her sons’ inheritance. She had already recruited some 26 witches who had failed. The authorities were called and records show that while many of the witches were caught and burnt, what happened to Coinneach remains a mystery. If he was caught it is likely that he too would have been burnt, which perhaps reflects the legend that he was burnt in a spiked barrel of tar. There is a stone slab by the lighthouse 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 prophecies 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.”

Brahan Seer memorial at Chanonry Point

This reference places him 100 years before the traditional tales (and the time of the 3rd Earl of Seaforth) so cannot be attributed to the same man. This is the first of many mysteries surrounding the Brahan Seer. Of his many predictions handed down by word of mouth, some remain unfulfilled, others doubtfully or partly so. But some are believed to have come to pass wholly and convincingly.

Loch Ussie

Legend has it that the Brahan Seer lived near Loch Ussie; where he was apprehended. Before being taken to Fortrose on the Black Isle to be tried for witchcraft, he threw his oracle stone into the loch and said it would one day be found in the belly of a fish. So far as is known it has not yet turned up.

Loch Ussie

The Highland Clearances

“The day will come when the jaw-bone of the big sheep … will put the plough on the rafters; when sheep shall become so numerous that the bleating of the one shall be heard by the other from Conchra in Lochalsh to Bun-da-Loch in Kintail … they shall be at their height in price, and henceforth will go back and deteriorate, until they disappear altogether, and be so thoroughly forgotten that a man finding the jaw-bone of a sheep in a cairn, will not recognise it or be able to tell what animal it belonged to.” He went on to describe that people would mass-emigrate from the country and that sheep would once again rule the land until the native peoples’ eventual return. “People will flee from their native country before an army of sheep” and “The sheep shall eat the men”.

During the Highland Clearances, between 1750 and 1860 families were driven from the Highlands by the landowners and the land they farmed was given over to the grazing of sheep.

The same prediction of the Highland Clearances, in which tenants were replaced by their landlords with sheep was also said to have been foretold by the Isla Seer and when he prophesied that “The time is coming when the sheep’s tooth will take the coulter out of the ground in Isla” and by the 13th century Lowland seer and purveyor of folktales, called Thomas the Rhymer, who said: “The teeth of sheep shall lay the plough on the shelf”.

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 a massive boulder (eight tonnes) which formerly marked the boundary between Culloden and Moray. On the 20th of February, 1799, it was mysteriously removed from its location and carried about 260 yards into the sea.

This prediction was also purported to have been made by an 18th century seer known as the Petty Seer – the Rev John Morrison, Minister of the local church at Petty, who is also believed to have predicted the Clearances and the Battle of Culloden.

The Battle of Culloden

“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 Battle of Culloden, which took place on Drumossie Moor on the 16th April 1746, was one of the most devastating events in the whole of Highland History, in which the Duke of Cumberland, who led the Hanoverian Government’s troops against the Jacobite rebels was notoriously merciless: Jacobite casualties are estimated at between 1,500 and 2,000 killed or wounded, with many of them occurring in the pursuit after the battle.

David Morier’s Painting of the Battle of Culloden

The Caledonian Canal

“Ships will one day sail round the Tomnahurich Hill near Inverness” and that the lochs in the Great Glen will be joined. This was accomplished by the construction of the Caledonian Canal by Thomas Telford, which was begun in 1803.


The Seer predicted that “Uninviting and disagreeable as it now is, with its thick crusted surface and unpleasant smell. the day will come when it shall be under lock and key and crowds of pleasure and health seekers shall be seen thronging its portals in their eagerness to get a draught of its waters.” The popularity of Strathpeffer as a Spa resort reached its height in the Victorian era. In the 1960s the Beatles came to Dingwall, but there was a larger audience for the band playing in the Strathpeffer Pavilion, with people coming from as far as Elgin. The Ross-shire Journal recorded Strathpeffer as being a boom-town with the shops open until 11.00 p.m.!

Another prediction pertaining to Strathpeffer claimed that 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 Channel Tunnel

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.

The Railways

“That the day will come when there will be a road through the hills of Ross-shire from sea to sea, and a bridge upon every stream. That the people will degenerate as their country improves. That the clans will become so effeminate as to flee from their native country before an army of sheep.” He also talked of “great black, bridleless horses, belching fire and steam, drawing lines of carriages through the glens.” More than 200 years later, railways were built through the Highlands.

