The Stone Corridor – ogham stones at University College Cork (Part 2)       

Looking down a corridor with stones erected don either side of the hallway, windows on the left side allow light in.
Ogham stones in Stone Corridor ('Rúin na gCloch / Stories in Stone' exhibition), University College Cork (images by author).

By Dr Nora White, OG(H)AM’s Irish Postdoctoral Researcher

In Part 1 of this blog post, I presented the first twelve ogham stones in the collection: six collected in the early 19th century (originally housed in the Royal Cork Institution) and another six from a single souterrain in the townland of Knockshanawee (Cnoc Seanmhaí, barony of East Muskerry). The remaining sixteen ogham stones are presented here in Part 2.

The largest number of ogham stones found at any site (15 in total) was discovered in another souterrain at Ballyknock North (Baile an Chamhaicigh Thuaidh, barony of Kinnatalloon) in East Cork in the 1870s. Thirteen of these were presented to the college in 1920 by the landowner, the Duke of Devonshire, although only twelve made it to the stone corridor. These stones (I-COR-032, I-COR-034 to I-COR-039, I-COR-041 to I-COR-045 = McManus 7-11, 13-19 / CIIC 83, 85-90, 92-96) are on average small (0.90 to 1.20 meters high) with just one example over 1.80 meters high (I-COR-045 on the far right in the image below). Many of the twelve have finely cut inscriptions in the “Cork style”, but others (such as I-COR-041 the second from the right below) have broader, deeper scores. From the same souterrain we also get a large range chronologically with examples of very early inscriptions as well as some from towards the end of the tradition. For example, I-COR-034 (= McManus 9 / CIIC 85): GRILAGNI MAQI SCILAGNI ‘of Grellán son of Scellán’ is an early inscription (c. 5th century AD) with endings still intact, while I-COR-039 (= McManus 16 / CIIC 90): CRONUN MAC BAIT ‘of Crónán son of Báeth’ is later (late 6th or even 7th century AD) with endings lost. Most of the Ballyknock inscriptions are of the X MAQI Y type, but there is one of the formula type ANM X (later ainm ‘name, inscription’), which appears to be a late development (I-COR-044 = McManus 13 / CIIC 95): ANM MEDDOGENI ‘inscription of Midgen’. The personal name here (attested later as Midgen) is made up of two common elements: the word for ‘mead’ (Old Irish mid, genitive medo) and the patronymic suffix –gen- ‘born of’. There are also two examples with a single name only: I-COR-045 (= McManus 10 / CIIC 96) with C[O]VALUTI (far right below) and I-COR-042 (= McManus 8 / CIIC 93) with ERCAIDANA (far left below), a compound of the common elements erc and aidon-, but the only example of their occurrence together.

Photos of four ogham stones from Ballyknock North are juxtaposed next to each other.

Two more ogham stones were discovered and brought to the college by Canon Power, including the only one not from Co. Cork, which was discovered on the top of a low cairn in the townland of Seemochuda (Suí Mochuda, barony of Coshmore and Coshbride), near Lismore in Co. Waterford (I-WAT-001 = McManus 12 / CIIC 262). The inscription is very weathered and runs up, across the top and down the opposite angle of the stone (ERCAGNI MAQ[I] E[R]CIAS).  This inscription is an example of a common phenomenon in ogham, which is the repetition of an element of the father’s name in the sons, in this case ERC (‘of Ercán son of Erc’ or ‘of Ercán (son) of Mac-Ercae’). ERCIAS is actually a feminine name and possibly the name of a mythical eponymous ancestor. The second stone discovered by Canon Power and brought to the college by him is from Bishop’s Island (Oileán an Easpaig, barony of Barrymore) in East Cork (I-COR-009 = McManus 24 / CIIC 61), found built into the gate-pier of a farm wall. This stone is damaged and the inscription incomplete (–]OLAGNI MAQ[– ‘of Ollán son of …’).

Of the final two ogham stones, one (I-COR-030 = McManus 4 / CIIC 81) is also probably from a souterrain in the townland of Garranes (An Garrán, barony of Kinalmeaky, SW of Cork city). Although known since the 1860s, it seems to have been acquired for the collection by Sir Bertram Windle in or around 1907. This inscription is in bold deep scores and runs up the left-hand arris, across the top and down the right. McManus suggests that the kin group name (MUCOI CALLITI) may correspond to the first element in the kin group Cailtrige. The last stone (I-COR-080 = McManus 25 / CIIC 129) was not included in Canon Power’s account in 1932, but it was present in 1945 when Macalister published his Corpus. It was found while digging peat in a bog in the townland of Carrigagulla (Carraig an Ghiolla, barony of West Muskerry) in mid Cork. This inscription is carved up on both angles (unusually starting with the right) and is quite damaged in places. It reads (up-top on right): DOVETI [MA]Q[I] LOCARENAS (up-top on left) C[EL]I M[A]Q[I]-CUL[I]DOVI. The name DOVETI is attested elsewhere in the ogham corpus and may correspond to later Dubad or Dubthae (Old Irish dub ‘black). LOCARENAS does not appear to be attested later. Macalister (1945, 127) suggests the formula word CELI, which seems reasonable considering the space available, but it is far from certain. CULIDOVI, again with the dub element, probably corresponds to later Cúldub (Old Irish cúl ‘back (of head?)’).

We are very fortunate in having this impressive collection of monuments at UCC, bearing the names of key figures and kin groups in this part of the country from the 5th to 7th centuries, contained in examples of some of the earliest writing surviving in Ireland. It is especially appropriate that they should be housed at a university, making them particularly accessible to students. There are few other monuments as multidisciplinary as ogham in that it they are of interest to archaeologists, linguists, historians, genealogists and more. As noted in Part 1 of this blog post, there was in fact much opposition at the time to the dismantling of souterrains and the removal of ogham stones (particularly Knockshanawee, see McManus 2004, 11-12). The main problem generally with monuments moved from their find sites in the 19th and even in to the 20th century was the lack of detailed recording and scientific analysis prior to their removal, which would be standard archaeological practise today (see earlier blog post In Search of Lost Ogham Biographies). Souterrains are of course already secondary locations for ogham stones and we have no way of knowing where exactly the stones originally stood. However, this re-use of the stones is part of their story, as is their inclusion in the Stone Corridor collection today. How and why so many ogham stones were used in souterrain construction, in particular in Cork, is a fascinating phenomenon in itself. On the other hand, if Macalister and others had not removed these ogham stones and brought them to UCC they would probably now be inaccessible, as are quite a few of the ogham stones remaining in souterrains across the county. Also, in most cases in the UCC collection we at least have reasonable descriptions of the souterrains and the positions the stones were found in.

So, despite reservations on the dismantling of souterrains, thank you to Windele, Brash, Canon Power, Macalister, Windle and others who endeavoured to preserve these ogham stones and thanks to UCC Heritage Services for continuing to care for them and make them accessible to us all!

Further reading:

Macalister, R. A. S. (1945) Corpus inscriptionum insularum Celticarum (volume 1), Dublin. Stationery Office.

McManus, Damian (2004): The Ogam stones at University College Cork. Cork : Cork University Press.

One comment

  1. Hi Nora/Megan,

    I’m a travel writer looking to do a story on ogham stones for the BBC so this latest research project is very interesting. What I’d like is to make this into an experiential travel piece that shows where some of these stones in Ireland/Wales are and incorporate some of what you have learned from recent studies of ogham?? Please get back in touch, Luke

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