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Ogham Stones

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

Ogham stones (cloch oghaim) are a unique writing system dated to 4th to 7th Century AD. It is the oldest form of Gaelic (Goidelic) and the first recorded written. There are over 400 Ogham stones that have withstood the test of time. Most are found in and around south west Ireland in County Kerry (Corca Dhuibhne) Cork and Waterford while others have been found in Britain, the Isle of Man, Scotland and Wales. The Welsh inscriptions are written in Irish and Latin (post-Roman colonization) making them a rare three-dimensional bilingual text.


Ogham stone Tralee

Placed in archealogical context, the stones had a variety of usages. Some have been discovered as lone-standing stones possibly used for burials and as property/township dividers. It is suggested that the stones marked kinship and land entitlement in disputes. A large assortment of the stones has been discovered at church sites. Other stones were used in mounds, forts (ring and promontory), enclosures and now, museums. In County Cork some stones were moved and used as building material for later structures. Unlike other inscriptions, the Ogham stones are written vertically on the edge of the stone and read from bottom to top. Longer scripts also read across the top and back down the other side.

This drawing depicts a Waterford Ogham stone

memorializing The Sons of Lugudeca, Son of Cunea

(Na Maqi Lugudeca Muc Cunea) (Ogham Alphabet).

Ogham stones (cloch oghaim) are a unique writing system dated 4th to 7th Century AD. It is the oldest form of Gaelic (Goidelic) and the first recorded written. There are over 400 Ogham stones that have withstood the test of time. Most are found in and around south west Ireland in County Kerry (Corca Dhuibhne) Cork and Waterford while others have been found in Britain, the Isle of Man, Scotland and Wales. The Welsh inscriptions are written in Irish and Latin (post-Roman colonization) making them a rare three-dimensional bilingual text.

Ogham alphabet

The script on the stones mainly consisted of names that included the father or grandfather’s name as this was used in place of our modern day last name system. John T. Koch, a linguist specializing in Celtic has presented that the language experienced a rapid change in consonants and the loss of stressed syllables during the time period transitioning to Latin language and Christianity conversions. The Druids, as the Priests and most learned sect, experienced a rapid decline after Christianity which resulted in the loss of the old language in favour of the new Irish.


Sources:

Ratass Church Ogham stone image credit: kieradoc

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