Prophecies of the Brahan Seer, by Alexander Mackenzie, , at sacred-texts.com
spot predicted by the Seer; but if Kenneth is to be depended upon, a castle will yet be built by one of the Mathesons on Druim-a-Dubh, at Balmacarra. Had this prophecy been got up after the event, the reputation of the Seer would certainly not have been staked on the erection of another castle in the remote future, when the Mathesons already possess such a magnificent mansion at Duncraig.
During a recent visit to the Island of Raasay we received a peculiar prediction regarding the Macleods from an old man there, over eighty years of age, who remembered seven proprietors of Raasay, and who sorely lamented the fulfilment of the prophecy, and the decline of the good old stock, entirely in consequence of their own folly and extravagance. Since then, we had the prediction repeated by a Kintail man in identical terms; and as it is hardly translatable, we shall give it in the original vernacular:--"Dar a thig Mac-Dhomhnuill Duibh bàn; Mac-Shimidh ceann-dearg; Sisealach claon ruadh; Mac-Coinnich mor bodhar; agus Mac-Gille-challum cama-chasach, iar-ogha Ian bhig à Ruiga, ’se sin a Mac-Gille-challum is miosa ’thainig na thig; cha bhi mi ann ri linn, ’s cha’n fhearr leam air a bhith." (When we shall have a fair-haired Lochiel; a red-haired Lovat; a squint-eyed, fair-haired Chisholm; a big deaf Mackenzie; and a bow-crooked-legged Mac-Gille-challum, who shall be the great-grand-son of John Beg, or little John, of Ruiga: that Mac-Gille-challum will be the worst that ever came or ever will come; I shall not be in existence in his day, and I have no desire that I should.) Ruiga is the name of a place in Skye. When the last Macleod of Raasay was horn, an old sage in the district called upon his neighbour, and told him, with an expression of great sorrow, that Mac-Gille-challum of Raasay now had an heir, and his birth was a certain forerunner of the extinction of his house. Such an
event as the birth of an heir had been hitherto, in this as in all other Highland families, universally considered an occasion for great rejoicing among the retainers. The other old man was amazed, and asked the sage what he meant by such unusual and disloyal remarks. "Oh!" answered he, "do you not know that this is the grand-grandson of John Beg of Ruiga whom Coinneach Odhar predicted would be the worst of his race." And so he undoubtedly proved himself to be, for he lost for ever the ancient inheritance of his house, and acted generally in such a manner as to fully justify the Seer's prediction; and what is still more remarkable, the Highland lairds, with the peculiar characteristics and malformations foretold by Kenneth, preceded or were the contemporaries of the last Mac-Gille-challum of Raasay.
Here is a prediction of the downfall of another distinguished Highland family--Clan Ranald of the Isles. "The day will come when the old wife with the footless stocking (cailleach nam mogan) will drive the Lady of Clan Ranald from Nunton House, in Benbecula." We. are informed that this was fulfilled when the Macdonalds took the farm of Nunton, locally known as "Baile na Caillich". Old Mrs. Macdonald was in the habit of wearing these primitive articles of dress, and was generally known in the district as "Cailleach nam Mogan". Clan Ranald and his lady, like many more of our Highland chiefs, ultimately went to the wall, and the descendants of the "old wife with the footless stocking" occupied, and, for anything we know, still occupy the ancient residence of the long-distinguished race of Clan Ranald of the Isles.
In the beginning of the seventeenth century, and during the Seer's lifetime. there lived in Kintail an old man--Duncan Macrae--who was curious to know by what means he should end his days. He applied to a local female Seer,
who informed him that he "would die by the sword" (le bàs a chlaidheamh). This appeared so improbable in the case of such an old man, who had taken part in so many bloody frays and invariably escaped unhurt, that the matter was referred to the greater authority, Coinneach Odhar. He corroborated the woman, but still the matter was almost universally discredited in the district, and by none more so than by old Duncan himself. However, years after, conviction was forced upon them; for, according to the "Genealogy of the Macraes," written by the Rev. John Macrae, minister of Dingwall, who died in 1704--"Duncan being an old man in the year 1654, when General Monk, afterwards Duke of Albemarle, came to Kintail, retired from his house in Glenshiel to the hills, where, being found by some of the soldiers who had straggled from the body of the army in hopes of plunder, and who, speaking to him roughly, in a language he did not understand, he, like Old Orimanus, drew his sword, &c., and was immediately killed by them. This was all the blood that General Monk or his soldiers, amounting to 1500 men, had drawn, and all the opposition he met with, although the Earl of Middleton and Sir George Monro were within a few miles of them, and advertised of their coming, Seaforth having been sent by Middleton to the Isle of Skye and parts adjoining, to treat with the Macdonalds and the Macleods, &c."
Regarding the evictions which would take place in the Parish of Petty, he said, "The day will come, and it is not far off, when farm-steadings will be so few and far between, that the crow of a cock shall not be heard from the one steading to the other". This prediction has certainly been fulfilled, for, in the days of the Seer there were no fewer than sixteen tenants on the farm of Morayston alone.
On the south of the bay, at Petty, is an immense stone, 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. It is supposed by some that this was brought about by an earthquake; others think that the stone was carried off by the action of ice, combined with the influence of a tremendous hurricane, which blew from the shore, during that fearful and stormy night. It was currently reported, and pretty generally believed at the time, that his Satanic Majesty had a finger in this work. Be that as it may, there is no doubt whatever that the Brahan Seer predicted "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 Seer was at one time in the Culloden district on some important business. While passing over what is now so well known as the Battlefield of Culloden, he exclaimed, "Oh! Drummossie, 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 that day, for it will be a fearful period; heads will be lopped off by the score, and no mercy will be shown or quarter given on either side." It is perhaps unnecessary to point out how literally this prophecy has been fulfilled on the occasion of the last battle fought on British soil. We have received several other versions of it from different parts of the country, almost all in identical terms.
