Og(h)am of the Month

Happy April Fool’s Day from the OG(H)AM team! 

Don’t be fooled by appearances. Contrary to the picture below, April’s ogham of the month, Greenhill II (CIIC 58 = I-COR-004), was not found conveniently leaning against a modern field boundary. In fact, the ogham stone fragment was first “found lying flat and buried in the ground close to its present location” by the landowner in 1906 (Manning 2000, 109; Buckley 1907, 116). Greenhill II is situated on the other side of a field fence approximately 40 metres south of last month’s ogham of the month, Greenhill I (see Og(h)am of the Month: March 2024). A limited excavation of the area surrounding Greenhill II was conducted in 1985 to facilitate the installation of a semi-circular cattle grid and indicated that “the socket for the stone appeared to be modern with the stone partly supported by the field bank” (Manning 2000, 109).  Moreover, although the excavation did not recover any findings from the site, it did provide sufficient evidence that “the curving east and south boundaries of the field here are possibly of an ancient elongated oval enclosure” (Manning 2000, 112). 

Figure 1: I-COR-004 = CIIC 58, Greenhill II, Co. Cork. 

The fragment consists of the lower portion of the ogham stone and preserves the beginning of an incomplete inscription on one angle. The scores for the first word of the inscription can still be clearly read as CATTUBUTTAS. This personal name is of particular interest because it contains one of the most common elements found in ogham inscriptions CATU- (OI cath ‘battle’). The name later appears as Cathbad in Old Irish. In 1945, Macalister recorded the letters for the last word of the fragmentary inscription as MAQ, noting that the rest of the letters after Q had “broken away” (62). The OG(H)AM team’s re-examination of the inscription reads the final fragmented word reads as: Ṃ[AQI]. According to McManus, this fragmentary example is one of the earliest inscriptions in the corpus to exhibit no sign of vowel affection and this important linguistic evidence dates the inscription to the first half, or the early second half, of the fifth century (McManus 1991, 97). 

Transliteration 

CATTUBUTTAS Ṃ[AQI]  

Translation 

‘of Cathub [son of]’ 

References 

Buckley, J. (1907): ‘On an Ogham stone recently discovered at Greenhill, Co. Cork’, JCHAS 13, pp 116-8.  

Macalister, R.A.S. (1945): Corpus inscriptionum insularum Celticarum, p. 62.  

Manning, C. (2000): ‘Limited excavation at the Ogham stones at Greenhill’, JCHAS 105, pp 107–112. 

McManus, D. (1991): A guide to Ogam. Maynooth Monographs 4, pp 49, 107, 109, 111, 179. 

Happy St Patrick’s Day from the OG(H)AM team!

In celebration of the Feast of St Patrick, the ogham of the month is an ogham stone from the suitably festively named townland of Greenhill, Co. Cork. Measuring 2.60 m in height, 0.72m in length, and 0.35m in width, Greenhill I (I-COR-003 = CIIC 57) is a large stone that narrows almost to a point at the top. The monument, which tilts towards the east, is encircled by a cattle grid in a field with an expansive view to the south (Power 1992, 168). Prior to the installation of the cattle grids, the area surrounding the stone was excavated in 1985. The excavation yielded no finds but determined that there was “no reason to believe that it was ever moved or re-erected” (Manning 2000, 107).

Figure 1: I-COR-003. Greenhill I, Co. Cork

The stone is inscribed on the southeast angle and the ogham inscription may be read upwards, commencing from 0.46m above ground level. Several factors hinder a clear reading of the inscription, including wear and damage to the ogham scores caused by cattle rubbing and, most noticeably, the fact that the stone is covered in dense lichen. Additionally, Macalister remarked that the inscription had been deliberately defaced by vandals “who have cut extra scores upon it, and tampered with those already in existence”, rendering an accurate interpretation of the inscription even more difficult (1945, 62).

Figure 2: Close up of I-COR-003. Greenhill I, Co. Cork

The OG(H)AM team’s inspection of the 3D data revealed further signs of loss and wear in the inscription. The ogham scores for letters M and A of MAQI are now entirely effaced, while some letters are no longer clear such as the letter I of MAQI, as well as the letters R and U of TRENU. In fact, the scores for the final letter in TRENU are so worn that it is no longer possible to identify the letter with certainty. Only two notches can be discerned from the 3D data, which would indicate that the word’s last letter is an O. However, there is sufficient space in this section of the stone to accommodate a third notch which would confirm Macalister’s reading of the final vowel as a U. The analysis and identification of the names is ambiguous, as is the dating of the inscription. The retained Q of QRITTI could point to the early sixth century but, depending on its analysis, TRENU could point to a younger age.

Transliteration

TṚENỤ [MA]QỊ MUCOI QRITTI

Translation

‘of Trén/Trian son of the descendant of Crithe/Creth? (cf. Crothrige?)’

For more information about the second Greenhill ogham stone (CIIC 58 = I-COR-004), check out next month’s Ogham of the Month.

References

Macalister, R.A.S. (1945): Corpus inscriptionum insularum Celticarum, p. 62.

Manning, C. (2000): ‘Limited excavation at the Ogham stones at Greenhill’, JCHAS 105, pp 107–112.

McManus, D. (1991): A guide to Ogam. Maynooth Monographs 4, pp 49, 107, 109, 111, 179.

Power, D. et al (1992): Archaeological Inventory of County Cork: West Cork. Volume 1. Dublin, p. 168.

Not all ogam is on stone. This month’s ogam is on paper, being one of the very few ogam documents that can be dated to the precise day (27 September 1811). While the manuscript C 45 (3 B 14), an early-19ᵗʰ-century collection of poetry and Fenian literature kept in the Russell Library at Maynooth University, is otherwise written in ordinary Gaelic script, on page 66 the scribe, Séamus Ó Glosáin, attempted to pen a few lines in ogam. The ogam key given at the bottom of the page is said to be derived from ‘Aodh Mhic Cuirtinn’ – possibly a reference to the poet and antiquary Aodh Buí Mac Cruitín (c. 1680–1755), a native of Co. Clare who travelled to the Irish Franciscan College at Louvain and wrote an Irish grammar that appeared in 1728. 

This specimen of manuscript ogam adds a special twist to the multifaceted challenges of reading and interpreting the script. Damage to the outer edges of the page has obscured some letter-forms but, to make matters worse, Ó Glosáin had no great mastery of the script to start with. When he copied the key from his source, he must have misread minuscule ⟨ꞅ⟩ S as ⟨ꞃ⟩ R for ᚄ in letter group (aicme) 1. To make up for the lack of an important letter, he then repurposed the rarely used ᚈ Gʷ (vulgo NG) in aicme 2 for S. Ó Glosáin dropped all other letters that he had no use for from his own idiosyncratic, and very deficient, ogam key, which he wrote out at the bottom of the page:

O Glosain's key is transcribed here for legibility.

