Discussing The Ogham Alphabet And The Irish Language


Ogham Irish Language 📜: Last week, we have discussed an interesting topic, namely the origin or history of the Irish language. Reading the blog, you will encounter a term that may be unfamiliar to you – Ogham. I might have discussed it a bit in which some might left it at that. But, there are some that became curious of the Ogham alphabet and its link to the Irish language, so talking about it through a separate blog became a plan, which led us to this blog. Below, we will talk about some interesting facts that you should know.


Obviously, I’ve forever been fascinated by the Irish language for since God knows when. As a result, I have tried everything I can to learn everything about the Irish language, of course, including its history. And, I have learned that, like the other languages, the Irish language has had a very rich history.


Ogham will be the focus of the topic. Read on to learn more.


Beidh Ogham mar fhócas an ábhair. Léigh ar aghaidh chun níos mó a fhoghlaim.


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Ogham: the Irish language’s history


Let us know Ogham and its background below.


Ogham is an alphabet considered Medieval (of the middle ages) that appears on inscriptions etched on monuments that dates back to as early as the 4th to 6th centuries AD. It is also known as the “Celtic Tree Alphabet” because it was used to write, along with the Early Irish language and the late Old Irish language (called scholastic Ogham dating back from the 6th to 9th centuries AD), Old Welsh, Pictish and Latin.


In Ireland, you can find Ogham inscriptions on stone monuments throughout counties Kerry, Cork, and Waterford. You can also find Ogham inscriptions in England, Scotland, the Isle of Man and Wales (Pembrokeshire – located at south Wales). To date, we have about 400 of those surviving on stone monuments.


And, if you are asking about the contents of the Ogham inscriptions on stone monuments, the majority of it consist of people’s names.


Origin of the word Ogham


Have you any idea of the origin of origin of the word Ogham in the Irish language?


According to Omniglot, we can pronounce the name Ogham in Modern Irish as [ˈoːm] or [ˈoːəm] . Additionally, we can spell it out as ogam and pronounce it as [ˈɔɣam] in Old Irish.


Although no one can discern its true origin, it might have come from the Irish god Ogma. Or, we can even link it to the Irish phrase og-úaim – point-seam in English. This refers to the seam made by the point of a sharp weapon. Moreover, it might also be known as ogham craobh (tree ogham) beth luis fearn or beth luis nion, after the first few letters.


Knowing Ogham further


As stated above, Ogham was used to write the Early Irish and Old Irish language, along with Pictish, Old Welsh, and Latin. Here, we present you with other notable features of Ogham (Omninglot as the source):


  • Type of writing system: alphabet
  • Number of letters: 25, which are grouped into five aicmí (sing. aicme = group, class). Each aicme is named after its first letter. Originally Ogham consisted of 20 letters or four aicmí; the fifth acime, or Forfeda, was added for use in manuscripts.
  • Writing surfaces: rocks, wood, manuscripts
  • Direction of writing: inscribed around the edges of rocks running from bottom to top and left to right, or left to right and horizontally in manuscripts.
  • Letters are linked together by a solid line.


Ogham and Irish language: the alphabet


We mentioned above that we can call Ogham as the “Celtic Tree Alphabet”. It originally had 20 letters grouped into four groups of five. Later on, they added five more letters, therefore creating a fifth group. One by one, they were named after its first letter.


Gaelic.co’s Emily McEwan interviewed Dr. Conor Quinn, a linguist and polyglot, about this. Here are some of what they have talked about:


EM: Who invented Ogham?


CQ: No one really knows for sure. There are at least two separate stories. One is tied to the legend of Irish itself being created by Scythian king Fenius Farsa and his scholars after the Tower of Babel as – surprise surprise – the selected best of all the languages of the time, with Ogham as its writing system. The other associates it with the hero Ogma (Mac Elathan) of Old Irish literature, who some have attempted to relate to the mainland Celtic god Ogmios, though the sound-correspondences between those superficially similar words don’t match up tidily enough to satisfy most Celtic language scholars.


EM: What was Ogham writing used for?


CQ: All we know directly for certain is its use in writing personal names, in possessor form (So-and-So’s…), on the edges of standing stones and the like, as memorial (and possibly as territory/boundary) markers. But references in Old Irish (and later) literature also have characters writing Ogham on sticks to send messages, to record information, and to do magic.


EM: This is the question everyone probably wants to know: how exactly does Ogham work?


CQ: Ogham, quite delightfully, is one of the few alphabets written and read vertically from the bottom to the top. Its twenty letters, called feda (= ‘trees’), group into four aicme (= ‘family, tribe’) of five letters each. Each letter is simply a cluster of one to five straight lines, scratched along the (usually) vertical edge of a stone. The first family (B – L – V/F – S – N) has lines drawn to the right of the edge-line (so one line is B, two lines is L, five lines is N, etc.). The second family (H – D – T – C – Q) has lines drawn to the left. The third (M – G – NG – ST – R) draws its lines diagonally across both sides of the edge. And the fourth family (the vowels A – O – U – E – I) is drawn either as short marks on the edge itself, or straight across both sides of the edge.


Final thoughts on Ogham and its connection to the Irish language


From an alphabet written and read in a down -to-up manner to what it is today, the Irish language sure has gone through a lot of changes. Knowing Ogham, in particular, is a nice way to appreciate the Irish language.



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