"The time will come when whisky or dram shops will be so plentiful that one may be met with almost at the head of
every plough furrow." (Thig an latha ’s am bi tighean-oil cho lionmhor ’s nach mor nach fhaicear tigh-osda aig ceann gach claise.) "Policemen will become so numerous in every town that they may be met with at the corner of every street." "Travelling merchants" [pedlars and hawkers] "will be so plentiful that a person can scarcely walk a mile on the public highway without meeting one of them."
The following is from "A Summer in Skye," by the late Alex. Smith, author of "A Life Drama". Describing Dun-vegan Castle and its surroundings, he says: "Dun Kenneth's prophecy has come to pass--'In the days of Norman, son of the third Norman, there will be a noise in the doors of the people, and wailing in the house of the widow; and Macleod will not have so many gentlemen of his name as will row a five-oared boat round the Maidens'. If the last trumpet had been sounded at the end of the French war, no one but a Macleod would have risen out of the churchyard of Dunvegan. If you want to see a chief (of the Macleods) now-a-days you must go to London for him." There can be no question as to these having been fulfilled to the letter.
"The day will come when a fox will rear a litter of cubs on the hearthstone of Castle Downie." "The day will come when a fox, white as snow, will be killed on the west coast of Sutherlandshire." "The day will come when a wild deer will be caught alive at Chanonry Point, in the Black Isle." All these things have come to pass.
With respect to the clearances in Lewis, he said" Many a long waste feannag (rig, once arable) will yet be seen between Uig of the Mountains and Ness of the Plains." That this prediction has been fulfilled to the letter, no one acquainted with the country will deny.
The following would appear to have been made solely on
account of the unlikelihood of the occurrence:--"A Lochalsh woman shall weep over the grave of a Frenchman in the burying-place of Lochalsh." People imagined they could discern in this an allusion to some battle on the West Coast, in which French troops would be engaged; but there was an occurrence which gave it a very different interpretation. A native of Lochalsh married a French footman, who died, shortly after this event, and was interred in the burying-ground of Lochalsh, thus leaving his widow to mourn over his grave. This may appear a commonplace matter enough, but it must be remembered that a Frenchman in Lochalsh, and especially a Frenchman whom a Highland woman would mourn over, in Coinneach's day, was a very different phenomenon to what it is in our days of railways, tourists, and steamboats.
The Seer also predicted the formation of a railway through the Muir of Ord, handed down in the following stanza:--
[paragraph continues] Here is a literal translation:--
We already have two churches in the Parish of Ferrintosh, two bridges at Conon, and we are told by an eye-witness, that there is actually at this very time a man with two thumbs on each hand in " I-Stiana," in the Black Isle, and a man in the neighbourhood of Dunean who has two navels. The "chariot without horse or bridle" is undoubtedly the "iron horse". What particular event the latter part of the prediction refers to, it is impossible to say; but if we are to have any faith in the Seer, something serious is looming not very remotely in the future.
Mr. Macintyre supplies the following, which is clearly a fragment of the one above given:--Coinneach Odhar foresaw the formation of a railway through the Muir of Ord which he said "would be a sign of calamitous times". The prophecy regarding this is handed down to us in the following form:--"I would not like to live when a black bridleless horse shall pass through the Muir of Ord." "Fearchair a Ghunna" (Farquhar of the Gun, an idiotic simpleton who lived during the latter part of his extraordinary life on the Muir of Tarradale) seems, in his own quaint way, to have entered into the spirit of this prophecy, when he compared the train, as it first passed through the district, to the funeral of "Old Nick". Tradition gives another version, viz.:--"that after four successive dry summers, a fiery chariot shall pass through the 'Blar Dubh,'" which has been very literally fulfilled. Coinneach Odhar was not the only person that had a view beforehand of this railway line, for it is commonly reported that a man residing in the neighbourhood of Beauly, gifted with second-sight, had a vision of the train,
moving along in all its headlong speed, when he was on his way home one dark autumn night, several years before the question of forming a railway in those parts was mooted.
Here are two other Gaelic stanzas having undoubted reference to the Mackenzies of Rosehaugh:--
Thall fa chomhar Creag-a-Chodh
Comhnuichidh taillear caol odhar;
’S Seumas gorach mar thighearn,
’S Seumas glic mar fhear tomhais--
A mharcaicheas gun srian
Air loth fhiadhaich a roghainn;
Ach cuiridh mor-chuis gun chiall
’N aite siol nam fiadh siol nan gobhar;
’S tuitidh an t-Eilean-dubh briagha
Fuidh riaghladh iasgairean Aŭch.
Over opposite Creag-a-Chow
Will dwell a diminutive lean tailor,
Also Foolish James as the laird,
And Wise James as a measurer. p. 37
Who will ride without a bridle
The wild colt of his choice;
But foolish pride without sense
Will put in the place of the seed of the deer the seed of the goat;
And the beautiful Black Isle will fall
Under the management of the fishermen of Avoch.
