Coinnach Oer

: 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
br /> 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.