In addition, Ó Glosáin made several less systematic mistakes: sometimes he confused the aicmi, and he was prone to draw too few strokes for the intended letters (indicated by understrokes in the transliteration). In particular, ᚁ B is often written for L (normally ᚂ). The vowels (aicme 4) are drawn at a slant rather than perpendicular to the stemline (as is usual in manuscript ogam), making them easily confusable with letters in aicme 3, which are inclined to the left, contrary to their usual orientation. Lenition is regularly indicated by dots over the ogam letters, but for P, which he did not find in his model alphabet, the scribe substituted the Latin letter. All words are separated by commas. 

Despite all those errors and shortcomings, it is possible to work out that the scribe has attempted to reproduce in ogam the colophon in plain script at the top of the page, namely information about where and when he wrote this short note. 

Transliteration: 

AIR, NA, SGRIOḂ, BE [recte: LE], SEAMUS, O, GLOSAI[N] 

A, MBAIBE [recte: MBAILE] ṪIBEARD, ? AR, DREAS, SEᴬĊTṀAḊ, BA [recte: LA], 

FIṪĊEOD, DO, SEpTEMBER, SAN, MBLIAḊAI[N] 

DAOES [recte: DAOIS], AN, TIĠEARNA, MEBE [recte: MILE], OĊT, OCEAD [recte: GCEAD], 

[A]GUS, AONBLIAȮAIN [recte: AONBLIAḊAIN], DEAG. 

This can be normalised as: 

Arna scríobh le Séamus Ó Glosáin i mBaile Hibeard ar seachtmhadh lá fichead do September san mbliadhain d’aois an Tighearna míle ocht gcéad agus aonbhliadhain déag. 

‘Having been written by Séamus Ó Glosáin in Baile Hibeard (Herbertstown, Co. Limerick) on the twenty-seventh day of September in the year of the Lord eighteen hundred and eleven.’ 

Photo Deborah Hayden, courtesy of the Russell Library 

Happy New Year from the OG(H)AM team!

The smallest ogham-inscribed object recorded (D: 2.1cm) is an amber bead from Ennis, Co. Clare (I-CLA-003 = CIIC 53), now in the British Museum collection (See this month’s Blog Post: Ogham in the British Museum).

The inscribed bead was first mentioned and illustrated, although no interpretation was attempted, in a publication in 1856 when it was noted that it had been for many generations in the possession of a family of the O’Connors of Co. Clare (Macalister and Westropp both specifically mention the town of Ennis) and that it was used as an amulet for the cure of sore eyes, and also believed to ‘ensure safety to pregnant women in their hour of trial’. The last hereditary owner of the bead presented it to his superior (named Finerty) in the employment of the Board of Public Works. It was purchased from him by a jeweller, Mr. James H. Greaves of Cork and then passed ultimately to the British Museum by way of the Londesborough Collection in 1888.

The bead is oval-shaped with a perforation, suggesting that it was hung on a string and perhaps worn around the neck. It is not known when this amber bead was made or at what stage the inscription was added. Amber found in Ireland is mainly from the Baltic region and amber beads become frequent finds from the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age into the early medieval period.

Photographs taken by the OG(H)AM team of the Ennis bead at the British Museum, 1888,0719.119 in December 2023. The centre image is taken with the bead set on its flat side.

The inscription has some clear ogham characters along with some unusual features. The first challenge is to work out in what direction to read the inscription. Setting the bead on its flat side, the inscription may be read upwards on the cut stemline with the perforation to the right. Just before and as the stemline commences, there is a < shape to the left, not meeting the stemline and which doesn’t match any known ogham character. Macalister (1945, 57) assumed that this was intended to be the U-forfid (uilleann [UI], unicode ᚗ) although he did admit that there was ‘little justification’ for this. Following this are some relatively clear ogham characters: DMVA (or perhaps DMLO). At this point things become a little strange as we have what appears to be a split in the stemline (possibly to avoid running into the perforation), one branch goes to the right at an angle (roughly 45º) and appears to have the ogham letters VA repeated, although the final A is quite short and looks like an X at the end of the stemline. The other branch, if that’s what this is, goes to the left at a similar angle and length with just an oblique stroke to the right at the end. Macalister (1945, 57) also took this to be the U-forfid and, reading in the opposite direction, read the inscription as ATUCMLU.

The OG(H)AM team’s tentative reading is: ?DMVA?VA

References

Macalister, R.A.S. (1945): Corpus inscriptionum insularum Celticarum, Vol. 1, 57-58.

Proceedings and Papers (1856). The Journal of the Kilkenny and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society, 1(1), 147–169 (149-150). http://www.jstor.org/stable/25502504

Westropp, Thos. J. (1911): A Folklore Survey of County Clare (Continued). Folklore, 22(1), 49–60. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1254956

Happy Holidays from the OG(H)AM team! This year, Prof David Stifter and Dr Deborah Hayden have put together an OG(H)AM advent calendar, on both Twitter and Bluesky, featuring an amazing selection of manuscript og(h)am! A handy list of the Twitter and Bluesky links can be found here.

Poltalloch (S-ARL-002; Canmore ID 39479; National Museum of Scotland X.HPO 470) 

The Poltalloch ogham stone is a fragment broken off a larger original. Its first four letters are clearly cut, with long tapering consonant strokes and the O as short vowel notches, followed by at least two partially damaged letters. There does appear to be evidence for a letter preceding the C, but it looks as though this may have been removed purposefully. The inscription likely reads: CRON[A]N?; Crónán is a Gaelic male personal name meaning ‘reddish-brown’. Unusually for an ogham stone, Poltalloch has travelled abroad, featuring in an exhibition in Vienna in 2003 (Stifter 2003). 

A screenshot of the 3D model of Poltalloch created by OG(H)AM on the National Museum of Scotland’s Sketchfab. 

The stone fragment was first discovered in 1931 in Kilmartin, Argyll, near the site of Bruach An Druimein, formerly known as Kill y Kiaran or Kilchiarain (church of St Ciarán’). The site had been excavated in 1928, which had revealed four cists aligned roughly east-west and containing inhumations. Upon revisiting the site in 1931, J H Craw found the ogham stone close to where these graves had been excavated, leading him to conclude that ‘there can be little doubt that it has been broken at some recent time from a slab of one of the graves (Craw 1932, 448).’ The area immediately north of the cists was excavated between 1960 and 1962, revealing a multi-period site. Though the main phase of roundhouse settlement was radiocarbon-dated to the first millennium BC, there was evidence of activity from the Late Neolithic period through the medieval period. The early medieval evidence consists of relatively high-status metalworking, items of personal adornment, and a motif piece, many of which have parallels to artefacts found at Dunadd, the major royal site of Dál Riata, less than four miles to the south (Abernethy 2008). Given the presence of a substantial curvilinear ditch, early medieval burials, evidence for literacy through the ogham fragment, and association with an earlier kil- placename, one could suggest that this may have been part of an early monastic site, though a secular site could be just as likely. 