We have not learnt that any of the Rosehaugh Mackenzies has yet taken a white rook from the woods; nor have we heard anything suggested as to what this part of the prophecy may refer to. We are, however, credibly informed that one of the late Mackenzies of Rosehaugh had taken his wife from a music saloon in one of our southern cities, and that his people were very much against him for so doing. One of them, Sir George, no doubt was "great in deeds and as an orator," but we fail to discover any connection between the time in which he lived and the time "when the Pope in Rome will be thrown off his throne". We were unable in the first edition to suggest the meaning of the first six lines of the last stanza, but Mr. Maclennan supplies us with the following explanation:--"I have been hearing these lines discussed since I was a boy, and being a native of Rosehaugh, I took a special interest in everything concerning it. The first two lines I was repeatedly informed, referred to a pious man who lived on the estate of Bennetsfield, opposite Craigiehow, when 'Seumas Gorach' (Foolish James referred to in the third line), was proprietor of Rosehaugh. This godly man, who was contemporary with Foolish James, often warned him of his end, and predicted his fate if he did not mend his ways; and as he thus cut his bounds for him, he is supposed to be the ' diminutive lean tailor'. He is still in life. We all knew 'Foolish James'. The fourth line refers to James Maclaren, who lived at Rosehaugh most of the time during which the last two Mackenzies ruled over
it, and only died two years ago. He was an odd character, but a very straightforward man; often rebuked 'Foolish James' for the reckless and fearless manner in which he rode about, and set bounds before the 'foolish laird, which he was not allowed to pass. Maclaren was, on that account, believed to be the 'measurer' referred to by the Seer. The fifth and sixth lines are supposed to apply to the wife fancied by Mackenzie in a 'dancing saloon,' who was always considered the 'wild colt,' at whose instigation he rode so recklessly and foolishly." We wish the realizations of our prophet's predictions in this case were a little less fanciful.
Those in the seventh and eighth lines have been most literally fulfilled, for there can be no doubt that "foolish pride without sense" has brought about what the Seer predicted, and secured, for the present at least, the seed of the goat where the seed of the deer used to rule. The deer, and the deer's horns, as is well known, are the armorial bearings of the Mackenzies, while the goat is that of the Fletchers, who now rule in Rosehaugh, on the ruins of its once great and famous "Cabair-feidh",
Part of the beautiful Black Isle has already fallen under the management of the son of a fisherman of Avoch; and who knows but other fishermen from that humble village may yet amass sufficient wealth to buy the whole. The old proprietors, we regret, are rapidly making way with their "foolish pride without sense," for some one to purchase it.
We are informed that the present proprietor of Rosehaugh is the son of an Avoch fisherman--the son of a Mr. Jack, who followed that honourable avocation in this humble village for many years; afterwards left the place and went to reside in Elgin, where he commenced business as a small general dealer, or "huckster"; that some of the boys--his
sons--exhibited a peculiar smartness while in school; that this was noticed by a lady relative of their mother, an aunt, of the name of Fletcher, who encouraged and helped on the education of the boys, and who took one or more of them to her own home, and brought them up; afterwards they found their way south, and ultimately became successful merchants and landed proprietors. * These are facts of which we were entirely ignorant when first writing down the stanzas already given. The verses were sent to us from various quarters, and they have undoubtedly been floating about the country for generations. So much for the Seer's prophetic power in this instance. Were we better acquainted with the history of the other families referred to in the stanzas, it is probable that more light could be thrown upon what they refer to than we are at present able to do.
While we are dealing with the "wonderful" in connection with the House of Rosehaugh, it may not be out of place to give a few instances of the somewhat extraordinary experiences of the famous Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh already referred to. He was one of the most distinguished members of the Scottish Bar, was Lord-Advocate for Scotland in the reign of Charles the Second, and was, indeed, a contemporary of the Brahan Seer. His "Institutes" are still considered a standing authority by the legal profession:--On one occasion, while at Rosehaugh, a poor widow from a neighbouring estate called to consult him regarding her being
repeatedly warned to remove from a small croft which she held under a lease of several years; but as some time had yet to run before its expiry, and being threatened with summary ejection from the croft, she went to solicit his advice. Having examined the tenor of the lease, Sir George informed her that it contained a flaw, which, in case of opposition, would render her success exceedingly doubtful; and although it was certainly an oppressive act to deprive her of her croft, he thought her best plan was to submit. However, seeing the distressed state of mind in which the poor woman was on hearing his opinion, he desired her to call upon him the following day, when he would consider her case more carefully. His clerk, who always slept in the same room as his lordship, was not a little surprised, about midnight, to discover him rising from his bed fast asleep, lighting a candle which stood on his table, drawing in his chair, and commencing to write very busily, as if he had been all the time wide awake. The clerk saw how he was employed. but he never spoke a word, and, when he had finished, he saw him place what he had written in his private desk, locking it, extinguishing the candle, and then retiring to bed as if nothing had happened. Next morning at breakfast, Sir George remarked that he had had a very strange dream about the poor widow's threatened ejectment, which, he could now remember, and he had now no doubt of making out a clear case in her favour. His clerk rose from the table, asked for the key of his desk, and brought therefrom several pages of manuscript; and, as he handed them to Sir George, enquired--"Is that like your dream?" On looking over it for a few seconds, Sir George said, "Dear me, this is singular; this is my very dream!" He was no less surprised when his clerk informed him of the manner in which he had acted; and, sending for the widow, he told her what steps to
adopt to frustrate the efforts of her oppressors. Acting on the counsel thus given, the poor widow was ultimately successful, and, with her young family, was allowed to remain in possession of her "wee bit croftie" without molestation.
Sir George principally resided at this time in Edinburgh, and, before dinner, invariably walked for half-an-hour. The place he selected for this was Leith Walk, then almost a solitary place. One day, while taking his accustomed exercise, he was met by a venerable-looking, grey-headed old gentleman, who accosted him and, without introduction or apology, said--"There is a very important case to come off in London fourteen days hence, at which your presence will be required. It is a case of heirship to a very extensive estate in the neighbourhood of London, and a pretended claimant is doing his utmost to disinherit the real heir, on the ground of his inability to produce proper titles thereto. It is necessary that you be there on the day mentioned; and in one of the attics of the mansion-house on the estate there is an old oak chest with two bottoms; between these you will find the necessary titles, written on parchment." Having given this information, the old man disappeared, leaving Sir George quite bewildered; but the latter, resuming his walk, soon recovered his previous equanimity, and thought nothing further of the matter.
