The Ogham Script

Heroic & Dark Fantasy and Science Fiction Character created by Kevin L. O'Brien

Cavewoman, © by Al Rio

Red Stacy, © by Alex Horley

The Ogham Scriptgham script was the first form of Irish writing and was a uniquely local invention, though it was most likely inspired by Latin writing and seems to have been based in part on Roman numerals. The Táin Bó Cúailnge mentions messages being inscribed on blocks of wood in the Ogham script, but the only surviving inscriptions are found on stone cenotaphs dating from between 300 and 700 C.E. They are concentrated in southern Ireland and in those portions of western Britain settled by the Irish. Those in Britain are also accompanied by Latin script, so it is possible to translate Ogham into an alphabet. When this was done, it was discovered that Ogham was based on Primitive Irish, which predated the Old Irish used in written manuscripts between 700 and 900 C.E. By that time, Irish had been alphabetized using a couple of scripts invented by the Christian monks, called Irish majuscule and Irish minuscule, the latter of which was adopted throughout Europe during the Middle Ages.

(Presumably, Primitive Irish was itself based on Goidelic, the language of the Gaels (Irish Celts) who first came to the island between the 500 and 100 B.C.E. However, the lack of any written documents makes tracing this early evolution of Gaeilge (Irish Gaelic) almost impossible.)

Cenotaph with Ogham inscription.Ogham consists of strokes cut into the wood or stone along a central line, usually the edge of the block or slab. The line could be any angle, from horizontal to vertical. Some of the strokes are cut above the line, some below, and some across the line. Most of the strokes are perpendicular to the line, but others are cut at an angle. The area above the line is called the 'H' surface, because the first symbol in the Ogham script that appears on this surface was translated as H. The area below the line is called the 'B' surface, because the first symbol in the Ogham script that appears on this surface was translated as B. The consonants consisted, in order, of:

B L F S N H D T C Q M G Ng Z R

The vowels consist, in order, of A, O, U, E, and I. It is interesting to note that some consonants never used in Irish are listed, namely Q and Z, while the long vowels (see the pronunciation guide) are not. I know of no explanation for this, except the possibility that the translation was based on Latin, which has Q and Z, and uses no special symbology to distinguish long vowels from short (the sineadh fada was invented for manuscript writing).

As with other aspects of Irish history, mythology, and culture, the Ogham script has been modified to fit the Medb hErenn universe.

Back to Irish History.