References: 

Abernethy, D. (2008) ‘Bruach An Druimein, Poltalloch, Argyll: excavations directed by the late Eric Cregeen, 1960-2′, Scottish Archaeological Internet Report 27. https://doi.org/10.9750/issn.2056-7421.2008.27 

Craw, J. H. (1932) ‘Two long cairns (one horned) and an Ogham inscription, near Poltalloch, Argyll’, Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol. 66, 1931-2. Page(s): 448-50 

Forsyth, K. (1996) The Ogham Inscriptions of Scotland: An Edited Corpus. PhD, Harvard University. 

Stifter, D. (2003) ‘3.5.42. ‘Ziegelgraffito von Grafenstein; 3.5.43. Fluchtäfelchen von Bregenz; 3.5.44. Ogam-Stein von Poltalloch, Schottland’, in: Der Turmbau zu Babel. Ursprung und Viel­falt von Spra­che und Schrift. Band IIIb: Schrift. Ausstellungskatalog des Kunst­histo­ri­schen Muse­ums. Herausgegeben von Wilfried Seipel, Wien: Kunsthistorisches Muse­um, 258–261. 

Og(h)am of the Month: October 2023

The ogam stone S-SHE-001 from Bressay (Shetland) contains one of the most challenging ogam inscriptions (of which there is no lack in Scotland anyway). It reads (underline indicates unusual letter forms):

CRROSCC : NAHHTVVDDADDS : DATTRR : (a)NN

BENISESMEQQDDROANN

Ignoring the rest of the text, which may even contain Norse words, I will only concentrate on one word, MEQQ, which has parallels in two other inscriptions: -]EOMEQE[- (S-BUT-001, Blackwaterfoot; 6th–8th c.) and -]ESMEQQNANNAMMOVVESᵀ (S-SHE-004, St Ninian’s Isle; 7th c.?). MEQQ is reminiscent of the formula word MAQ(I) ‘son of’ (cf. Old Irish maic) on Irish ogam stones, but the vowel doesn’t fit; and it is attested too early to reflect the Middle Irish development meic.

The Cambridge manuscript Corpus Christi College, MS 139 fo. 175v (hand C²) contains the garbled name Run.mepur.beghen. Re-divided into Run mep Urbeghen, this is the archaic Old Welsh spelling of the 6th–7th century North British king Rhun ab Urien (< *Urbigenos) from Rheged. Unless it is just an error, mep instead of the usual Welsh map ‘son’ looks like the expected genitive /meb/ < Old British *mapī ‘of the son’ with regular vowel affection. Mep may have become fossilised in old genealogical notes before the genitive became obsolete as a grammatical category in British. The ogam forms MEQ(Q) from Pictland could represent that same genitive of ‘son’, perhaps even still functionally as a genitive. Since the vowel e would be the result of a specifically British Celtic sound change, it follows that the whole word belongs to a British language and that the letter Q, which occurs in Scotland only in this word, could therefore be a way of spelling the sound /p/ in non-Irish ogams in Britain, as already suspected by Forsyth (1996: xxxvii–xxxviii, 64). See also Rodway’s (2019: 183–184) discussion.

© Courtesy of HES. Illustration from ‘Sculptured Stones of Scotland’

References:

Katherine Forsyth, The Ogham Inscriptions of Scotland: An Edited Corpus. PhD, Harvard University 1996.

Simon Rodway, ‘The Ogham Inscriptions of Scotland and Brittonic Pictish’, Journal of Celtic Linguistics 21 (2019), 173–234.

Og(h)am of the Month: September 2023

Similinus Tovisacus Stone

Clocaenog (Bryn y Beddau), Denbighshire (W-DEN-001; ECMW no 176; CIIC no 399)

This stone originally stood as one of two prehistoric standing stones on a summit (SJ0525 5354) as part of the Bryn y Beddau site. The Bryn y Beddau site is a monumental landscape further populated with up to six barrows and two stone circles. In the late fifth or early sixth century, the stone was reused to display a name in two scripts, Roman and Ogham.

Roman-letter: SIMILINI / TOVISACI

‘Similin(i)us Tovisacos’

Ogham: S[I]B[I]L[I]N[I]  / [TO]VISACI

‘Sibilin(i)us Tovisacos’

A scaled line drawing of the stone with Latin clearly legible in the centre of the stone, and ogham partially visible on the edges.
Figure 1: Line drawing of the Similinus Tovisacus Stone. Edwards 2013, 318.

Both inscriptions are simply a name, Si(m/b)ilin(i)us, followed by the title or patronymic Tovisacos, meaning ‘leader’ representing an early form of later Welsh tywysog and Old Irish toísech, Modern Irish Taoiseach. The significance of this reuse is uncertain but combined with the content of the inscription, it could reflect a method of affirming and communicating identity and authority. It may also be a way of legitimising land claims, or perhaps an attempt to relate to myths and leaders important in the land. Regardless, reusing the prehistoric standing stone for this inscription reflects an Early Medieval recognition of prehistoric monumental landscapes and the desire of Early Medieval leaders to relate to the past through monumental reuse.

Further reading:

Daniel, P. 2022. ‘What are the Dead for?’ Bronze Age Burials in a Multi-period Landscape at Bucklow Hill, Cheshire. Archaeological Journal 179(1): p.1–82.

Edwards, N. 2013. A Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales. North Wales: University of Wales Press.

Edwards, N. 2017. Early Medieval Wales: Material Evidence and Identity. Studia Celtica 51: p.65–87.

Fomin, M. 2018. Multilingual Practices and Linguistic Contacts in Pre-Patrician Ireland and Late Roman Britain. Studia Celto-Slavica 8: p.151–172.

Hutton, R. 2011. Romano-British Reuse of Prehistoric Ritual Sites. Britannia 42: p.1–22.

Og(h)am of the Month: August 2023

I-COR-014 (= CIIC 66) Faunkill and the Woods, Beara, Co. Cork

Also known as the Ballycrovane ogham stone as it overlooks Ballycrovane Harbour to the west, this is the tallest ogham stone at 4.7m. However, Macalister (1945, 71) records it as standing ‘17′ 6″ above ground’ in his time, which converts to approximately 5.3m.

Left: Photo from Macalister’s 1902 Studies in Irish Epigraphy.
Right: Photo taken during Ogham in 3D fieldwork in 2013.

This huge slab (1.02m in width x 0.32m in depth) is probably a prehistoric standing stone onto which an ogham inscription was later added. The inscriptions runs up the left-hand angle of the NW-SE face. Towards the end of the inscription, approximately 3m above the ground, the ogham strokes (particularly the five N and final four S strokes) begin to curve away from the angle to the right, as if the carver was having difficulty reaching any higher.

A line drawing on yellowed paper of the inscription as seen by Macalister in the 1900s.
Macalister’s (1945, 71) drawing (displaying the inscription horizontally) showing the curve to the right towards the end of the inscription.