Next day, while taking his walk in the same place, he was again met by the same old gentleman, who earnestly urged him not to delay another day in repairing to London, assuring him that he would be handsomely rewarded for his trouble; but to this Sir George paid no particular attention. The third day he was again met by the same hoary-headed sire, who energetically pleaded with him not to lose a day in setting out, otherwise the case would be lost. His singular deportment, and his anxiety that Sir George should
be present at the discussion of the case, in which he seemed so deeply interested, induced Sir George to give in to his earnest importunities, and accordingly he started next morning on horseback, arriving in London on the day preceding that on which the case was to come on. In a few hours he was pacing in front of the mansion-house described by the old man at Leith Walk, where he met two gentlemen engaged in earnest conversation--one of the claimants to the property, and a celebrated London barrister--to whom he immediately introduced himself as the principal law-officer of the crown for Scotland. The barrister, no doubt supposing that Sir George was coming to take the bread out of his mouth, addressed him in a surly manner, and spoke disrespectfully of his country; to which the latter replied, "that, lame and ignorant as his learned friend took the Scotch to be, yet in law, as well as in other respects, they would effect what would defy him and all his London clique". This disagreeable dialogue was put an end to by the other gentleman--the claimant to the property--taking Sir George into the house. After sitting and conversing for some minutes, Sir George expressed a wish to be shown over the house. The drawing-room was hung all round with magnificent pictures and drawings, which Sir George greatly admired; but there was one which particularly attracted his attention; and after examining it very minutely, he, with a surprised expression, inquired of his conductor whose picture it was? and received answer--"It is my great-great-grandfather's". "My goodness!" exclaimed Sir George, "the very man who spoke to me three times on three successive days in Leith Walk, and at whose urgent request I came here!" Sir George, at his own request, was then conducted to the attics, in one of which there was a large mass of old papers, which was turned up and examined
without discovering anything to assist them in prosecuting the claim to the heirship of the property. However, as they were about giving up the search, Sir George noticed an old trunk lying in a corner, which, his companion told him, had lain there for many a year as lumber, and contained nothing. The Leith Walk gentleman's information recurring to Sir George, he gave the old moth-eaten chest a good hearty kick, such as he could wish to have been received by his "learned friend" the barrister, who spoke so disrespectfully of his country. The bottom flew out of the trunk, with a quantity of chaff, among which the original titles to the property were discovered. Next morning, Sir George entered the court just as the case was about to be called and addressed the pretended claimant's counsel--"Well, sir, what shall I offer you to abandon this action?" "No sum, or any consideration whatever, would induce me to give it up," answered his learned opponent. "Well, sir," said Sir George, at the same time pulling out his snuff-horn and taking a pinch, "I will not even hazard a pinch on it." The case was called. Sir George, in reply to the claimant's counsel, in an eloquent speech, addressed the bench; exposed most effectually the means which had been adopted to deprive his client of his birthright; concluded by producing the titles found in the old chest; and the case was at once decided in favour of his client. The decision being announced, Sir George took the young heir's arm, and, bowing to his learned friend the barrister, remarked, "You see now what a Scotsman has done, and let me tell you that I wish a countryman of mine anything but a London barrister Sir George immediately returned to Edinburgh, well paid for his trouble; but he never again, in his favourite walk, encountered the old grey-headed gentleman.
The following two stanzas refer to the Mackenzies of Kilcoy and their property:--
Nuair bhitheas caisteal ciar Chulchallaidh
Na sheasaidh fuar, agus falamh,
’S na cathagan ’s na rocuis
Gu seolta sgiathail thairis,
Gabhaidh duine graineal comhnuidh,
Ri thaobh, mi-bheusal a’s salach,
Nach gleidh guidhe stal-phosaidh,
’S nach eisd ri cleireach no caraid,
Ach bho Chreag-a-chodh gu Sgire na Toiseachd
Gum bi muisean air toir gach caileag--
A’s ochan! ochan! s’ ma leon,
Sluigidh am balgaire suas moran talamh!
When the stern Castle of Kilcoy
Shall stand cold and empty,
And the jackdaws and the rooks
Are artfully flying past it,
A loathsome man shall then dwell
Beside it, indecent and filthy,
Who will not keep the vow of the marriage coif,
Listen neither to cleric nor friend;
But from Creag-a-Chow to Ferrintosh
The dirty fellow will be after every girl--
Ochan! Ochan!! woe's me,
The cunning dog will swallow up much land.
The history of the Kilcoy family has been an unfortunate one in late years, and the second and last lines of the first stanza clearly refer to a well-known tragic incident in the recent history of this once highly-favoured and popular Highland family.
