Og(h)am of the Month

Og(h)am of the Month: September

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 In Latin, this has been replaced by the productive o-stem ending ; in CLVTORI the entire second part *-rīgī has been reduced to just -rī.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.