What’s in a Name. 8.






Ogham is a form of writing by chisel and usually cut onto stone. It was used during a period stretching from 150 AD up to 650 AD and the inscriptions are in an early style of Irish.

It was in use during the later Iron Age and into the Early Christian Period, being supplanted then when the Monks stated writing by pen on parchment.

It consists of straight line strokes of the chisel, up to five in number, to represent each of the 19 letters of the Irish Alphabet, plus the combination NG. The Alphabet at that time consisted of the 18 letters we use today, but without the P which was not used, and with a Q and a Z which were required then but are not now.

The Ogham Alphabet is shown in the accompanying diagram.

Most examples of Ogham appear on Gallauns. The writing is read upwards from one corner to the top, then down the opposite side to the bottom of the other corner.

It is normal to start from the bottom left corner, but opinions amongst the experts differ on this point.

Many Ogham inscriptions refer to the name of a person and consist of one word only. These are often burial memorials. Others are based on a few conventional phrases including the word MAQI (mac or son of) followed by the name of the father; or sometimes MUCOI (descendant of) followed by the name of an ancestor.

An example of this is a gallaun exhibited in Millstreet Community School which reads "COLMAN MAQI COMGANN" or Colman son of Comgann. We will probably never know who were Colman and his father Comgann or anything about them, but they were presumably from the Millstreet area and lived some time between 150 and 650 AD. It is quite possible that the stone was originally over Colman’s burial place.

The only Ogham stone in this Parish is in Kealvaugh More. It’s inscription reads

"ASSICONA". We can only believe that this was a person’s name and that he was a native of the territory which is now our Parish.

But don’t think that these few words will make you into an expert on Ogham. They are only written as an introduction to the subject, and so that you know the bare meaning of the expression.

Most Ogham stones are extremely difficult to read, and totally incomprehensible even if you manage to decipher the letters. Go into any old Churchyard and try to read inscriptions, written in English from gravestones dated before 1800, just 200 years old. You will find these almost unreadable. Think then of the same stones in an unfamiliar language which are likely to be 1800 years old and what chance do you have?