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Coinnach Oer

Source: Folk-lore And Legends Scotland

Coinnach Oer, which means Dun Kenneth, was a celebrated man in his
generation. He has been called the Isaiah of the North. The prophecies
of this man are very frequently alluded to and quoted in various parts of
the Highlands; although little is known of the man himself, except in
Ross-shire. He was a small farmer in Strathpeffer, near Dingwall, and
for many years of his life neither exhibited any talents, nor claimed any
intelligence above his fellows. The manner in which he obtained the
prophetic gift was told by himself in the following manner:--

As he was one day at work in the hill casting (digging) peats, he heard a
voice which seemed to call to him out of the air. It commanded him to
dig under a little green knoll which was near, and to gather up the small
white stones which he would discover beneath the turf. The voice
informed him, at the same time, that while he kept these stones in his
possession, he should be endued with the power of supernatural

Kenneth, though greatly alarmed at this aerial conversation, followed the
directions of his invisible instructor, and turning up the turf on the
hillock, in a little time discovered the talismans. From that day
forward, the mind of Kenneth was illuminated by gleams of unearthly
light; and he made many predictions, of which the credulity of the
people, and the coincidence of accident, often supplied confirmation; and
he certainly became the most notable of the Highland prophets. The most
remarkable and well known of his vaticinations is the
following:--"Whenever a M'Lean with long hands, a Fraser with a black
spot on his face, a M'Gregor with a black knee, and a club-footed M'Leod
of Raga, shall have existed; whenever there shall have been successively
three M'Donalds of the name of John, and three M'Kinnons of the same
Christian name,--oppressors will appear in the country, and the people
will change their own land for a strange one." All these personages have
appeared since; and it is the common opinion of the peasantry, that the
consummation of the prophecy was fulfilled, when the exaction of the
exorbitant rents reduced the Highlanders to poverty, and the introduction
of the sheep banished the people to America.

Whatever might have been the gift of Kenneth Oer, he does not appear to
have used it with an extraordinary degree of discretion; and the last
time he exercised it, he was very near paying dear for his divination.

On this occasion he happened to be at some high festival of the M'Kenzies
at Castle Braan. One of the guests was so exhilarated by the scene of
gaiety, that he could not forbear an eulogium on the gallantry of the
feast, and the nobleness of the guests. Kenneth, it appears, had no
regard for the M'Kenzies, and was so provoked by this sally in their
praise, that he not only broke out into a severe satire against their
whole race, but gave vent to the prophetic denunciation of wrath and
confusion upon their posterity. The guests being informed (or having
overheard a part) of this rhapsody, instantly rose up with one accord to
punish the contumely of the prophet. Kenneth, though he foretold the
fate of others, did not in any manner look into that of himself; for this
reason, being doubtful of debating the propriety of his prediction upon
such unequal terms, he fled with the greatest precipitation. The
M'Kenzies followed with infinite zeal; and more than one ball had
whistled over the head of the seer before he reached Loch Ousie. The
consequences of this prediction so disgusted Kenneth with any further
exercise of his prophetic calling, that, in the anguish of his flight, he
solemnly renounced all communication with its power; and, as he ran along
the margin of Loch Ousie, he took out the wonderful pebbles, and cast
them in a fury into the water. Whether his evil genius had now forsaken
him, or his condition was better than that of his pursuers, is unknown,
but certain it is, Kenneth, after the sacrifice of the pebbles,
outstripped his enraged enemies, and never, so far as I have heard, made
any attempt at prophecy from the hour of his escape.

Kenneth Oer had a son, who was called Ian Dubh Mac Coinnach (Black John,
the son of Kenneth), and lived in the village of Miltoun, near Dingwall.
His chief occupation was brewing whisky; and he was killed in a fray at
Miltoun, early in the present century. His exit would not have formed
the catastrophe of an epic poem, and appears to have been one of those
events of which his father had no intelligence, for it happened in the
following manner:--

Having fallen into a dispute with a man with whom he had previously been
on friendly terms, they proceeded to blows; in the scuffle, the boy, the
son of Ian's adversary, observing the two combatants locked in a close
and firm gripe of eager contention, and being doubtful of the event, ran
into the house and brought out the iron pot-crook, with which he saluted
the head of the unfortunate Ian so severely, that he not only
relinquished his combat, but departed this life on the ensuing morning.

Next: Elphin Irving

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