Ogham is an ancient form of Irish writing that usually appears inscribed on stones. This simple form of writing engraved lines at various angels and is carved into corners of standing stones. These standing stones were also used by early Celts as way marks for travelers for sign posts, boundary markers for territory marking by clans as well as other uses.
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Hundreds of standing stones around Ireland bear distinctive carvings of vertical lines crossed by series of slash marks. County Cork is home to the most of these amazing pieces. Some have been found in Wales, Scotland, Cornwall and the Isle of Mann too. This is ogham, an ancient Celtic writing
system. Long before Ireland’s literary heritage was created, before monks penned the beautiful Book of Kells, we had ogham. Ireland’s oldest form of writing dates back to the third or fourth century AD and it thrived until the seventh century.
Some experts believe it did not evolve organically but was created and devised as alternative the Latin script that was in use at the time. We don’t know why, although it could have been out of a desire for a separate, distinct Irish written language or it might have even been an effort to make it so outsiders could not read it. Other researchers believe it actually is rooted in Latin.
What Is Ogham Writing?
The ogham alphabet originally had 20 characters but five more added later along with various marks that are similar to punctuation. Horizontal and angled marks made on one or both sides of a vertical line form the letters. For example, the letter D is two flat slashes on the right of the central line. M is a single slash that crosses the central line at an angle. Ogham is read from the bottom up. Most often, the characters are carved on a corner of the stone.
Each of the ogham letters is named for a plant, a reminder of the reverence and respect the ancient Irish had for the natural world. D is oak, and the Irish word for oak is daire. M is called muinne, the old Irish word for a type of vine. The word ogham comes from the name of the pre-Christian Celtic
god of eloquence, Ogma.
How the Ancient Irish Used Ogham
Ogham wasn’t initially used to write letters, poetry or the like on parchment. It began as a script to be carved on stone or wood. Approximately 400 of these standing stones have survived, with the
bulk of them in County Cork, in Ireland’s Munster province. But what was their purpose?
For the most part, they are written names. Scholars believe they could have served as memorials to dead royalty, bards or warriors or as boundary markers indicating who controlled the land where they stand. Both theories could be correct; they are not mutually exclusive. Most of the stones that have been decoded reveal an individual’s lineage, similar to the Bible passages that list ancestors.
Today, the best place to see ogham stones is at University College Cork. There, they line a hallway known as the Stone Corridor. Ogham has also become popular on Irish ogham necklaces. It can spell out a name, making it a very sentimental gift for a baby, a parent or a partner.
All designs are designed and made in Ireland as well as hallmarked in the Irish Assay Office which is based in Dublin Castle, Ireland and is a sign of quality and purity.
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