The inscription reads:

MAQI DECCEDDAS AVI TURANIAS

‘of Mac Deichet, descendant of Tornae’

The person commemorated may be tentatively identified with a ‘Mac-Deched m. Cuirp m. Ai m. Tornai’ in the Uí Thornai genealogies, where what appears to be an original feminine ancestor name (TURANIAS) is later masculinised. The name MAQI-DECCEDDAS is quite frequently found in ogham inscriptions where there is some variation in the spelling of the name (MAQ(Q)I DEC(C)ED(D)A). This is the only example surviving with the final consonant intact and may be dated to the first half, or the early second half, of the fifth century (McManus 1991, 93, 97).

This ogham stone is one of those scheduled for 3d imaging this month (August 2023) in collaboration with Gary Dempsey (Digital Heritage Age) under the 2023 County Cork Heritage Grant Scheme funded by the Heritage Council and Cork County Council.

References:

Macalister, R.A.S. (1945): Corpus inscriptionum insularum Celticarum, Vol. 1.

McManus, Damian (1991): A guide to Ogam. Maynooth Monographs 4.

Og(h)am of the Month: July 2023

An ogam-inscribed stone (W-CMN-005) from Castell Dwyran reads:

VOTECORIGAS

‘Of Votecorix’

and accompanies a Latin inscription reading:

MEMORIA VOTECORIGIS PROTICTORIS

‘The memorial/tomb of Voteporix the Protector’

Line drawing of Votecorix stone, incised cross within circle is above the Latin inscription, the ogham inscription occupies the left edge of the stone. Ogham drawn to the left of the image and transcription provided in the lower part of the image.
Figure 1: Line drawing of Castell Dwyran stone (Edwards 2007)

The stone is notably unique in that it is the only example of the Latin memoria (nom.) in Wales. Its inscriptions have led to the Castell Dwyran stone being traditionally interpreted as the grave of Vortipor, the 6th century tyrant of Dyfed, famously condemned by Gildas in his De Excidio Britanniae. The Old British personal name Voteporix is derived from the Proto-Celtic *u̯oteku̯o-, ‘refuge’ and *rīx, ‘ruler’. Old Irish lacks a reflex of *u̯oteku̯o-, ‘refuge’, indicating that VOTECORIGAS may be the intentional Gaelicisation of VOTEPORIGIS, having exchanged /p/ with the corresponding Irish phonetic /k/.

Modern evaluations of the linguistic evidence establishes that Castell Dwyran’s Votecorix and Gildas’ Vortipor were separate individuals. The name Vortipori, as it appears in Gildas (and in other forms, such as Guortepir in the Dyfed royal genealogy) invariably contains an /r/ in its initial syllable, which is conspicuously absent from both the ogam and Latin inscriptions. The elements *wor, ‘over’, and *wo, ‘under’, are distinct, and have led to scholars such as Sims-Williams (1990, 225-226) to deduce that Gildas’s leopardine king Vortipor and our Votecorix were, “rather two members of the same dynasty.” As such, the Roman title of ‘PROTICTORIS’ may be a hereditary Roman title, or may instead be “… a sign of continuing Romanitas or as a means of providing legitimacy to a post-Roman ruler,” (Edwards 2007, 205).

Further reading:

Alcock, L. 1971. Arthur’s Britain: History and Archaeology, AD 367-634. Harmondsworth: Allen Lane, pp. 122-123.

Edwards, N. 2007. A Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales. South-West Wales, Vol 2. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, pp. 202-206.

Laws, E. 1885. Discovery of the Tombstone of Vortipore, Prince of Demetia, at Llanfallteg, Carmarthenshire. Archaeologia Cambrensis. 7(5), pp. 303-313.

Sims-Williams, P. 1990 Dating the Transition to Neo-Brittonic: Philology and History. In: Bammesberger, A. and Wollman, A. eds. Britain 400-600: Language and History. Heidelberg: Winter, pp. 225–226.

Stifter, D. 2022. Ogam: Language, Writing, Epigraphy. AELAW. 10, pp. 42.

Stifter, D. 2023 [Forthcoming]. More on san in Cisalpine Celtic. In: Salomon, C. and Stifter, D. eds. Cisalpine Celtic Literacy. Proceedings of a Workshop. Maynooth 23-24 June 2022, Hagen: curach bhán.

Og(h)am of the Month: June 2023

The Ogam of the Month for this June comes from National Library of Ireland, manuscript G31, which is a collection of genealogies, poems and notes on grammar written mostly by Cormac Ó Dálaigh in March 1729. This scribe was likely a member of the well-known Ó Dálaigh family of poets and several of the verses in the manuscript are his own compositions. The ogam inscription in Figure 1 below, however (which reads AODHÁN Ó RATHILLE cecinit, or ‘Aodhán Ó Raithille recited it’), ascribes the preceding poem not to Cormac, but rather to the renowned bardic poet Aodhagán Ó Rathaille, who was born in the Sliabh Luachra region of Kerry around 1670. The poem itself is known by its opening words, Gile na gile (‘Brightness of brightness’) and is one of the most famous compositions of the early eighteenth century. It is an example of the poetic genre known as the aisling, which mixed political message with passionate vision. Gile na gile was translated by Seamus Heaney in 1998 as ‘The Glamoured’.

A yellowed manuscript page with two neatly penned stanzas, followed by some scribblings, a signature, and at the very bottom an ogham inscription
Figure 1: National Library of Ireland, MS G31, p. 172
(image courtesy of Irish Script on Screen)

The above example is just one of several ogam inscriptions in NLI MS G31: elsewhere in his collection, Ó Dálaigh wrote a key to the ogam alphabet, signed his own name and even copied entire stanzas of poems in the script, as shown in Figure 2 below. The G31 manuscript is thus another testament to the enduring popularity of ogam among Irish scribes of the early modern and modern periods.

A full manuscript page with four stanzas neatly written in Irish; in the right margins of the page, a key to ogam alphabet written in the right hand margin, and the entire lower section of the page dedicated to copying the preceding paragraphs in ogham.
Figure 2: National Library of Ireland, MS G31, p. 108
(image courtesy of Irish Script on Screen)

Further reading:

Ní Shéaghdha, Nessa, Catalogue of Irish Manuscripts in the National Library of Ireland, Fasciculus II (MSS G15 – G69) (Dublin: DIAS, 1961)

Dinneen, Rev. Patrick S. (ed), Dánta Aodhagáin Uí Rathaille. The Poems of Egan O’Rahilly (London: Irish Texts Society, 1900), pp. 18–21.

Og(h)am of the Month: May 2023

Cill Mhainín (Kilmannin, Co. Mayo; I-MAY-002 = CIIC 4)

3D model of Cill Mhainín by Discovery Programme.

The ogam inscription from Cill Mhainín (Kilmannin, Co. Mayo; I-MAY-002 = CIIC 4; kept at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin) reads

LUGADDON MAQ̣|I LUGU|DEC

‘of *Luguai̯dū son of *Lugudiχs’

The onomastic formula consists of the bare minimum elements, son and father, both of whose names are based on the same etymon, the divine name Lug. Both names survive into the Old Irish period where they are attested as Lugáed and Lugaid.

