Ogham is an ancient script or alphabet which is seen in inscriptions on stone in Ireland dating back 1500 to 2500 years .
No contemporary written account exists of the people who lived in Ireland from 500BC until the coming of Christianity in the 5th century AD.
What we know of them has come down to us either in contemporary writings by Greek and Roman historians elsewhere in Europe or as accounts written down from stories told by the native people to missionaries and monks after the coming of Christianity.
There is one exception and that is the Ogham record.
Photo by pamramsey
What is Ogham?
Ogham (pronounced ‘oh-am’) is a primitive alphabet, sometimes called the Celtic Tree Alphabet, which takes the form of linear strokes cut into stone or etched onto wood. It is found extensively in Ireland but also in Scotland, Wales, England and the Isle of Man.
The characters of the Ogham alphabet each comprise between one and five perpendicular or angled strokes arranged around a central line.
Although it looks nothing like letters or writing as we know them to-day the letters of the alphabet correspond to those of the Roman alphabet and experts can easily ‘translate’ them.
What Ogham survives was mainly used to carve names or short inscriptions onto important stones, usually grave stones or stones that acted as territorial markers.
It is likely however that is was also used extensively on wooden structures, but few of these survive. It was later also written down and can be seen in manuscripts, often as margin notes, written as late as the 16th century.
Inscriptions are read from the bottom left upwards. Longer passages sometime continue, and are read, across the top and down the right side. When written in manuscripts, the writing is read from left to right.
Druids and Ogham
Much has been written about the connection between Ogham and druidic or pagan practice. There is a widely held view that each letter of the alphabet corresponds to a tree or plant, but there is by no means universal agreement that this is so. Others suggest that the symbols were used as a druidic calendar or even as a means of runic divination.
There is little concrete evidence to support this however and it remains a controversial issue among scholars
Where to See Ogham Stones
There are several Ogham stones in the National Museum in Kildare St in Dublin but also many examples around still standing at or close to the location where they were frst placed as long as 2000 or more years ago.
- There is a good example in St Flannan’s Cathedral in Killaloe which is interesting because it uses Nordic Runes as well as Ogham
- A well signposted stone stands near Ballycrovane Bay on the Beara Peninsula
- St Declan’s Church in Ardmore Co Waterford has two stones one of which, dedicated to AMADU (the loved one) has the longest known inscription of any stone
- There is a group of Ogham stones at Dunloe, 8kms west of Killarney on the R562 near Beaufort village.
- Another stone in Kerry stands in the 12th century church at Kilmalkedar near Slea Head on the Dingle Peninsula
- A single standing stone dating from the Bronze age stands near the Rathfranpark wedge tomb near Kilala in Co Mayo
More Information Online
The complete Ogham Alphabet is here – useful for the increasing number of people who like to sport a tattoo of their name or those of their loved ones!
For those with an interest in linguistic history this article is a scholarly look at interpreting Ogham inscriptions.