The Eagle Stone

Through the centuries this stone on the outskirts of Strathpeffer has gathered a host of legends. It was said to have been put up by the Munros after a battle with the Mackenzies and is inscribed with their crest, the Eagle, in memory of the slain. It is now thought to be of far greater antiquity, inscribed with Pictish symbols similar to the stone that stands in the St Clement’s churchyard in Dingwall.

The Seer said that if the stone fell down three times Loch Ussie would flood the valley below so that ships could sail to Strathpeffer. It has already fallen twice, and is now concreted to ensure stability.

A similar story regarding Fingal’s Well on Knockfarrel was reported to Alexander Mackenzie by two boys herding sheep.

The Eagle Stone

The Second World War

The Seer announced that when there were 5 bridges built over the River Ness then there would be “worldwide chaos”. In August of 1939, the fifth bridge was constructed and shortly after Hitler invaded Poland and World War II commenced.

Similarly, the Brahan Seer declared that when the 9th bridge would be constructed over the River Ness then “fire, blood and calamity” would ensue. This 9th bridge was finished in 1987 and the following year the Piper Alpha disaster took place.

North Sea Oil

“A black rain will bring riches to Aberdeen.” During the mid-20th century many significant oil deposits scattered across the North Sea were discovered which saw the creation of the petroleum industry in Aberdeen. He also predicted that “Streams of fire and water would run beneath the streets of Inverness and into every house.” Gas and water pipes were laid down in the 19th century.

Conon Bridge

It was predicted that a loch above Beauly will flood the village below. In 1967 the hydro-electric dam on the River Conon burst, causing Conon Bridge to flood.

The Demise of the Mackenzies

“Ravens will drink their fill three times of the blood of the Mackenzies off the Clach Mhor”

It was also foretold that the Mackenzies one day would be so reduced in numbers that women will fight over a pock-marked, squint-eyed tailor and the sole surviving members of the family will finally return to Ireland, from whence they came, in an open fishing boat.

A major element in the evocative local legends concerning the demise of the Mackenzies was the prediction that their lands were to pass into the hands of strangers. This reflected the other major crisis for the family in the half-century following Lord Seaforth’s death in 1815, when the ownership of Highland soil was to undergo enormous upheaval. James Mackenzie of Findon, writing on the Clan Mackenzie in 1879, described this change as a complete revolution: “Forty or fifty years ago the greater part of the old Mackenzie possession in Ross-shire remained in the hands of their ancient lairds, or the relatives of these; but now it is a fact, that where one such holds ten acres the stranger has a thousand.” Given the way the Mackenzies had for so long held sway in this part of the world it is no wonder that such a huge upheaval found its way into local oral tradition (as did the major technological developments already mentioned in the 19th and 20th centuries).

Romantic symbols of the Mackenzies’ decline: the castle ruins of (from to top to bottom) Kilcoy, Kinkell, Brahan and Eilean Donan


The Brahan estate, where the Seer worked as a labourer for the 3rd Earl of Seaforth is central to his final and most famous prophecies about the extinction of the Seaforth line.

The gardens at Brahan are open to the public in June when the rhododendrons and azaleas are at their best. Brahan Castle itself was demolished in 1951 but the foundations can be clearly seen in front of the present Brahan House. The Seer predicted that “No future chief of the Mackenzies shall bear rule at Brahan or Kintail.” The 14,000 acre estate of Kintail is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland.


Kilcoy Castle belonged to the MacKenzies for nearly 300 years until 1813. The Seer predicted that “The stern castle of Kilcoy shall stand cold and empty”; which it did for more than 100 years until its restoration. The gardens are open to the public in summer.

Fairburn Tower

Fairburn Tower as a ruin

Fairburn Tower stands high on a ridge between the Orrin and Conon river valleys and dates from the 16th century. The Seer prophesied remarkable things about the Mackenzies of Fairburn and the Tower. “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.” Fairburn Tower eventually became a ruin and in 1851, when a cow calved in the garret that was being used by a farmer to store hay. The prophecy was so well known that people came via railway to Strathpeffer or Muir-of-Ord and then by coach to see the cow. She had gone up the tower following a trail of hay, had a good feed at the top and became stuck. She gave birth to a fine calf and both were taken down some five days later, allowing enough time for the incredulous to come and see the prophecy fulfilled for themselves. While sceptics say that Brahan Seer could have second guessed such innovations as the Caledonian Canal, this prediction stood out as remarkable for its unlikeliness.