The first name is also found as LUGUAEDON in the 6th-century Latinate inscription GAL-011 from Inis an Ghaill (Inchagoill Island, Co. Galway; captured for the EMILI project at https://emili.celt.dias.ie/en/inscriptions/GAL-011.html). The Latinate version still preserves the middle u and thus reflects a more archaic state of the language than the ogam. It is a compound of Lug and the rare word *ai̯du- (OIr. áed ‘fire’), meaning probably ‘possessing fire of/like Lug’. The father’s name occurs three more times on Irish ogam stones. Its second element is the root *dik- ‘to show, point out’. The name therefore probably means something like ‘showing or pointing out Lug’, maybe in the sense of ‘acting as an intermediary of the god’.

The original endings of both names are gone, which means that the inscription postdates apocope, the loss of final syllables. The preserved middle u of LUGUDEC (unlike LUGADDON where it has been lost) looks as if the name had not undergone syncope, the loss of middle syllables, yet, but a retention in spelling by analogy with the nominative *LUGUD is easily conceivable. On balance we may date the inscription approximately to the late 6th century.

The name of the Celtic god *Lugus is comparatively popular in Irish onomastics. It also occurs in the ogam inscription I-KER-013 (CIIC 146) from Baile an Éanaigh (Ballineanig, Co. Kerry): LUGUQRIT MA[QI] QRITT[I], again with an etymological connection between son (OIr. Luccraid) and father (OIr. Crithe).

On the reverse side of the Kilmannin stone there are remnants of another inscription: DDISI/ MO … C̣QUṢ/EL, but they are too fragmentary to allow a meaningful interpretation.

Og(h)am of the Month: April 2023

Drumconwell, Co. Armagh – I-ARM-001 (= CIIC 311)

The 3D model of the Drumconwell ogham produced by OG(H)AM in 2022.

To coincide with Easter, this month’s ogham is a cross-carved example, recorded during last Summer’s Northern Ireland fieldwork by OG(H)AM team members.

Carved crosses are found on approximately 10% of ogham stones from Ireland (with most from Co. Kerry), though it is often not possible to determine whether these crosses are earlier, later or contemporaneous with the inscriptions.

Of the six or seven examples of ogham stones from Northern Ireland, only one has a carved cross. Until 1879 the stone stood in a field called ‘the Graveyard Field’ in the townland of Drumconwell, approximately 4km south of Armagh. Once identified (Reeves, 1883), it was removed to the Armagh Diocesan Library (now the Armagh Robinson Library) where it remains today.

Megan Kasten recording the Drumconwell ogham at the Armagh Robinson Library in 2022.

The irregular-shaped stone has an ogham inscription on two angles (reading upwards on both) and a simple linear ringed Latin cross. Unfortunately, the cross, and possibly also the ogham inscription, have been partially damaged by a break at the top of the stone. Nevertheless, there is no compelling reason to doubt that they are contemporary.

The ogham inscription was read by Macalister (1945, 298-299) as DINEGLO MAQI QETAI[S] with the final S all broken away except the proximal ends of the first two strokes. Ziegler (1994, 167) suggests that this could be the name Dínél (see eDIL: dil.ie/16602), followed by MAQI ‘son of’ and possibly the name Céte (Ziegler (1994, 222). An alternative reading and interpretation of the initial name, to fit with the townland name Drumconwell or Droim Conmhaoil ‘Ridge of Conmáel’ (see Logainm.ie), was proposed by Richard Warner (1991, 46) suggesting the possibility that DINEGLO represents a ‘botched attempt at CUNAMAGLI’. However, we would rather expect *CUNAMAILAS for Conmáel since *CUNAMAGLAS would be Conmál.

Macalister, R.A.S. (1945): Corpus inscriptionum insularum Celticarum. Vol. 1.

Warner, Richard B. (1991): ‘The Drumconwell Ogham and its implications’, Emania 8, 43–50.

Ziegler, Sabine (1994): Die Sprache der altirischen Ogam-Inschriften. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht.

Og(h)am of the Month: March 2023

This month’s ogham is one of the few surviving examples of ogham incised onto a household object. The Bac Mhic Connain knife handle (S-INV-001; NMS X.GNB 134) is made of cetacean bone and is fitted with an iron tang. The Bac Mhic Connain site (Vallay, North Uist, Outer Hebrides) was excavated by Erskine Beveridge in 1919; excavations revealed an Iron Age wheelhouse which was reoccupied and reused in later phases for metalworking, and antler and bone working. In fact, 107 bone and antler artefacts were recovered from the site, including long-handled combs, pins, awls, wedges, a die, a cross-shaped stamp, and a comb handle. Intriguingly, an antler handle from the same site exhibits some ogham-like carving. The stratigraphy of the site was not recorded during excavation, so it is difficult to say with certainty which phase our knife handle belongs to in the site’s thousand-year biography, between 200 BC – 800 AD. However, most agree that the ogham-inscribed knife handle most likely belongs to the 5th – 8th centuries AD. Based on visual inspection, Katherine Forsyth (1996) read the inscription as:

M(a/o)QUNTEN( /a)CoT

OG(H)AM’s digital imaging of the object last year at the National Museum of Scotland, however, has revealed new information about some of the damaged letters. Find out more in an upcoming blog post!

The RTI of the Bac Mhic Connain ogham-inscribed knife handle (S-INV-001; NMS X.GNB 134).

Armit, I 1992 The Later Prehistory of the Western Isles of Scotland. Oxford (=BAR Brit Ser 221).

Forsyth, K. 1996. The Ogham Inscriptions of Scotland: An Edited Corpus. Unpublished PhD thesis, Harvard University.

Hallén, Ywonne (1994) ‘The use of bone and antler at Foshigarry and Bac Mhic Connain, two Iron Age sites on North Uist, Western Isles’, PSAS 124, 189-231.

Og(h)am of the Month: February 2023

Since some of the OG(H)AM team will be heading Stateside in early March to share our findings with colleagues in Boston, it seems timely to feature an Ogam of the Month with a US connection. The manuscript now known as ‘Dunnington 1’, bequeathed to the School of Celtic Studies, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies in 2017 by the late Professor Edgar Slotkin of the University of Cincinnati, was one of two Irish manuscripts purchased by Mr Michael Dunnington in Lexington, Kentucky during the early 1980s. The volume, which had come into the possession of the Holy Cross Fathers of Cincinnati, consists of a collection of Irish tales and poems written in the nineteenth century, mainly by a scribe named ‘Uilliam Breathnach’, who records the date 1813 in two places and gives his place of writing as County Waterford. Two other colophons in Dunnington MS 1 mention a ‘Uilliam Ó Eichiaruinn’ (‘Ó hEachthigheirn’ or ‘Hearne’), possibly the owner of the book, whose signature appears at the end of the manuscript alongside several doodles, including some ogam script near the centre of the final page:

Yellowed manuscript page with a short paragraph in Irish, followed by a number of doodles in ink - including a line written in ogam and an attempt at ogam lower on the page.
School of Celtic Studies, Dunnington MS 1, p. 376
(image courtesy of Irish Script on Screen)

Slotkin made only a brief note about this ogam in his catalogue description of Dunnington MS 1, stating that ‘The name William Hearne appears […] on the last page of the manuscript in both English and in ogam’. Upon closer inspection, however, the ogam does not appear to be a transcription of Hearne’s name: rather, the first ten symbols should probably be transcribed as PATTMULLER. These are followed by an eleventh symbol of doubtful value, shaped a little bit like a lozenge:

A close up image of the longest ogam written on the Dunnington 1 manuscript page.