Mr. Maclennan applies them to an earlier event, and says:--"The second and last line of the first stanza refer to the following story--Towards the latter end of the seventeenth century a large number of cattle, in the Black Isle, were attacked with a strange malady, which invariably ended in madness and in death. The disease was particularly destructive on the Kilcoy and Redcastle estates, and the proprietors offered a large sum of money as a reward to any who should find a remedy. An old warlock belonging to the parish agreed to protect the cattle from the ravages of this unknown disease, for the sum offered, if they provided him with a human sacrifice. To this ghastly proposal the lairds agreed. A large barn at Parkton was, from its secluded position, selected as a suitable place for the
horrid crime, where a poor friendless man, who lived at Linwood, close to the site of the present Free Church manse, was requested, under some pretence, to appear on a certain day. The unsuspecting creature obeyed the summons of his superiors; he was instantly bound and disembowelled alive by the horrid wizard, who dried the heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas, and reduced them to powder, of which he ordered a little to be given to the diseased animals in water. Before the unfortunate victim breathed his last, he ejaculated the following imprecation:--'Gum b’ ann nach tig an latha ’bhitheas teaghlach a Chaisteil Ruaidh gun oinseach, na teaghlach Chulchallaidh gun amadan'. (Let the day never come when the family of Redcastle shall be without a female idiot, or the family of Kilcoy without a fool.) It appears, not only that this wild imprecation was to some extent realised, but also that the Brahan Seer, years before, knew and predicted that it would be made, and that its prayer would be ultimately granted."
Who the "fox from Croy" is, we are at present unable to suggest; but taking the two stanzas as they stand, it would be difficult to describe the position of the family and the state of the castle, with our present knowledge of their history, and in their present position, more faithfully than Coinneach Odhar has done more than two centuries ago. What a faithful picture of the respective positions of the great farmers and the lairds of the present day! And what a contrast between their relative positions now and at the time when the Seer predicted the change!
In the appendix to the Life of the late Dr. Norman Macleod, by his brother, the Rev. Donald Macleod, D.D., a series of autobiographical reminiscences are given, which the famous Rev. Norman, the Doctor's father, dictated in his old age to one of his daughters. In the summer of
[paragraph continues] 1799 he visited Dunvegan Castle, the stronghold of the Macleods, in the Isle of Skye. Those of the prophecies already given in verse are, undoubtedly, fragments of the long rhythmical productions of Coinneach Odhar Fiosaiche's prophecies regarding most of our Highland families, to which the Rev. Norman refers, and of which the prophecy given in his reminiscences is as follows
"One circumstance took place at the Castle (Dunvegan) on this occasion which I think worth recording, especially as I am the only person now living who can attest the truth of it. There had been a traditionary prophecy, couched in Gaelic verse, regarding the family of Macleod, which on this occasion, received a most extraordinary fulfilment. This prophecy I have heard repeated by several persons, and most deeply do I regret that I did not take a copy of it when I could have got it. The worthy Mr. Campbell of Knock, in Mull, had a very beautiful version of it, as also had my father, and so, I think, had likewise Dr. Campbell of Killinver. Such prophecies were current regarding almost all old families in the Highlands; the Argyll family were of the number; and there is a prophecy regarding the Breadalbane family as yet unfulfilled which I hope may remain so. The present Marquis of Breadalbane is fully aware of it, as are many of the connections of the family. Of the Macleod family, it was prophesied at least a hundred years prior to the circumstance which I am about to relate.
"In the prophecy to which I am about to allude, it was foretold that when Norman, the Third Norman ('Tormad nan ’tri Tormaid'), the son of the hard-boned English lady ('Mac na mnatha caoile cruaidhe Shassunaich') would perish by an accidental death; that when the 'Maidens' of Macleod (certain well-known rocks on the coast of Macleod's country) became the property of a Campbell; when a fox
had young ones in one of the turrets of the Castle, and particularly when the Fairy enchanted banner should be for the last time exhibited, then the glory of the Macleod family should depart; a great part of the estate should be sold to others; so that a small 'curragh,' a boat, would carry all gentlemen of the name of Macleod across Loch Dunvegan; but that in times far distant another John Breac should arise, who should redeem those estates, and raise the power and honours of the house to a higher pitch than ever. Such in general terms was the prophecy. And now as to the curious coincidence of its fulfilment.
"There was, at that time, at Dunvegan, an English smith, with whom I became a favourite, and who told me in solemn secrecy, that the iron chest which contained the 'fairy flag' was to be forced open next morning; that he had arranged with Mr. Hector Macdonald Buchanan to be there with his tools for that purpose.
"I was most anxious to be present, and I asked permission to that effect of Mr. Buchanan (Macleod's man of business), who granted me leave on condition that I should not inform anyone of the name of Macleod that such was intended, and should keep it a profound secret from the chief. This I promised and most faithfully acted on. Next morning we proceeded to the chamber in the East Turret, where was the iron chest that contained the famous flag, about which there is an interesting tradition.
"With great violence the smith tore open the lid of this iron chest; but, in doing so, a key was found under part of the covering, which would have opened the chest, had it been found in time. There was an inner case, in which was found the flag, enclosed in a wooden box of strongly-scented wood. The flag consisted of a square piece of very rich silk, with crosses wrought with gold thread, and several
elf-spots stitched with great care on different parts of it.
"On this occasion, the melancholy news of the death of the young and promising heir of Macleod reached the Castle. 'Norman, the third Norman,' was a lieutenant of H.M.S., the 'Queen Charlotte,' which was blown up at sea, and he and the rest perished. At the same time, the rocks called 'Macleod's Maidens' were sold, in the course of that very week, to Angus Campbell of Ensay, and they are still in possession of his grandson. A fox in possession of a Lieutenant Maclean, residing in the West Turret of the Castle, had young ones, which I handled, and thus all that was said in the prophecy alluded to was so far-fulfilled, although I am glad the family of my chief still enjoy their ancestral possessions, and the worst part of the prophecy accordingly remains unverified. I merely state the facts of the case as they occurred, without expressing any opinion whatever as to the nature of these traditionary legends with which they were connected."