Flowerdale House

It was foretold that a “dun, hornless cow” will appear in the Minch and blow down the six chimneys of Gairloch House. This was presumably a reference to Mackenzie of Gairloch’s west coast seat, Flowerdale House. Following the Battle of Culloden, Sir Alexander Mackenzie of Gairloch was concealing the Jacobite rebel, Fraser of Foyers there when one of the Government’s men o’war was cruising in the bay and the captain sent word to Sir Alexander to come on board. The latter sent his compliments to the captain, regretting that he could not accept his invitation. The response was a broadside against the house as the ship sailed off, the canon-ball lodging close to the recess where the fugitive was hidden, together with a stash of swords and guns.

Flowerdale, the west country seat of the Gairloch Mackenzies


“The seed of the deer will be replaced with the seed of the goat”. This is believed to have been a reference to the Mackenzies’ Black Isle Estate of Rosehaugh. In 1864 the House and lands of Rosehaugh were bought by James Fletcher. The Mackenzies’ heraldic device is, of course, the stag’s head; the Fletchers’ is the goat. It was also foretold that the Black Isle would fall under the management of fishermen. In the 20th century the fishermen in the Black Isle village of Avoch were to take ownership of their own houses.

Rosehaugh House

The Execution

Isabella Mackenzie, Countess of Seaforth

At the height of his fame and powers, Coinneach made his most notorious prediction which would ultimately cost him his life. Isabella, wife of the 3rd 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. Coinneach reassured her that the Earl was in good health but refused to elaborate further.

Kenneth Mackenzie, 3rd Earl of Seaforth

At the height of his fame and powers, Coinneach made his most notorious prediction which would ultimately cost him his life. Isabella, wife of the 3rd 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. Coinneach 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. Isabella was so incensed by this that she had Coinneach seized and thrown head-first into a barrel of boiling tar. Lady Seaforth is also purported to have declared that “Having had so much unhallowed intercourse with the unseen world”, he would never go to Heaven. The Seer replied that he would, but that Isabella would not. He prophesied that upon his death a flying raven and dove will meet mid-air above his ashes and instantly alight. “If the raven be foremost, you have spoken truly; but if the dove, then my hope is well founded.” To the wonder of all beholders of this final prediction, a dove, closely followed by a raven, was the first to alight on the dust of the departed Coinneach Odhar.

Lady Seaforth declared that “Having had so much unhallowed intercourse with the unseen world”, he would never go to Heaven. The Seer replied that he would, but that Isabella would not. He prophesied that upon his death a flying raven and dove will meet mid-air above his ashes and instantly alight. “If the raven be foremost, you have spoken truly; but if the dove, then my hope is well founded.” To the wonder of all beholders of this final prediction, a dove, closely followed by a raven, was the first to alight on the dust of the departed Coinneach Odhar.

Seaforth’s Doom

Before the inevitable he is said to have thrown his “seeing-stone” into Loch Ussie and foretold of the extinction of the Seaforth line with the last heir being deaf and dumb. Francis Humberston Mackenzie, Lord Seaforth was deaf and dumb from having contracted scarlet fever as a child. He had four sons, all of whom died prematurely and the male line came to an end on his own death in 1815. According to Alexander Mackenzie, “Sir Walter Scott, Sir Humphrey Davy, Mr. Morritt, Lockhart and other eminent contemporaries of the ‘Last of the Seaforths’ firmly believed in them [the Seer’s prophecies]. Many of them were well known, and recited from generation to generation, centuries before they were fulfilled in our own day, and many are still unfulfilled.”

