In September, we released our Heritage Collection, dedicated to bringing you closer to your Scottish family heritage in a unique and stylish way. The range includes clan tartan kilts, as well as kilt accessories featuring your clan crest, giving you the opportunity to honour and celebrate your family heritage.
To celebrate the launch of our Heritage Collection, we’ve created our podcast series. The MacGregor and MacDuff mini-podcast series is made up of three episodes that tell the lesser-known stories behind some of Scotland’s most famous clans. These include ghost stories, fairy tales and, of course, bloody clan feuds.
In today’s episode, you can learn about Scotland’s Nostradamus, the MacLeod clan’s “Fairie Flag” and the strange case of Christian Shaw.
Hear our last podcast here.
The Legend of Scotland’s Nostradamus
Did you know that here in Scotland, we had our own Nostradamous with similarly accurate predictions? Our version was the Brahan Seer. He lived around the same time as Nostradamus, but, rather than being close to royalty, the Seer worked as a labourer on the Brahan Estate.
He was a strange and mysterious man who always carried with him a black and blue stone that had a small hole. It was through this hole that he peered to make his predictions. He predicted many significant moments in Scottish history including The Battle of Culloden, about which he said;
Thy bleak wilderness will be stained by the best blood of the Highlands. Glad I am that I will not live to see that day where heads will be lopped off in the heather and no lives spared.
And, the Caledonian Canal;
Great black brideless horses belching lines of fire and steam, drawing lines of carriages through the glens”
He was later credited with predicting the second World War and the North Sea oil boom.
He knew that one day Scotland would once again have its’ own parliament and said that the day would arrive once men could walk dry-shod from England to France.
The Channel Tunnel allows this and this year, it’s been 18 years since the re-introduction of Scottish Parliament.
His most controversial and indeed, fatal prediction was given to Isabella, wife of the Earl of Seaforth and the woman who was said to be “the ugliest woman in Scotland”.
She was suspicious of her husband when he returned late from a trip to Paris. She suspected him of an affair and went to the Brahan Seer looking for reassurance or, at the very least, answers.
The Seer was reluctant to give her answers. He reassured her that yes, her husband was healthy but uncharacteristically refused to elaborate.
That was, until she threatened to have him killed.
He gave in.
He said to her;
“Your husband is this moment with another that is fairer than yourself. The line of Seaforth will come to an end in sorrow. I see the last head of his house both deaf and dumb. He will be the father of four fair sons, all of whom he’ll follow to the tomb, He will live careworn and die mourning, knowing that the honours of his line are to be extinguished forever, that no future chief of the MacKenzies shall bear rule at Brahan or in Kintail”
His prediction was sadly accurate. Francis Humbertson MacKenzie, deaf and dumb from Scarlet Fever inherited the title in 1783. His four children all died prematurely and the line came to an end.
Although she had known deep down what the answer would be, his prediction upset Isabella so much that she ordered her guards to seize him. She said he’d insulted her husband and herself. He was a liar.
The guards dragged him through the courtyard and threw him head-first into a barrel of boiling tar.
To this day, there is a Celtic stone that stands in Ross-shire, a reminder of the Seers enduring power on people today. He had forewarned that if his stone fell three times, Loch Ussie will surely overflow its banks.
It has fallen twice.
Fearing a third collapse, the stone has since been cemented in place. His legend lives on to this day and his story is still told through generations of families.
The Strange Case of Christian Shaw
in 1697, witchcraft was illegal in Scotland and this, of course, meant that witchhunts were rife throughout the country. The most famous of these was Christian Shaw – a 10 year old girl and daughter of The Laird of Bargarran, near Erskine.
Her oversensitive nature made the people around her suspicious and untrusting of her but it was only when she became gravely ill that concerns were raised. It’s said that Christian vomited up straws, pins, eggshells, orange pills, hair, excrement and bones. Deeply concerned and even, maybe, a little afraid, Christian’s parents took her to see Doctor Brisbane – a famous and respected local doctor in Renfrewshire.
