Back in the Day - Second sight

*** Local Caption *** @Normal:Donald, relaxed in his kitchen
*** Local Caption *** @Normal:Donald, relaxed in his kitchen

Throughout the centuries, second sight (An Da Shealladh) was a common phenomenon in the Highlands and Islands.

More often than not, anybody with this ‘gift’ would have prophetic dreams, or would experience visions that, in the most part, foretold bad news – sightings and death normally went hand in hand.

Donald MacNeil, from Daliburgh, South Uist, remembers a time when, as a young boy, second sight was a common discussion topic amongst the older generation.

“I didn’t really take much of an interest in it when I was lad,” begins Donald, “but it’s as you get older and have more knowledge, that the interest begins.

“Second sight was strong in the Uists back then, as it was through most of the isles, and I still remember stories that I heard as a boy, and in later years I was to have my own second sight experiences.”

What follows are a selection of Donald’s second sight stories, along with other yarns. Whether you believe them or not, we’re sure you’ll agree they make an interesting read.

As told to Ross Macleod in 2006.

Ben Rueval

In the case of Ben Rueval - a hill near Geirinis, people were seeing things here well in advance, sometimes decades, before they happened. Three visions in particular were being seen on a regular basis – a dead man by the roadside; a ‘big lady’ just off the road; and what could only be described as a ‘monstrosity’ on top of the hill.

Back in the day, anyone who experienced a vision, had to explain what they thought it meant, and in the 1940s, an old man gave his thoughts behind the Rueval visions:

• The man by the roadside would be thrown from his horse and killed.

• The ‘big lady’ would be around for years but would cause no harm.

• The monstrosity on top of the hill could not be properly explained, but for sure, it was deemed to be the ‘devils own work.’

As mentioned before, various people had experienced the same visions, and strangely, all three came to pass in 1957.

Tragically, a man (who was a friend of Donald’s) fell off his motorbike and was killed in the exact spot of the vision. In the early 40s there were no motor vehicles in Uist, and this is why the old man presumed it would be a horse he was thrown from.

Months later, the religious statue, ‘Our Lady of the Isles’ was erected half way up Ben Rueval. It is 30 feet tall, which explains why everyone was seeing a ‘big’ lady. As the old man predicted, she is causing no harm.

The ‘monstrosity’ that was sighted turned out to be the rocket range, which is located at the top of Ben Rueval, and if you think about it from a Christian point of view, anything manufactured to harm other human beings would be seen as evil, hence the ‘devil’s own work’.

The Power of the Cairn - Drownings 50 years apart

In 1921, a young man was looking after the fishing boats of his cousin and some other men. The boats, which were small, weren’t built well back then and would often spring leaks, which meant they needed to be bailed out.

One night, the weather was particularly rough, with strong winds and rain lashing the land. The man set off in his dinghy to bail out the boats but on his way out it capsized and he was drowned.

Two old men found the body the next day and as they lifted it, one turned to the other and said: “Another boy is going to drown in this exact spot but he is not yet born.”

A cairn was put on the shore opposite to where the boy was drowned, because in these days it was believed that if a cairn was erected, a guardian angel or spirit would watch over that spot to ensure nothing bad happened there again.

When Donald was a young boy, he was warned to stay away from that loch because of that premonition of death twenty years previous.

Over 50 years after the drowning (in the 1970s), a great storm blew up and the ground where the cairn stood had eroded to such a level that it collapsed and the cairn was swept away.

Only two months later, a young boy was drowned in the loch and it was said to be close to where the man had met the same fate in 1921.

People can call it a coincidence but there is another example.