An Dà shealladh
Gaelic oral tradition is full of stories about an dà shealladh, or second sight – the ability to foretell events or see ghostly apparitions and omens about the future. The Gaels of old were very spiritual and superstitious people; they strongly believed in, and respected the supernatural world. One such commonly held belief was that the seventh daughter born to a seventh daughter would be sure to have second sight. Even to this day many people still believe in an dà shealladh and will be able to speak of incidents that apparently validate their belief.
Solais annasach (Strange Lights)
Sometimes people with an dà shealladh report seeing unexplained lights hovering in the sky over an area. This tends to be interpreted as an omen that a death or some sort of disaster will occur in that place. A famous example of this can be heard in the Runrig song, Cnoc na Fèille, which was written about strange lights seen over Druim Eallasgair Moor in North Uist. Here, Rory MacDonald of Runrig talks about what happened…
When we were children in North Uist in the early 60s, I remember a lot of talk in the village about a light that was being seen out on the bleak Druim Eallasgair Moor. People recognised as having the second sight were able to see it. The others were saying they too had seen something, and eventually groups of men were known to set out with sticks and guns to see if they could establish the source of the mysterious light. Sceptics said it must be marsh gas, others said it was a sign that a fatality was about to happen. In any event, shortly after the new CalMac ferry service from Skye to Uist got underway in 1964, a motorcyclist disembarked from the ferry at Lochmaddy, and took the moor road on his journey to the south of the island. He came off his bike into a ditch opposite the spot where the light had been seen. The motorcyclist died and the light was never seen again.
(From the book Flower of the West with kind permission of Runrig)
Fiosaichean agus manaidhean (Seers and visions)
People with an dà shealladh are sometimes called seers, because of their ability to see things that ordinary people cannot see. Seers most often report experiencing omens of death or disasters and so their ‘gift’ might be considered more of a curse than a blessing.
Oi! Smarty pants! They don’t wear glasses! (‘Speuclairean’ to you and me)
Although no two seers’ experiences will be entirely the same, generally visions come upon them unexpectedly and involuntarily. Therefore, it is probably fair to say that seers would never be completely at ease – not knowing when, where or about whom a vision might strike them.
Sometimes seers might report seeing an apparition of a living person wearing a death shroud, or they may see a vision of a coffin or a funeral procession. Visions like these would only mean one thing – that a person’s death was almost certainly imminent. A vision of this sort is sometimes called a manadh.
One such story tells of Dòmhnall, a man from Skye, who was known to have an dà shealladh. One day, Dòmhnall was working on his croft when his neighbour Ailig stopped for a chat. As they were talking, Dòmhnall saw a funeral procession of Ailig’s family, friends and neighbours pass them on the road nearby. Ailig didn’t see a thing and carried on passing the time of day. The next day news came that Ailig had died unexpectedly during the night. Only Dòmhnall was not shocked by the news.