As she arrived, and her condition was being explained, she spat out a red-hot coal cinder and her body was covered in pinchmarks. Christian explained that she’d been experiencing blackouts, strange, theological outbursts and complex body contortions as well as the vomiting episodes.
Now, to you and I, these are all symptoms of an extremely ill girl. But to the girl, her relatives, and now, her doctor, there was only one answer: she’d been posessed by a coven of witches. One being her own servant. All in, Christian accused seven people of witchcraft and more notably, of cursing her.
All of them were found guilty. One committed suicide. The rest – 3 men and 3 women were publicly killed. They were strangled and burnt to the cheers of the townfolk. They were then buried at what’s now known as Maxwellton Cross and a hoseshoe placed on their burial site.
And as for Christian Shaw? She miraculously survived her “possession” and went on to become a force to be reckoned with in Paisley’s industrial history. Most notably, she was the driving force behind the Bargarran Thread Company and, also went on to outlive several husbands.
The Fairie Flag
Is it a rag? Is it a mop?
No, it’s actually a fairy flag or the most precious posession of Clan MacLeod.
Although on first sight, it looks like an ugly cloth, upon closer inspection you can see a delicate silk thread and the remains of an intricate pattern. Within Dunvegan Castle, it looks foreign but it is, quite literally, out of this world according to legend.
Dunvegan Castle has been home to the MacLeod Clan since about the 12th Century.
Nobody has ever been able to specifically state exactly when it arrived but the legend beind it is one that the MacLeod Clan carry with them to this day.
It all started with a Chieftain of the MacLeods. He met a beautiful, kind woman and, well, you know how the story goes. They fell in love.
It may be a little different to the stories you know, actually, because the woman he fell in love with was actually a fairy princess.
The fairy princess was madly in love with the Chief and wasn’t going to let a little thing like height difference, different in interest… difference in species.. get between them. She begged her father to allow them to marry and he did agree but on one condition – she was to return to the Fairy Kingdom after a year and a day.
The couple were in wedded bliss. Deeply in love and blissfully happy. Time flies when you’re madly in love and before the couple knew it, their year (and a day!) was over.
Just before returning to the Fairy Kingdom under the hills, the princess made her tearful husband promise that he’d never let their young son cry.
The chief was inconsolable. How do you move on from the love of your life after only one short year (and a day!) together?
His loved ones put on a feast for him in an attempt to help him move on. It was a success. So much so that the nursemaid quickly crept away to join the festivities – just for a quick break.
Waking alone and afraid, the baby wailed. It’s thought that for 10 minutes he cried alone in his room. Upon her return, the nursemaid was stunned to see a woman, his mother, comforting the child who was wrapped in a shawl.
Within the blink of an eye
She was gone.
Years passed and once the boy was able to talk, he recalled the night that his mother visited him. He told his father that the shawl could be used by the MacLeods three times when they were in danger and help would come but on the fourth time, it’d disappear.
The Chief immediately ordered that the blanket could be kept in a casket and the story of the Fairy Flag was retold through generations MacLeod Clan.
Fast-forward hundreds of years and the infamous MacDonald Clan were harassing the island. Early one Sunday morning, the MacDonalds locked the doors of the MacLeod church and set fire to the building, killing the worshippers.
The Fairy Flag still well-known within the Clan, a small group of the MacLeods gathered on the on the beach with the flag and slowly unfurled it. Suddenly, the small group was 10 times the size. The MacDonalds were slaughted flag returned to safety.
It was only used one more time after this.
A plague was ravaging through the MacLeod’s cattle. Facing starvation, the MacLeods waved the flag once more and the Fairy Host rode down and brought the cattle back to full health.
Though it has never been waved again, it’s said that during the second world war, it was suggested that itbe waved at the White Cliffs of Dover should the Germans invade andthe knowledge of this “secret weapon” greatly comforted the War Cabinet.