About Ogham

Ogham is highly unusual among world writing systems (for overviews see: Stifter Ogam. Language | Writing | Epigraphy [= AELAW Booklet], Zaragoza 2022, and McManus A Guide to Ogam, Maynooth 1991). It entirely lacks iconicity: like a barcode, it consists solely of a succession of straight lines. It is read vertically and is usually written in three dimensions across the edge of a solid object (using letters which consist of bundles of one to five short parallel lines, their value depending on their position relative to a baseline). The script’s heyday was the middle of the 1st Millenium CE, but knowledge of it never died out. Texts written in this ingenious script are significant to historical linguists as the earliest evidence for the Gaelic languages. The short title of the project, OG(H)AM, reflects that the script is known both as ogam (the Old Irish form, pronounced [ˈoɣəm]) and ogham (the Modern Irish form, pronounced [ˈoːm]), with the former being more common among linguists, the latter, among archaeologists (N.B. Both forms are also widely (mis)pronounced as [ˈogəm]).

For a more comprehensive understanding of how ogam use changed through time, see the chapter written by Stifter, White and Forsyth in the Open Access book edited by Alex Mullen and George Woudhuysen, ‘Languages and Communities in the Late-Roman and Post-Imperial Western Provinces‘.

For an up-to-date overview of ogham stones in Ireland see the beautifully illustrated guide by the project’s Dr Nora White, with high-quality colour images from Ken Williams, the National Monuments Service, the National Museum of Ireland, and the Discovery Programme.

The front of the new 'Ogham Stones' guide by Dr Nora White, with a cow staring at the photographer over an ogham stone.

PDF available for free, HERE (3.98MB).

For a personal selection of highlights and curios from the breadth of the Ogam tradition, see the 2021 Twitter ‘Advent Calendar’ by the project’s Prof David Stifter (@ChronHib).

Screenshot from Prof David Stifter's twitter account, showing an ogham stone in the foreground, with the landscape and sky behind it

The Ogham in 3D website is a digital corpus of nearly 200 ogham stones from the Republic of Ireland (primarily those in State care). The OG(H)AM project aims to update and complete this resource, extending it to include all examples of ogham before c.1850 in Ireland, Britain and elsewhere.

Showing a snapshot of the Knockboy I, Co. Waterford ogham stone in the Ogham in 3D website.