The significance of this little scrap of ogam script is uncertain: could it be the name of someone once associated with or in possession of the manuscript, or is it merely more doodling on the part of the scribe? For now this remains a mystery, but the appearance of ogam in this context offers yet another illustration of the longevity and popularity of the writing system in Irish manuscript culture of the modern period.

Og(h)am of the Month: January 2023

Our first Ogham of the Month for 2023 is one of three certain ogham stones from Co. Wexford (4 more are doubtful/lost). Listed by Macalister as ‘Houseland’, the find site of Brecaun’s church is actually in the neighbouring townland of Portersgate. Located at the edge of a cliff on the East side of the Hook Peninsula, the graveyard is long lost to coastal erosion and unfortunately the church is gradually following the same fate with little now remaining (old and more recent images here).

Three fragments of the stone survive and are now part of the National Museum of Ireland ogham collection. The lower (and largest) fragment of the stone was discovered in 1845 by Mr Hugh Nevin of Waterford ‘beneath the clay cliff under the ruins [of the church] in the course of some geological researches on the promontory of Hook’. The second fragment (most of the top) was discovered almost 100 years later ‘near the church’ by Rev. Thos. Cloney, P.P., Templetown, Fethard. A third, small fragment was recovered in the 1987 excavation of the site.

Above left: screenshot of 3d model by Discovery Programme (available here).
Above right: Drawing by Macalister (1945) including his suggested reconstruction of the missing section on the top left.

The inscription is on the rounded sides of the stone (reading from bottom left, up-top-down). The strokes are very carefully spaced, aiding legibility, and clear apart from partial damage to a couple of letters (RC) in the final word. Macalister read the inscription as SEDAN[I MAQQI CAT]TABBOTT AVVI DERCMASOC ‘of Sétnae son of Cathub Uí Dercmossaig’, with suggested letters in square brackets from the missing part of the stone based on the space available and what might be reasonably expected. The proposed personal name CATTABBOTT (Old Irish Cathub, genitive Cathboth, later Cathbad)is found in an earlier form on an ogham stone from Greenhill, Co. Cork (CATTUBUTTAS). The third fragment, discovered in 1987, is too small to confirm Macalister’s restoration but, with just four identifiable strokes and the remains of a probable fifth, it could be a Q of the suggested MAQQI. AVVI DERCMASOC ‘descendants of Dercmossach’ appears to be the Uí Dercmossaig kin group. However, according to later genealogical sources, this group were located further North in the Dublin area.

The linguistic evidence (syncope (i.e. loss of internal vowels) in DERCMASOC) suggests an approximate dating of this inscription to the late sixth or early seventh century.

Og(h)am of the Month: December 2022

Happy Holidays from the OG(H)AM team! Prof David Stifter has again compiled a Twitter OG(H)AM advent calendar featuring the fantastic collections of the National Museum of Ireland! You can find a handy list of these tweets here.

Og(h)am of the Month: November 2022

Part of an illuminated manuscript created by Thomas Keyes, featuring this month’s ogham inscription.

This month’s ogham is a very recent one, penned in 2022 by Scottish-based, Irish artist Thomas Keyes who combines a background in the Belfast 90s graffiti-scene with expert knowledge of the working methods of medieval Insular scribes. In collaboration with academic, Dr Michael Newton, as part of a Glaschu Beo Gaelic arts residency, Keyes illuminated tales of the Tuatha Dé Danann (the ‘old gods’ of Irish medieval tradition) in the style of the Book of Kells, yet ‘with a graffiti twist’: on parchment with graffiti markers and a lichen-based spray paint.

Here is a detail of a page depicting four members of the Tuatha Dé Danann outside their home at Newgrange: the Dagda, Nuadu, Brighid, and, at the bottom, Ogma, who, according to the 9th century tract on ogham An Lebor Ogaim ‘the Book of Ogham’, was the inventor of the script. Keyes depicts him penning an ogham message: CHRUTHAICH MI OGHAM ‘I created ogham’.

A modern manuscript page, with graffiti style interlace in silver and yellow-green, surrounding four figures, one of whom is writing an ogham inscription along the bottom.
A full illuminated manuscript page created by Thomas Keyes featuring the ogham of the month.

The lettering is in the authentic style of manuscript ogham, laid out horizontally, with a ‘feather-mark’ directional indicator at the start, and a wedge-shaped serif at the beginning of each down stroke.

Thomas Keyes’ latest project ‘Making Kells’ aims to recreate an illuminated page from the Book of Kells ‘exactly as the original artist did it, with everything made from scratch … from parchment to pigments to quill pens’. You can support this project via his Kickstarter:

https://scribalstyles.net/making-kells-kickstarter/

Og(h)am of the Month: October 2022

Bemaken (Bymacan) Friary 2 (M-IOM-004)

This month’s ogham comes from the Isle of Man and is one of five Manx examples discussed in a recent article on the subject by Prof. George Broderick (‘The Manx Ogam Inscriptions: a reappraisal’, Études celtiques 47 (2021), 83-124, at 102-104).

Katherine Forsyth's eldest daughter poses next to the ogham stone to demonstrate how small the stone is, not even half a metre high.
The Bemaken Friary 2 ogham stone pictured with PI Katherine Forsyth’s daughter for scale.

The stone is an unusually small granite boulder (0.47×0.2×0.39m). It was found in 1893 in the parish of Kirk Arbory, in the southern part of the island, and is said to have been built into a boundary wall between Friary farm and the farm of Ballaclague (NGR SC 2490 7040). It is now on display in the Manx Museum (MM4).

The stone’s arching upper angle is inscribed with a single name: MAQLEOG (Mac-Liäc). The lack of word-endings indicates this inscription is not older than the mid-sixth century (i.e. it post-dates the sound-change apocope which happened around this time), and is perhaps more likely to date to the seventh century. Lía (genitive: liäc, later líac) means ‘stone’, especially an upright stone or pillar. It is the word most commonly used for an ogham-inscribed pillar. The spelling G is typical in ogham for word internal /g/, where the OIr (i.e. manuscript) spelling would be c, just as word-internal /b/ and /d/ are written B D in ogham, but p t in OIr.

A sketch of the stone provided by Kermode 1910-11, Figure 4.

