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The Origins of Ogham – An Ancient Irish Alphabet

 

sonas-ogham-pendant

Since we’ve added so more pieces to our ogham collection, I decided to do some more research into the origins of this ancient Irish alphabet.

Ogham is represented by a series of marks running along a central line. It is the earliest form of writing in the Irish language and was used from about the 4th to the 7th centuries AD. This alphabet originally consisted of twenty characters with each letter being represented by up to five strokes placed in relation to a base line. The characters of the alphabet were named after trees and plants. It is based on the Latin alphabet and was inscribed on stones imitating Roman inscribed monumental sculpture.

Silver Ogham Cufflinks A Stór 2

Ogham was designed specifically for stone and wood carving with the centre line representing the edge of the piece of wood or stone.The text is read from the bottom of the stone to the top. Ogham can be mostly found on gravestones and boundary marks. There are approximately four hundred surviving examples of Ogham in Ireland and Western Wales. The province of Munster has by far the highest concentration of ogham stones, with Co. Kerry accounting for one third of all the remaining examples.

The language of the inscriptions is predominantly Old Irish with some examples in Scotland where the language is unconfirmed. As well as inscriptions for land markings there is also evidence that ogham was used for short messages in wood and metal often perhaps denoting ownership of an object. It was also used in keeping records of land ownership and business transactions. It is suggested that ogham was used by the druid and bards for poetry and magical purposes. Although it is not clear whether this link is correct as others claim it goes against the beliefs of the druids to share their knowledge. They may have believed that this sharing of knowledge would jeopardise their high standing and lifestyle. They also feared that by writing their poetry down, it may weaken their remarkable memory.

We have an Ogham collection in the Claddagh Design’s store featuring pieces for women and men, such as the Silver Ogham Pendant or the  Silver Ogham Cufflinks.

Update: I have since written a guide to the Ogham alphabet so that you can learn it for yourself.

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