Tobar an Dualchais - Kist O Riches
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The Brahan Seer memorial at Chanonry Point. © Elsie Maclean
The Brahan Seer’s prophecies have intrigued people for centuries and such is his reputation that his predictions are still spoken of today.
Most of what we know about him and his prophecies has come from the oral tradition and, according to folklore, the Brahan Seer’s birth name was Kenneth Mackenzie. He was said to have been born in Uig on the Isle of Lewis in the 17th century and was known as Coinneach Odhar in Gaelic. There is no documentary evidence of his existence at this time but there is a record of a Coinneach Odhar in court archives who was accused of witchcraft in the 16th century.
He is said to have prophesised many events such as the Second World War, the demise of various Scottish clans, the Battle of Culloden, the construction of the Caledonian Canal, and the introduction of railway lines across the Highlands. A book of the Brahan Seer’s prophecies was first published by Alexander Mackenzie in 1877. There has been much speculation about whether the predictions originated from one person and if the Brahan Seer really existed.
According to legend, the Brahan Seer worked for the third Earl of Seaforth and was employed as a labourer at Brahan Castle near Dingwall when one of his prophecies led to his own brutal death. The Earl of Seaforth was away in France and his wife, Countess Isabella, wanted news of his welfare. The Brahan Seer had a vision of the Earl with another woman and when he told her of this, the Countess had him burned alive in a barrel of hot tar at Chanonry Point on the Black Isle.
The Brahan Seer was said to have used a stone with a hole in the middle to see his visions and there are various tales as to how the stone came into his possession. Some say that he fell asleep on a fairy hill and awoke to find it in his pocket and in other accounts he found the stone in a raven’s nest. In this version told by Donald Sinclair from Tiree, the Brahan Seer was on a beach one night when he met the phantom of a drowned maiden who told him where to find the stone, one that she herself had used for prophecy. Donald refers to him as ‘Dun Kenneth’ which is a translation of his Gaelic name.
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Julie Fowlis and Chris Wright were Tobar an Dualchais' Artists in Residence in 2012