The same name Mac-Líac is found again, with the vowel sound spelled slightly differently, on another ogham stone, from Ballyeightragh, Co. Kerry (I-KER-037; CIIC 169): MAQI-LIAG MAQI-ERCA. The latter features not one but two names with this same structure: ‘son’ + an inanimate noun (Mac-Liäc (‘son-of-stone’) (son) of Mac-Erc (‘son-of-the-female-speckled-one)’. Names with this structure are reasonably common (e.g. Mac-dara ‘son-of-oak’, or Mac-bethad ‘son-of-life’), and the feminine equivalent was Dar– (‘daughter, i.e. devotee, of’). While not a common name, Mac-Liäc does crop up now and again in the historical sources. There’s even a saint called Mac-Líac (from Drumglass, Co. Tyrone). The most famous bearer of the name was Mac-Líac (a.k.a. Muirchertach, son of Cú Chertaig), [DS1] chief poet of Ireland, whose death is recorded in the Irish annals in 1015.

The name’s use on Man gave rise to the Manx surname MacCluag, or Clague. A branch of this family occupied (and gave their name to) the farm Ballaclague (equivalent to Irish Baile (mhi)c-Líag) where this stone was found. Their presence there is recorded since at least the sixteenth century. Remarkably, this stone appears to commemorate their eponymous ancestor a millennium (!) earlier.


There’s a 3-D model of the stone on Sketchfab courtesy of Manx National Heritage.

 [DS1]His name is given as Muirchertach mac Con Certaig Mac-Líac in early spelling, so if you translate his name it should be Muirchertach, son of Cú Chertaig.

Og(h)am of the Month: September 2022

35 of the c. 40 ogam inscriptions in Wales, Cornwall and Devon are bilingual, i.e., they contain text in Latin and Irish, usually – but not always – with identical content. The Latin text often displays unclassical features, e.g. ‘wrong’ case endings. The stone from Nevern, Pembrokeshire (W-PEM-014) is built into a church windowsill. The two versions read:

Irish: MAGLICUNAS MAQI CLUTA[RIGAS]

Latin: MAGLOCVN(I) FILI CLVTORI

Drawing from Nash-Williams 1950.

The archaic retention of all endings, the lack of vowel affection (-CUNAS and CLUTA-, not younger *-CON and *CLOT-), and the lack of syncope of the middle vowels mean that it probably belongs to the oldest layer of Irish inscriptions in Britain. There are subtle differences between the two languages. In Irish, the name of the commemorated person shows the consonant-stem genitive ending -as, as is expected for the Proto-Celtic *, gen. *kunos ‘dog, hound’. In Latin, this has been replaced by the productive o-stem ending ; in CLVTORI the entire second part *-rīgī has been reduced to just -rī.

The choice of names is revealing: MAGLICUNAS is an archaic form of Welsh Maelgwn or Meilgi; the corresponding Irish name would be *Málchú, but this is nowhere attested. CLUTARIGAS likewise only has onomastic parallels in British (e.g., W Clodri, Bret. Corn. Cleder); Old Irish only has the generic expression clothrí ‘famous king’. Therefore, while the inscription is in an Irish script, uses Irish endings and the Irish word MAQI, the names are gaelicised British Celtic. This inscription, and others of a similar nature, afford a glimpse into the complex multiethnic and multilingual situation in early medieval Wales.

Og(h)am of the Month: July 2022

Topped Mountain, Co. Fermanagh (I-FER-001 = CIIC 315)

This month’s og(h)am relates to the team’s recent fieldwork in Northern Ireland (which we hope to describe in more detail in a future blog).  It was discovered in 1875 by William Wakeman at the base of a massive chambered cairn on the summit of Topped (or Toppit) Mountain in Co. Fermanagh. It is now on display in the Ulster Museum in Belfast.

A black and white screenshot of the 3D model edited to emphasise the carved ogham letters
Image of the 3D model of the Topped Mountain Ogham stone

What we have today is only a fragment of a larger sandstone pillar (surviving piece approx. 43cm x 20cm x 9.5cm). The inscription is clearly cut and evenly spaced along one angle. The surviving portion reads: NETTACU[…]. This is the start of a male name made up of two elements commonly found in ogham inscriptions: NETTA ‘champion, warrior’ and CUNAS ‘dog, hound’(corresponding to later Old Irish Nad-Chon,genitive of Nad-Chú). Other examples of this name occur in inscriptions from Co. Tipperary (I-TIP-002 = CIIC 261. NETACUNAS) and, with the elements in reverse order, in Co. Waterford (I-WAT-043 = CIIC 300. CUN[A]NETAS).

Although Topped Mountain is only 277m high, the 360 degree view from the summit is spectacular, which may account for it being the focal point of a concentration of prehistoric ritual monuments. The siting of the ogham pillar there suggests these ancient associations still resonated in 5th or 6th century AD when it was erected.

See this great video from Enniskillen Museum, talking about the prehistoric importance of the site and with good views.

Og(h)am of the Month: June 2022

In May, Megan and Katherine 3D recorded ogham stones in Aberdeenshire, including this month’s Ogham of the Month: Logie Elphinstone (S-ABD-002; Canmore ID 1855). Logie Elphinstone 2 is a pillar of an unusually pointed shape and measures 1.37m high and 0.46m wide. Like several of the Aberdeenshire ogham stones, it appears to be a reused prehistoric standing stone, formerly part of a stone circle (it was originally discovered with at least two other Pictish symbol stones, a fourth having been destroyed when reused in a kiln).

3D Model of Logie Elphinstone 2 using Meshlab’s Radiance Scaling.

The stone is incised with two layers of Pictish symbols (the partially erased double-disc is visible under the clearer pair of Crescent-and-V-rod and Double-disc-and-Z-rod). Above the symbols are five ogham letters carved on a circular stem-line. The Buckquoy spindle whorl (March 2022’s Ogham of the month) and the amber bead from Ennis (I-CLA-003) also have stemlines which are circular loops, but in those cases the objects are circular: this is a unique example on flat stone. It may be intended to recall the ogham-inscribed wooden hoops, or withies, referred to in Early Irish sagas as being left on pillar stones as a warning to passersby. The letters can be read QFTQU in a circle, or NFTNU if reading in the other direction, but it is not clear in either case where one is meant to start. Perhaps the text is deliberately cryptic, like some of the fictional oghams described in the sagas.

Og(h)am of the Month: May 2022

The project’s postdoctoral researcher Dr Nora White and myself recently examined the ogham stone at Barnaveddoge/Barr na bhFeadóg (I-LOU-001; CIIC 39). One of just two confirmed ogham stones from Co. Louth, this stone can be found close to a road, just inside a field gate. Cylindrical in shape, it surprises by its enormous size: even though it proved almost impossible to measure accurately, it must be over 2.5m tall and 1.2m wide. It is probably made of sandstone.

