Ireland’s Ogham Alphabet / Stones etc

Gowran Ogham Stone Kilkenny
Jcgowran, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Ogham Alphabet
Rico38, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Ogham stones are among Ireland’s most remarkable national treasures.  These carved stones bear inscriptions in the unique Irish Ogham Alphabet with a system of notches & horizontal or diagonal lines or scores to represent the sounds of an early form of the Irish language.  The stones were inscribed with prominent people’s names also perhaps tribal affiliation or geographical areas.  Inscriptions constituted the earliest recorded form of Irish in written earliest records that dated back at least as far as the fifth century AD.   [i]

Ogham in 3D project

Macalister R. A. S. (1945) produced line drawings inscribed in his Corpus Inscriptionum Insularum Celticarum for which he deserves plaudits.  Damian McManus (Professor of Early Irish, Trinity College Dublin & author of A Guide to Ogam) carried out excellent work on the linguistic aspects of stones, whilst Fionnbarr Moore (Senior Archaeologist, National Monuments Service) concentrated on the archaeological perspective.  Jost Gippert’s work in digitizing colour slides of several of the ogham inscriptions in his online project Thesaurus Indogermanischer Text und Sprachmaterialien should be recognized.  Several have been reproduced in a CD ROM produced by Fios Feasa (2002) with additional photographs.  The Celtic Inscribed Stones Project (CISP) also includes several ogham stones in its online database.  The Ogham in 3D project focuses exclusively on ogham stones, bringing all available information together in a single, searchable resource.  This site includes a video by Dr. White. [ii]


It is believed that the Ogham language dates back to the fourth century AD.  The etymology of the word itself can be traced back to the ancient Irish warrior-god Ogma, the God of Eloquence.  Ogham was the sole written language used within ancient Ireland throughout the fifth & sixth centuries until foreign Christian missionaries introduced Latin.  Knowledge of the ogham alphabet was preserved through two medieval manuscripts i.e. The Auraicept na n-Éces also The Book of Ballymote (Leabhar Bhaile an Mhóta) [iii]

Ogham was the oldest written version of primitive Irish language.  Ogham stones were carved & read from bottom to top.  The alphabet originally comprised three groups of consonants with one group of vowels.  Each group of consonants contained five letters.  Ogham is also known as the Celtic Tree Alphabet.  Medieval manuscripts interpret many of the letter names as the names of trees or shrubs.  For example Beith () is interpreted as meaning birch-tree & Sail () means willow-tree in Old Irish. [iv]

Several ogham stones bear genealogical inscriptions on corners of large stone slabs.  This inscription, carved on a stone on Inchagoill Island in Galway is a typical example that translates as ‘The stone of Lugnaedon son of Limenueh,’ ᚛ᚂᚔᚓ ᚂᚒᚌᚅᚐᚓᚇᚑᚅ ᚋᚐᚉᚉᚔ ᚋᚓᚅᚒᚓᚆ᚜ :


The first ogham stone recorded within Ireland was at East Emlagh on the Dingle Peninsula.  An account by Edward Lhwyd, a Welsh antiquarian dated to 1702-1709.  Charles Vallancyey published in 1785 an account of Mount Callan stone in Co. Clare.  During the nineteenth century publications included Ferguson Samual Ogham Inscriptions in Ireland, Wales and Scotland (1887) and also Brash Richard The Ogam Inscribed Monuments of the Gaedil in the British Isles (1879).  During the twentieth centuries, Macalister R. A. S published Studies in Irish Epigraphy in three volumes.  His excellent Corpus Inscriptionum Insularum Celticarum of two volumes during 1945 & 1949 remain invaluable. [v]


Ogham stones are an Irish feature of single standing stones or menhirs.  It is a writing system of various straight lines & notches.  These were engraved on the edges of the upright standing stones in order to attach names or short texts.  The inscriptions are the oldest records in Irish language.  These ogham stones possibly marked out grave sites, marked boarders or perpetuated important persons’ memory. [vi]

The pioneering work during 1945 of Macalister’s line drawings of the inscribed stones in his Corpus Inscriptionum Insularum Celticarum’should be applauded.  Works by McManus on the Ogham linguistic aspects also Fionnbarr Moore Senior archaeologist National Monuments Service on the archaeological perspective of Ogham Stones are of invaluable interest:

Book of Ballymote

The Royal Irish Academy houses The Book of Ballymote.  Principal scribes were Solam Ó Droma, Robertus Mac Sithigh a& Magnus Ó Duibgennain (pupils of the great brehon McEgan family). This publication contains genealogical, topographical, biblical also hagiographical material:including Lebor Gabála (Book of the Invasions), Lebor na gCeart (Book of Rights), Dindshenchas with a key to the ogham alphabet.  Versions from Latin of the destruction of Troy & the history of Philip & Alexander of Macedonia are included.  It may be researched at RIA MS 23 P 12: Cat. No. 536 c. A.D. 1391. [vii]

Ogham stones (pronounced Oh-am) are located across Ireland also may be viewed in Wales, Scotland, England & the Isle of Man.  Believed to date back to the pre-Christian period, the Celtic Ogham alphabet is included in Medieval-era manuscripts or copies of treatises; Leabhar Bhaile an Mhóta (the Book of Ballymote), Leabhar Buidhe Leacáin (the Yellow Book of Lecan), Lebor Laignech (the Book of Leinster), In Lebor Ogaim (the Ogham Tract) also Auraicept na n-Éces (the Scholar’s Primer) (Fergus, 19th September 2015) [viii]

Mayo Ogham Stone

An ogham stone from Kilmannin near Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo was discovered built into a wall of a church.  It had two inscriptions & was 1.22 in height.  It is now stored in the National Museum of Ireland.  Eoin MacNeill Professor of Early Irish History University College Dublin was instrumental in furthering documentation of ogham language & historical information contained within the ogham inscriptions during 1991.  Also published that year was Damian McManus’s (1991) A Guide to Ogam. [ix]

Additional Information

This may be of interest:

Dr. Nora White’s article at this link features sketches of Ogham language:

A video by White Dr. Nora may be viewed on this site:

RTE news featured on 8th May 2013 an item re digitizing ogham stones:

One may find this link of interest:

PDF may be downloaded at this link:

Catherine Swift Mary, Immaculate College, Limerick published an article in History Today, Vol 65, Issue 10 (October 2015):

This may be of interest:

One may peruse information on In Lebor Ogaim, The Book of Ogams or Ogam Tract at this site:

3D models of ogham stones may be viewed at this site:

Information on ogham trees available at this link:

Interesting information is available at this link:


[i] Ogham in 3D ( [Assessed 18th August 2021]

[ii]  Ibid

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Ogham ( [Assessed 18th August 2021

[v] Our Ancient Landscapes Ogham Stones in Ireland (White Dr. Nora)

[vi] Ogham Stones ( [Assessed 18th August 2021]

[vii] Book of Ballymote ( [Assessed 18th August 2021]

[viii] Celtic Ogham Stones / Script (  [Assessed 18th August 2021]

[ix] Our Ancient Landscapes Ogham Stones in Ireland  (White Dr. Nora)


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