The estates are still, we are glad to say, in possession of the ancient family of Macleod, and the present chief is rapidly improving the prospects of his house. The probabilities are therefore at present against our prophet. The hold of the Macleods on their estates is getting stronger instead of weaker, and the John Breac who is to be the future deliverer has not only not yet appeared, but the undesirable position of affairs requiring his services is yet, we hope, in the distant future.
The Seer predicted that "when the big-thumbed Sheriff-Officer and the blind [man] of the twenty-four fingers shall be together in Barra, Macneil of Barra may be making ready for the flitting" (Nuair a bhitheas maor nan ordagan mora agus dall nan ceithir-meoraibh-fichead comhla ann am
[paragraph continues] Barraidh, faodaidh MacNeill Bharraidh ’bhi deanamh deiseil na h-imirich.) This prediction, which was known in Barra for generations, has been most literally fulfilled. On a certain occasion, "the blind of the twenty-four fingers," so called from having six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot, left Benbecula on a tour, to collect alms in South Uist. Being successful there, he decided upon visiting Barra before returning home. Arriving at the Ferry--the isthmus which separates South Uist from Barra,--he met "Maor nan Ordagan mora," and they crossed the kyle in the same boat. It was afterwards found that the officer was actually on his way to serve a summons of ejectment on the laird of Barra; and poor Macneil not only had to make ready for, but had indeed to make the flitting. The man who had acted as guide to the blind on the occasion is, we are informed, still living and in excellent health, though considerably over eighty years of age.
The following is said to have been fulfilled by the conduct of the Duke of Cumberland at and after the battle of Culloden. The Seer was, on one occasion, passing Millburn, on his way from Inverness to Petty, and noticing the old mill, which was a very primitive building, thatched with divots, he said:--"The day will come when thy wheel shall be turned for three successive days by water red with human blood; for on the banks of thy lade a fierce battle shall be fought, at which much blood shall be spilt". Some say that this is as yet unfulfilled; and it has been suggested that the battle may yet be fought in connection with the new Barracks now building at the Hut of Health.
Coinneach also prophesied remarkable things regarding the Mackenzies of Fairburn and Fairburn Tower. "The day will come when the Mackenzies of Fairburn shall lose their entire possessions, and that branch of the clan shall
disappear almost to a man from the face of the earth. Their Castle shall become uninhabited, desolate, and forsaken, and a cow shall give birth to a calf in the uppermost chamber in Fairburn Tower." The first part of this prophecy has only too literally come to pass; and within the memory of hundreds now living, and who knew Coinneach's prophecy years before it was fulfilled, the latter part--that referring to the cow calving in the uppermost chamber--has also been undoubtedly realised. We are personally acquainted with people whose veracity is beyond question, who knew the prophecy, and who actually took the trouble at the time to go all the way from Inverness to see the cow-mother and her offspring in the Tower, before they were taken down. Mr. Maclennan supplies the following version:--Coinneach said, addressing a large concourse of people--"Strange as it may appear to all those who may hear me this day, yet what I am about to tell you is true and will come to pass at the appointed time. The day will come when a cow shall give birth to a calf in the uppermost chamber (seomar uachdarach) of Fairburn Castle. The child now unborn will see it."
When the Seer uttered this prediction, the Castle of Fairburn was in the possession of, and occupied by, a very rich and powerful chieftain, to whom homage was paid by many of the neighbouring lairds. Its halls rang loud with sounds of music and of mirth, and happiness reigned within its portals. On its winding stone stairs trod and passed carelessly to and fro pages and liveried servants in their wigs and golden trimmings. Nothing in the world was more unlikely to happen, to all appearance, than what the Seer predicted, and Coinneach was universally ridiculed for having given utterance to what was apparently so nonsensical; but this abuse and ridicule the Seer bore with the
patient self-satisfied air of one who was fully convinced of the truth of what he uttered. Years passed by, but no sign of the fulfilment of the prophecy. The Seer, the Laird of Fairburn, and the whole of that generation were gathered to their fathers, and still no signs of the curious prediction being realised. The Laird of Fairburn's immediate successors also followed their predecessors, and the Seer, to all appearance, was fast losing his reputation as a prophet. The tower was latterly left uninhabited, and it soon fell into a dilapidated state of repair--its doors decayed and fell away from their hinges, one by one, until at last there was no door on the main stair from the floor to the roof. Some years after, and not long ago, the Fairburn tenant-farmer stored away some straw in the uppermost chamber of the tower; in the process, some of the straw dropped, and was left strewn on the staircase. One of his cows on a certain day chanced to find her way to the main door of the tower, and finding it open, began to pick up the straw scattered along the stair. The animal proceeded thus, till she had actually arrived at the uppermost chamber, whence, being heavy in calf, she was unable to descend. She was consequently left in the tower until she gave birth to a fine healthy calf. They were allowed to remain there for several days, where many went to see them, after which the cow and her progeny were brought down; and Coinneach Odhar's prophecy was thus fulfilled to the letter.