Erasmus+ intern Clara stands happily next to the Barnaveddoge stone for scale.
Erasmus+ Intern Clara and the Barnaveddoge stone

R.A.S. Macalister, who discovered it, wrote in the County Louth Archaeological Journal from 1915: “this monument would be extremely interesting in itself; but last year it was found to have the additional interest of an Ogham inscription, which, though worn, is quite legible along its whole length”. In his Corpus Inscription Insularum Celticarum he states that the scores are “widely spaced, so that the single name which they express (…) fills the inscribed angle almost completely”. Examining it today the inscription is weathered and covered by lichen, therefore almost indecipherable. However, a handful of scores are clearly recognizable as ogham and we could confirm at least some of the letters read by Macalister. The surviving scores are 6-6.5cm in length and approximately 1cm in width, with roughly 2cm between them. The whole length of the inscription can only be conjectured, as part of the stone might have broken off or been damaged otherwise. Macalister reads the inscription as BRANOGENI “raven-born”. The preserved ending of the genitive -I and the preserved thematic vowel -O- have an archaic appearance. Sabine Ziegler therefore dated the inscription to 400-500 AD, the earliest phase of ogham usage. The name appears to have no parallel in Old Irish.

Og(h)am of the Month: April 2022

One of the rare examples from the Irish Midlands, this ogam stone was discovered in 1902 in the graveyard of Donaghmore (Domhnach Mór) near Maynooth, Co. Kildare, just across the Royal Canal from Carton House Estate, the seat of the Duke of Leinster, and only 2.4 km in direct line from the place where I am writing these lines. It was discovered by the Duke of Leinster himself, Walter Fitzgerald (1858–1923), who was a renowned antiquarian and amateur archaeologist. The circular layout of the graveyard and the Old Irish name element domnach ‘church’ suggest that Donaghmore may be among the oldest, perhaps even Patrician, church foundations in Ireland. The stone, which is now kept in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, had served as the headstone for a local family.

Screen-shot of the Donaghmore ogam stone from the Ogham in 3D site. © Discovery Programme

The inscription (I-KDE-008 = CIIC 26) is executed with thin, long strokes and reads NETTAVṚOỊCC | MAQỊ MỤCCOỊ TṚE[.]A[..]G̣G̣Ọ. It does not run continuously around the stone, but the individual name is written from bottom left up, and the name of the kin group from bottom right up. The individual name corresponds to Nad-Froích ‘warrior of Fróech’, a common name in Old Irish. This name is found with spelling variation on two other ogam stones in Kerry and Waterford. Although damaged and partly illegible, the name of the eponymous ancestor can be confidently restored as TRENALUGGO, Old Irish *Trénlug ‘having the strength of (the god) Lug’. That name has one certain parallel in Cork; two more possible examples, one of which is in Wales, are uncertain.

Og(h)am of the Month: March 2022

To mark Women’s History Month, March’s Ogam of the Month is one owned (and perhaps written) by a woman. It was excavated in 1971 by Dr Anna Ritchie, first female president of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, at Buckquoy, Orkney.  The inscription is lightly incised on a spindle-whorl (the circular weight added to the end of a spindle to keep it spinning round). In the early Middle Ages, spinning was so strongly coded as women’s work that we can be confident that this object would have been owned by a female.

Buckquoy Spindle Whorl,
Image: Orkney Museum

Dr Ritchie said: ‘One of my most vivid memories of my career didn’t take place in the field, but in my kitchen when I was washing the finds from Buckquoy when some Ogham letters appeared on a spindle whorl. It was just so exciting.’ (The Scotsman newspaper, 24 January 2022).

The whorl is fashioned from a chalk pebble and is 36mm in diameter. It is now on display in Orkney Museum, Kirkwall.

Ingeniously, the ogham stem-line is draped round the central perforation. This highly unusual circular layout causes some problems in deciphering the text. Though the letters are clear, it is tricky to know where to start. Proposed readings include:

VENDDACTANIM or T’ANIM VENDDAC  or BENDDACTANIML

This could be Gaelic, meaning ‘dear Findach’ (Rodway) or ‘a blessing on the soul of L’ (Forsyth).

The spindle-whorl inspired Sheila Fleet OBE, one of Scotland’s leading jewellery designers, to create her ogham-influenced skyran line.  Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, owns a Sheila Fleet gold brooch based on the Buckquoy ogham and is often photographed wearing it. She has said: ‘It’s one of my favourites’.

Forsyth, Katherine (1996) ‘The Ogham-inscribed Spindle-whorl from Buckquoy: Evidence for the Irish Language in pre-Viking Orkney?’ Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 125, 677-96.

Rodway, Simon (2017) ‘A note on the ogham inscription from Buckquoy, Orkney’, Journal of Celtic Linguistics 18, 103-116.

Og(h)am of the Month: February 2022

In addition to the six ogham stones reused as building material in the church at Knockboy, Co. Waterford (see blog post here), this seventh ogham stone (Knockboy VII, I-WAT-040, CIIC 298) is free-standing in a corner of the church beside the west gable (more information here and 3d model here).

Screenshot of 3d model by Simon Dowling (left)
Photo & social media post by stonemason Tom Pollard (right)

This relatively small ogham stone (1.02m), first noted by Rev Power (1898), was described by Macalister (1907) as ‘buried almost to its head, marking a modern grave’ in Knockboy graveyard. Inscribed in ogham on all four angles, although some letters may have been lost through damage to the stone, it reads: VEDABAṚ [—][?][—]LS  /  MOCOI ODR[—]REA  ‘of Fíadbarr [son of ?] of the family of the She-Otter’. The name Fíadbarr is made up of the elements fíad ‘wild’ (eDIL s.v. 2 fíad) and barr ‘top, head’(eDIL s.v. 1 barr). MOCOI ODR(?)REA possibly refers to a kin group later known to us as Odraige ‘people of the She-Otter’ (see here for discussion of odor).

Og(h)am of the Month: January 2022

Notes written in ogam are found in Irish manuscript sources from as early as the ninth century, where the use of the script is often associated with teaching on Latin grammar (see the project blog entry here). Our first ogam of the month reflects this close relationship between ogam and Latin learning in Irish manuscript culture. The text known as the Annals of Inisfallen in Oxford, Bodleian Library MS 503 contains the following note in ogam script under the year 1193:

An image of a manuscript page from the Annals of Inisfallen where an ogham inscription has been added below the Latin text.
A Latin proverb in ogam script from the Annals of Inisfallen (Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Rawlinson B503, fol. 40v (image courtesy of Digital Bodleian).

The two lines of ogam render the Latin words NUMUS HONORATUR SINE NUMO NULLUS AMATUR (‘Money is honoured, without money nobody is loved’), and follow an annal entry concerning the building of a castle at Brí Uis (Mount Bruis) in Co. Tipperary ‘by the foreigners with the consent of Ua Briain, as some say, and to injure Desmumu (Desmond) therefrom’ (for the full text of the annals, see the online edition and translation).

Og(h)am of the Month: December 2021

Screenshot from Prof David Stifter's twitter account, showing an ogham stone in the foreground, with the landscape and sky behind it
Happy Holidays from the OG(H)AM team! For a discussion of each og(h)am character, check out Prof David Stifter’s Ogam Advent Calendar here.