Come with me to northern Scotland – Chanonry Point on the Black Isle to be exact. Look across the water and you’ll see an old fort. Beside you, dolphins leap and catch salmon, entertaining the many visitors who wait for hours for the spectacle. It’s a beautiful place to watch the dusk settle, especially if you have a delicious fish supper to keep you company.
Nearby, you’ll come across a monument to a Gaelic seer.On this spot, back in the 17th century, Coinneach Odhar met his fate in a barrel of burning tar – a tragic end for a man with a strange, but wonderful affliction.
Legend has it that this enchanter was born on the Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides. In this land of dark, deep winters, fireside myths abound. Here is just one of many. Make of it what you will.
On a grassy knoll above the white sandy beaches of Uig, a peaceful resting place holds many secrets…
Beside an old cemetery, Coinneach’s mother watched over her flock as the wind sighed over the machair. Perhaps the ‘merry dancers’ wove their coloured banners above her that night. From the graves, spirits rose for their annual visit above ground. Fascination made her stay to watch, to make sure all returned.
Faint light graced the horizon, and still one grave stood empty. In time, its owner – a Viking princess – drifted back. Her trip to see relatives had taken longer than planned, she claimed, for wasn’t Norway a long way off. Coinneach’s mother was deaf to her pleas – to enter her rightful home, until the lass offered a gift, a magical stone. ‘Look through the hole in its centre and the future will become clear…’
And that is how, some claim, Coinneach – the sallow complexioned crofter’s child – received the ‘gift’ of double sight, by looking through the hole in his mother’s stone.
Now the lad worked hard cutting and creeling peat but in time news of the rhymes, which he spoke as if in a daze, spread far and wide. Some claimed he predicted events of fire, flood and calamity, affecting individuals and communities, and the terrible tragedy of Culloden.
To many, his visions were also well in advance of his possible knowledge – roads across the highlands, the coming of the railway, bridges and canals; even to present times – the tunnel linking Britain and France, and Scotland’s parliament. Was he Scotland’s own Nostradamus?
Surely a man as gifted as this might have been feted especially with Scotland’s ancient Celtic traditions bedded in superstitious belief. In time, his notoriety brought him to the attention of his employers, the Seaforth family on the Black Isle.
Lord Seaforth had gone off to Paris – indefinitely it seemed. His lady wife grew worried about his return and asked Coinneach to enlighten her.
“Your husband enjoys the charms of another woman, and will not return.” He said, or words to that effect, at a banquet at Brahan Castle in front of her friends and family. If ever a little white lie might have helped the situation, this was the time, but being an honest, straightforward Scot, he could only tell the truth of his vision.
Lady Seaforth’s embarrassment and subsequent rage knew no bounds. His words sealed his death warrant – to be burnt as a warlock.
There was a curse, of course, spoken before his gruesome demise.
The Seaforth line would falter. Many years later, these events would come to pass just as he’d described.- the last surviving lord, a deaf-mute (perhaps from the Scarlet Fever he suffered as a child) would die; his four sons before him. Soon after, a daughter would return from the east. Another sister would die soon after.
Seaforth’s daughter, Mary, did in fact return from the East Indies to claim her inheritance. Whilst driving through the forest in a pony trap, the horse bolted. Mary was injured, her sister killed…
Seers often cannot see their own futures. If Coinneach had known what lay ahead of him, perhaps he might have tossed that stone into the sea.