"The day will come when the Lewsmen shall go forth with their hosts to battle, but they will be turned back by the jaw-bone of an animal smaller than an ass," was a prediction accounted ridiculous and quite incomprehensible until it was fulfilled in a remarkable but very simple manner. Seaforth and the leading men of the Clan, as is well known, were "out in the ’15 and ’19," and had their estates forfeited;
and it was only a few years before the ’45 that their lands were again restored to Seaforth, and to Mackenzie, 11th Baron of Hilton. The Rev. Colin Mackenzie, a brother of Hilton, minister of Fodderty and Laird of Glack, in Aberdeenshire, was the first in the neighbourhood of Brahan who received information of Prince Charlie's landing in 1745. Seaforth had still a warm feeling for the Prince. His reverend friend, though a thorough Jacobite himself, was an intimate friend of Lord President Forbes, with whom he kept up a regular correspondence. He decided, no doubt mainly through his influence, to remain neutral himself, and fearing that his friend of Brahan might be led to join the Prince, he instantly, on receipt of the news, started for Brahan Castle. Although it was very late at night when he received the information, he crossed Knockfarrel, entered Seaforth's bedroom by the window--for he had already gone to rest for the night--and without awakening his lady, informed him of the landing of Charles. They decided upon getting out of the way, and both immediately disappeared. Seaforth was well known to have had previous correspondence with the Prince, and to have sent private orders to the Lews to have his men there in readiness; and Fodderty impressed upon him the prudence of getting out of sight altogether in the meantime. They started through the mountains in the direction of Poolewe, and some time afterwards, when there together in concealment near the shore, they saw two ships entering the bay, having on board a large number of armed men, whom they at once recognised as Seaforth's followers from the Lews, raised and commanded by Captain Colin Mackenzie, the great-grandfather of Major Thomas Mackenzie of the 78th Highlanders. Lord Seaforth had just been making a repast of a sheep's head, when he espied his retainers, and approaching the ships with the sheep's jawbone
in his hand, he waved it towards them, and ordered them to return to their homes at once, which command they obeyed by making at once for Stornoway; and thus was fulfilled Coinneach Odhar's apparently ludicrous prediction, that the brave Lewsmen would be turned back from battle with the jaw-bone of an animal smaller than an ass.
Mr. Maclennan supplies us also with the following:--"In the parish of Avoch is a well of beautiful clear water, out of which the Brahan Seer, upon one occasion, took a refreshing draught. So pleased was he with the water, that he looked at his Blue Stone, and said--' Whoever he be that drinketh of thy water henceforth, if suffering from any disease, shall, by placing two pieces of straw or wood on thy surface, ascertain whether he will recover or not. If he is to recover, the straws will whirl round in opposite directions; if he is to die soon, they will remain stationary'. The writer (continues Mr. Maclennan) knew people who went to the well and made the experiment. He was himself once unwell, and supposed to be at the point of death; he got of the water of the well, and he still lives. Whether it did him good or not, it is impossible to say, but this he does know, that the water pleased him uncommonly well."
With reference to Lady Hill, in the same parish, the Seer said--"Thy name has gone far and wide; but though thy owners were brave on the field of battle, they never decked thy brow. The day will come, however, when a white collar shall be put upon thee. The child that is unborn shall see it, but I shall not." This prediction has been fulfilled a few years ago, by the construction of a fine drive right round the hill.
The Seer said, speaking of Beauly--"The day will come, however distant, when 'Cnoc na Rath' will be in the centre of the village". It certainly would appear incredible, and
even absurd, to suggest such a thing in Coinneach's day, for the "village" then stood at a place south of the present railway station, called, in Gaelic, "Bealaidh-Achadh," or the Broom field, quite a mile from Cnoc na Rath. The prophecy has to some extent been fulfilled, for the last erection at Beauly--the new public school--is within a few yards of the Cnoc; and the increasing enterprise of the inhabitants is rapidly aiding, and, indeed, will soon secure, the absolute realisation of the Seer's prediction. In connection with this prophecy we think that we have discovered a Celtic origin for the term Beauly. It is generally supposed to have been derived from the French word "Beaulieu". The village being originally at "Bealaidh-Achadh," and so called when the present Beauly was nowhere, what can be more natural than the supposition that the inhabitants carried the original name of their original village along with them, and now present us with the Gaelic "Bealaidh," anglified into Beauly. This is not such a fine theory as the French one, but it is more likely to be the true one, and is more satisfactory to the student of Gaelic topography.
We have several versions of the prophecy regarding the carrying away of the Stone Bridge across the River Ness, which stood near the place where the present Suspension Bridge stands. Mr. Macintyre supplies the following, and Mr. Maclennan's version is very much the same:--"He foretold that the Ness bridge would be swept away by a great flood, while crowded with people, and while a man riding a white horse and a woman 'enciente' were crossing it. Either the prophet's second-sight failed him on the occasion, or tradition has not preserved the correct version of the prediction, for it is well known that no human being was carried away by the bridge when it was swept away by the extraordinary flood of 1849."
As a matter of fact, there was no man riding a white horse on the bridge at the time, but a man--Matthew Campbell--and a woman were crossing it, the arches tumbling one by one at their heels as they flew across; but they managed to reach the western shore in safety, just as the last arch was crumbling under their feet. Campbell, who was behind, coming up to the woman, caught her in his arms, and with a desperate bound cleared the crumbling structure.
The Seer also foretold that before the latter prediction was fulfilled "people shall pick gooseberries from a bush growing on the stone ledge of one of the arches". There are many now living who remember this gooseberry bush, and who have seen it in bloom and blossom, and with fruit upon it. It grew on the south side of the bridge, on the third or fourth pier, and near the iron grating which supplied a dismal light to the dungeon which in those days was the Inverness prison. Maclean, "A Nonagenarian," writing forty years ago, says nothing of the bush, but, while writing of the predicted fall of the bridge, states, with regard to it, that "an old tradition or prophecy is, that many lives will be lost at its fall, and that this shall take place when there are seven females on the bridge, in a state poetically described as that 'in which ladies wish to be who love their lords'." This was written, as will be seen by comparing dates, several years before the bridge was carried away in 1849, showing unmistakably that the prophecy was not concocted after the event.
"The natural arch, or 'Clach tholl,' near Storehead in Assynt, will fall with a crash so loud as to cause the laird of Leadmore's cattle, twenty miles away, to break their tethers." This was fulfilled in 1841, Leadmore's cattle having one day strayed from home to within a few hundred
yards of the arch, when it fell with such a crash as to send them home in a frantic fright, tearing' everything before them. Hugh Miller refers to this prediction, as also to several others, in the work already alluded to--"Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland," pp. 161, 162, 163.
