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The Brahan Seer (Coinneach Odhar)

Coinneach Odhar or ‘Sallow Kenneth’ is reputed to have been a native of Lewis in the seventeenth century who possessed the gift of second sight. His prophecies are well known in the Highlands today. However, what little information survives about him in official records contradicts this description of him handed down in folk tales and legend. For more information about the Brahan Seer and historical records relating to him see below.



The legendary Brahan Seer and his prophecies
Coinneach Odhar is celebrated in Gaelic oral traditions as a seventeenth century inhabitant of Lewis with the gift of second sight. Many prophecies are attributed to him in various parts of the Highland and Western Isles. Some are discussed even today. An example of a casual reference to a Brahan Seer prophecy occurs in a letter written to the factor of the Knoydart Estate in June 1902 from an ironmonger in Beauly (Highland Council Archives, reference D253). A prophecy, that a king would reign over Britain but would not be crowned, had been ascribed to the Seer, and by 1902 the prophecy had not been realised. While the writer of the letter believed that it might apply to King Edward VII, then undergoing an operation for appendicitis, prior to his coronation, it can actually be applied to Edward VIII, who thirty years later, did 'reign over Britain, but would not be crowned'.
Alexander Mackenzie, in Prophecies of the Brahan Seer (Stirling, 1877), translated many of the supposed sayings of Coinneach Odhar into English and the seer’s fame spread beyond the Gaidhealtachd (the Gaelic speaking community). The Seer was reputedly executed for witchcraft and burnt in a barrel of tar at Fortrose, following a disagreement with the Countess of Seaforth.

The Brahan Seer in official records
However, no contemporary records support the description of him by Mackenzie. William Matheson in The Historical Coinneach Odhar and some Prophecies Attributed to Him, argues persuasively that the original Coinneach Odhar was a sixteenth century inhabitant of Urray parish, in Ross, who was accused of being the ringleader of a band of witches in 1577-78, and that several prophecies attributed to him relate to sixteenth century events. The fate of this sixteenth century Coinneach Odhar is unrecorded, but others accused with him were certainly executed for witchcraft. For further details see the Frequently Asked Question in the column opposite.

William Matheson 'The Historical Coinneach Odhar and some Prophecies Attributed to Him' in Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness (1968); Norman Macrae (ed.) Highland Second Sight with Prophecies of Coinneach Odhar and the Seer of Perth (Dingwall, 1908), Domhnall Iain Maclomhair, Coinneach Odhar (Glasgow, 1990).


Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can the Brahan Seer be identified from documentary sources?







Image 1
Royal commission ordering the apprehension of Coinneach Odhar and others, entered in the Exchequer records (National Archives of Scotland, reference E1/7, ff67-68).

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Image 2
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Extract from commission appointing justiciars to apprehend, imprison and try Coinneach Odhar and others for sorcery, 23 January 1577/8, in the Munro of Foulis writes (National Archives of Scotland, reference GD93/92). The entry reads 'kennoch owir ducem sen principalem artie magice'.

Christine Lodge, Fiona MacLeod, Robert Steward (Highland Council Archives), Robin Urquhart (SCAN)