The end of the Seaforth line was foretold to have coincided with the specific disabilities of four prominent lairds of the time and evidence for the fulfilment of the prophecy is generally given as coinciding with Seaforth, Gairloch, Chisholm, Grant and Raasay being in turn deaf, buck-toothed, hare-lipped, half-witted and a stammerer. Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus’s Memoirs of a Highland Lady, writing of a meeting in 1815, in which she said that the presence of the new member for Ross-shire, in the person of the buck-toothed Mr. Mackenzie of Applecross, was soon the only topic of conversation, “for an old prophecy ran that whenever a mad Lovat, a childless —, and an Applecross with a buck-tooth met, there would be an end of Seaforth.” An alternative form was also given by Alexander Mackenzie in describing the “prediction of some alteration upon the families when black-kneed Seaforth, black-spotted Lord Lovat, squint-eyed Mackintosh and a Chisholm blind of an eye.” In fact, there appears to have something of a template for prophesying the harbingers of momentous occurrences in this part of the Highlands, since the Rev James Fraser of Wardlaw was to write on the birth of the Master of Lovat in 1666: “Now is our old predictions confirmed of 4 considerable chieftains in the North born with signall marks of which the Master of Lovat is one …: that is Blackneed M’Kenzie; Blackspotted Lovat; Squint Mackintosh; and Shiesholm blind of an eye. All four are so, and whither for good or evil, to raise or ruin their families, they are signally marked and remarked. I shall not ominat; let future continguinces verify the truth of it.”

The Mackenzie Monument

One mile west of Brahan House on the Dingwall-Ullapool road (A835) is the monument to Lady Caroline Mackenzie. It represents the final prediction relating to the fall of the Seaforths. After foretelling the end of the male line the estates went to his eldest daughter, the Hon. Mary Mackenzie. She had married Admiral Hood and spent many years stationed in the East Indies. When the Admiral died, Lady Hood returned wearing the traditional Indian white coiffe (or hood) of mourning. In 1823 Lady Hood was in control of a pony carriage near Brahan accompanied by her sister, Caroline Mackenzie. The ponies bolted and the carriage overturned. Caroline was thrown out and died of her injuries. The Brahan Seer’s final comment on the House of Seaforth had been that Lord Seaforth’s possessions would be “Inherited by a white-coiffed lassie from the east and she is to kill her sister.”

The Monument to the Hon. Caroline Mackenzie


In Elizabeth Sutherland’s 1977 edition of Alexander Mackenzie’s The Brahan Seer she argued that there was most likely a genuine man named Kenneth Mackenzie who was a faithful dependent of the 3rd Earl of Seaforth who maybe left his employ in unfortunate circumstances and wandered the local countryside. He then got conflated with the genuine historical Coinneach Odhar who is on record twice on trial for witchcraft in the 16th century. This figure then became a magnet for a whole variety of stories about local prophecies.

In his Epilogue to May we be Britons, Andrew McKenzie made the following conclusion regarding “Seaforth’s Doom”: “The importance of the prophecy to history should rather be seen in its function as a palliative against the catastrophe the family was undergoing. According to the historian, Keith Thomas, prophecies would often appear at times of crisis, invented to soften the impact of uncomfortable change by bestowing on them the sanction of inevitability. They were particularly common in earlier genealogical histories, which maintained the fiction of an unbroken continuity of rules, since ‘the first action of the parvenu is to invent himself a past.’ It would now seem that the ancient patrimony of Kintail was to pass from the male line for the first time since its acquisition by the Mackenzies five centuries earlier. Then it had been legitimised by means of a prophecy: that which proclaimed the Mackenzies’ heritage through marriage to an heiress in the Legend of Loch Maree. Now the sanction of the past was called upon once more by this proud and historically conscious family. In this sense the so-called Prophecy of the Brahan Seer, and indeed the whole preoccupation of people like Mrs. Stewart-Mackenzie with everything Scottish, fits into a trend which historians have detected in which British landowners invested their rule with myths of antiquity and inevitability. This, I believe, began the whole misreading of the Mackenzies’ experience that can be found in subsequent histories.”

In fact, this type of irrational explanation that lay behind all of the Brahan Seer’s prophecies has been adopted throughout history and is even employed today. In the modern form of conspiracy theories, it was noticeable in such events as the assassination of JF Kennedy, in the aftermath of 9/11 and most recently in the light of the Covid Pandemic of 2020. Times when people feel that things are out of control and don’t have any power over the things that are happening to them are always fertile ground for irrational conspiracy theories to come into play. The world by its very nature is full of random events and it is reassuring and comforting to follow any sort of theory for it that appears to sort out that unpredictable world. Uncertainty and fear leads people to cling on to something that explains what is otherwise incomprehensible. Satisfaction is always derived from finding a way of explaining things.

But, whatever we make of these stories and although there are many uncertainties to the life, times and prophecies of Kenneth Mackenzie, or Coinneach Odhar, it is without doubt that his memory in this part of the Scottish Highlands has come down to us as the Brahan Seer blazing with legend.