About sixteen years ago, there lived in the village of "Baile Mhuilinn," in the West of Sutherlandshire, an old woman of about 95 years of age, known as Baraball n’ic Coinnich (Annabella Mackenzie). From her position, history, and various personal peculiarities, it was universally believed in the district that she was no other than the Baraball n’ic Coinnich of whom the Brahan Seer predicted that she would die of the measles. She had, however, arrived at such an advanced age, without any appearance or likelihood of her ever having that disease, that the prophet was rapidly losing credit in the district. About this time the measles had just gone the round of the place, and had made considerable havoc among old and young; but when the district was, so to speak, convalescent, the measles paid Baraball a visit, and actually carried her away, when within a few years of five score, leaving no doubt whatever in the minds of the people that she had died as foretold centuries before by the famous Coinneach Odhar.
The Seer, one day, pointing to the now celebrated Strathpeffer mineral wells, said: "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."
Regarding the "land-grasping" Urquharts of Cromarty he predicted "that, extensive though their possessions in the Black Isle now are, the day will come--and it is close
at hand--when they will not own twenty acres in the district." This, like many of his other predictions, literally came to pass, although nothing could then have been more unlikely; for, at the time, the Urquharts possessed the estates of Kinbeachie, Braelangwell, Newhall, and Monteagle, but at this moment their only possession in the Black Isle is a small piece of Braelangwell.
That "the day will come when fire and water shall run in streams through all the streets and lanes of Inverness," was a prediction, the fulfilment of which was quite incomprehensible, until the introduction of gas and water through pipes into every corner of the town.
"The day will come when long strings of carriages without horses shall run between Dingwall and Inverness, and more wonderful still, between Dingwall and the Isle of Skye." It is hardly necessary to point out that this refers to the railway carriages now running in those districts.
That "a bald black girl will be born at the back of the Church of Gairloch" (Beirear nighean mhaol dubh air cùl Eaglais Ghearrloch), has been fulfilled. During one of the usual large gatherings at the Sacramental Communion a well-known young woman was taken in labour, and before she could be removed she gave birth to the "nighean mhaol dubh," whose descendants are well known and pointed out in the district to this day as the fulfilment of Coinneach's prophecy.
That "a white cow will give birth to a calf in the garden behind Gairloch House," has taken place within the memory of people still living; that, in Fowerdale, "a black hornless cow (Bo mhaol dubh) will give birth to a calf with two heads," happened within our own recollection. These predictions were well known to people before they came to pass.
The following are evidently fragments regarding the Lovat Estates. He said:--
(A Claimant will come from the South
Like a bird from a bush;
He will grow like an herb;
He will spread like seed,
And set fire to Ardross.) *
"Mhac Shimidh ball-dubh, a dh‘fhagus an oighreachd gun an t-oighre dligheach." (Mac Shimidh (Lovat), the black-spotted, who will leave the Estate without the rightful heir.) "An Sisealach claon ruadh, a dh’fhagus an oighreachd gun an t-oighre dligheach." (Chisholm, the squint-eyed, who will leave the estate without the rightful heir.) "An tighearna stòrach a dh’fhagus oighreachd Ghearrloch gun an t-oighre dligheach." (The buck-toothed laird who will leave the estate of Gairloch without the rightful heir), are also fragments.
We do not know whether there has been any Lovat or Chisholm with the peculiar personal characteristics mentioned by the Seer, † and shall be glad to receive information
on the point, as well as a fuller and more particular version of the prophecy. We are aware, however, that Sir Hector Mackenzie of Gairloch was buck-toothed, and that he was always known among his tenants in the west, as "An tighearna stòrach". We heard old people maintaining that Coinneach was correct even in this instance, and that his prediction has been actually fulfilled; but, at present, we abstain from going into that part of this family history which would throw light on the subject. A gentleman is trying to assert rights to the Lovat estates at the present moment.
Before proceeding to give such of the prophecies regarding the family of Seaforth as have been so literally fulfilled in the later annals of that once great and powerful house--the history of the family being so intimately interwoven with, and being itself really the fulfilment of the Seer's predictions--it may interest the reader to have a cursory glance at it from the earliest period in which the family appears in history.
39:* In corroboration of the main facts here stated, we quote the following from "Walford's County Families of the United Kingdom":--"FLETCHER, JAMES, Esq. of Rosehaugh, Ross-shire, son of the late Wm. Jack, Esq., by Isabel, dau. of the late Charles Fletcher, Esq., and brother of J. C. Fletcher, Esq.; b. 18--; m, 1852, Frederica Mary, dau. of John Stephen, Esq., niece of Sir Alfred Stephen, C.B., Chief Justice of New South Wales, and widow of Alexander Hay, Esq., of the 58th Regt. . . . . . . He assumed the name of Fletcher in lieu of his patronymic on the death of his mother in 1856."
59:* A place of that name near Beauly.
59:† Since the above was in type, we came across the following in Anderson's History of the Family of Fraser, p. 114:--"Hugh, son of the 10th Lord Lovat, was born on the 28th September, 1666. From a large black spot on his upper lip he was familiarly called, Mac Shimidh Ball-dubh, i.e., black-spotted Simpson or Lovat. Three chieftains were distinguished at this time by similar deformities--(1) Mac Coinnich Glùn-dubh, i.e., black-kneed Mackenzie; (2) Macintoshich Ciaon, i.e., squint-eyed MacKintosh; (g) Sisealach Càm, crooked or one-eyed Chisholm."