writing was introduced (probably to Ireland from Wales, though
perhaps it was the other way round, or yet again, simultaneous)
just before Christianity arrived, some long-standing stones were
used for inscriptions which were mostly memorials of named people.
The word 'ogam' is derived from Oigmiú, the smith-god who
became the script-god. Another aspect of the smith-god is Nuadú
of the silver arm (and horned helmet) whose statue (formerly in
Armagh Cathedral) is the logo of this site.
shown holding his prosthesis. His maiming recalls that of Hephaistos,
the smith-god of the Greeks.
essentially notches, was admirably designed for carving by adze
or axe on beams and large chunks of wood as well as by chisel
or even axe on stone. The alphabet was designed in four groups
of five letters, thus:
(V can also be read as F)
Detail of one of several stones at Dunloe,
A typical inscription has the name of the person to be remembered,
plus MAQI MUCOI ('son of the people of'), followed by the name
of an ancestor or divinity.
Drumlohan, county Waterford
click on the
picture to see another Waterford stone
now entirely legible, due to weathering and other damage. The
letters on the above stone have been enhanced by charcoal, which
(unlike chalk) very quickly washes away.
Coláiste Íde, Burnham, county
standing-stones, an ogam-inscribed stone can be quite small. One,
in county Tyrone is only 1.5 metres high,
Lugnagappul, county Kerry
three in the Field of Blood (Parc na Foladh) at Lugnagappul
on the Dingle Peninsula, are less than one metre high. As with
standing-stones and other prehistoric monuments, white quartzite
pebbles are at their base.
the uniquely peaceful Christianisation of Ireland, it was not
long before Christian crosses appeared on ogam stones. The Dingle
Penininsula has dozens of cross-pillars and cross-inscribed ogam
stones, of all shapes and sizes.
Ballinvoher, county Kerry
Ballintaggart, county Kerry
Arraglen, county Kerry - with quartzite
Maumanorig, county Kerry
for a larger picture
Cross-inscribed ogam stones are
usually associated with Celtic monasteries which, before the Westernisation
of the Coptic-inspired Irish church (which was not completed until
long after the Normans were invited over), were run by hereditary
Ratass, county Kerry
Perforated, ogam-inscribed pillarstone,
with crude cross in front of 12th century church, Kilmalkedar,
Cathedral (county Clare) there is a bilingual stone bearing a
dedication to a Norse warlord in Old Norse runes and ogam,
at the great monastery
of Clonmacnois one of the many gravestones or pillow-stones for
deceased monks bears the name Colman in both ogam and modern characters.
out after the arrival of Christianity, and pillar-stones became
more elaborately carved with cruciform and cycliform designs.
These are discussed on the page entitled
Kilfountan, county Kerry
back to first
Photos and text anti-copyright by
Anthony Weir, whose EARLY IRELAND: A FIELD
was published in 1980, quickly sold out,
and was never reprinted.
An expanded version of this page
is included on the
developed from this website.
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