Old Irish Script

Ogham Alphabet
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chambers_1908_Ogham.png

Irish orthography has evolved over many centuries.  The Irish were responsible for the present written format with spaces or symbols in use in the known world as the original Greek / Latin letters were written with continuous words.

The Ogham Alphabet was inscribed on several Stones within Ireland plus British Isles.  It was an alphabet that appears on monumental inscriptions that dated from the 4th to the 6th century AD, and in manuscripts dating from the 6th to the 9th Century.  Notable features included 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.  Used to write: Primitive and Old Irish, Pictish, Old Welsh and Latin.  All writing was Latin, Archaic Irish or Old Welsh between the fourth & sixth and centuries AD.  The Viking invasions of the ninth / tenth centuries led to the destruction of many early manuscripts.  Gaelic script was known as An Cló Gaelach in Irish.  It may also be known as Irish Character, Irish type, Gaelic type, Celtic type or the Uncial Alphabet.  Notable features include type of writing system, numeracy, eighteen letters, direction of words: left to right in horizontal lines.  Consonants are indicated with a dot over them.  [i]   The Irish uncial alphabet originated in medieval manuscripts as an “insular” variant of the Latin alphabet.  [ii]

One may read Latin letters on a Memorial Stone on Inchaguill Island in Lough Corrib in Co. Galway. The Inscription is; ‘Lie Luguaedon Macci Menueh’ that translates as ‘Stone of Luguaedon son of Menueh’.   [iii]

The earliest Old Irish passages may be the transcripts found in the Cambrai Homily.  Extant manuscripts do not go back farther than the 8th century.  Two works were written by Saint Patrick: his ‘Confessio’ (a brief autobiography intended to justify his activities to the church in Britain) and ‘Letter to Coroticus’: that condemned the raids plus slavery in Ireland were written in Latin sometime during the 5th century, it is preserved in the Book of Armagh dated 812.  The 6th-Century Saint Colum Cille is alleged to have  written the Psalter known as ‘The Cathach’ or ‘Battle Book’ of the Ó ’Donel’s that is preserved in the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin. The ‘Lebor na hUidre’ or ‘Book of the Dun Cow’ was transcribed circa 1100 with the ‘Book of Leinsterdated  approx. fifty years later.  According to M. Darmesteter from his English Studies: ‘Ireland in fact, has the peculiar privilege of a history continuous from the earliest centuries of our era to the present days.  She has preserved in the infinite wealth of her literature a complete and faithful picture of the ancient civilization of the Celts.’  d’Arbois de Jubainville also wrote: ‘It is the ancient Irish language that forms the connecting point between the neo-Celtic languages and the Gaulish of the inscribed stones, coins, and proper names preserved in Greek and Roman literature.’  ‘The Four Masters’ was one of the greatest manuscripts written. Re poetry the humorous Pangur Bán was one of the oldest: it was possibly written in Reichenau Abbey circa 800. [iv]

The importance of the native script was noticed by an Englishman John Denton who reported, (following a visit during the 1560’s) that ‘when it came to books being printed not in the Irish character theye will not in anny wise well allow of.’  Seaán Ó Cearnaigh was instrumental in overseeing the design plus cutting of the Original Gaelic type used for printing the first books in Irish.  A 1571 Broadsheet of a poem on ‘Judgement Day’ by fifteenth century poet Pilip ‘Bocht’ O hUiginn was printed by Seaán Ó Cearnaigh.  [v]  Ó Cearnaigh published the 1951 Catechism commissioned by Queen Elizabeth 1st ‘Aibidil Gaoidheilge agus Caiticiosma’ of which two hundred copies were printed. [vi]

The writing was Latin, Archaic Irish or Old Welsh between the Fourth & Sixth Centuries AD.  The Viking invasions of the Ninth / Tenth centuries led to the destruction of many early manuscripts.  Gaelic script was known as An Cló Gaelach in Irish. It may also be known as Irish Character, Irish type, Gaelic type, Celtic type or the Uncial Alphabet.  Notable features include type of writing system, numeracy, eighteen letters, direction of words: left to right in horizontal lines.  Consonants are indicated with a dot over them.  [vii]  The Irish uncial alphabet originated in medieval manuscripts as an “insular” variant of the Latin alphabet. [viii]

Ó Cearnaigh’s nephew William Kearney printed an initial incomplete draft of Daniel’s ‘New Testament’ during 1590’s. Fearganainm Ó ‘Domhnaill of North Galway was recommended by Thomas Butler, Earl of Ormond in a letter to the Archbishop of Tuam that stated he was ‘very fit to communicate with the people in their mother tongue.’  He also took great pains in the translation plus printing of the Common – Book & New Testament in the Irish Language.   Prior to the printing of New Testament in 1595 Fearganainm & Uilliam Ó ‘Domhnaill sought assistance from Maoilin Og MacBruaideaha.  They praised Domhaill O hUiginn’s contribution in the opening pages of ‘Tromn Nuadh’ that he had relied on him to proofread his work prior to its printing.  An English apprentice Uilliam Ó ‘Domhnaill was the leading Irish Native figure who oversaw the translation into Irish of the Greek New Testament -Tiomna Nuadth – during 1602 plus the English Book of Common Prayer -Leabhar na nUrrnaithe gComcoiteann – in 1608.  He was also responsible for the Printing of these Publications.  John Franclon printed ‘Tiomna Nuadhar d’Tighearna agus ar Slanaightheora Iosa Criost’ during 1602 he also printed ‘Leabhar na nUrnaithe gComhchorleann’ in 1608.  During 1609 he wrote to Lord Deputy Arthur Chichester that: ‘having translated the Booke, followed it to the Presse with jealousy, & daily attendance to see it perfected, payned a woman in travel desirous to be delivered.’  Muirchcartach Ó‘Cionga assisted William Bedell ( Provost of Trinity College) to translate the Old Testament during the 1630’s in the publication ‘Plainleish.’  [ix]

Insistent on communicating with foreign visitors to her Court in their own Language, the Queen circa 1560 – 1565 commissioned from Christopher Nugent a manuscript ‘Iryshe – Latten – Englishe Primer.’  That Primer included an Irish Alphabet as well as a glossary of words or phrases in Irish with translations in both Latin & English.  In the 1639 Catechism printed by Thomas Stapleton was a Roman type alphabet that introduced simplified spelling ie: suí for suidhe or uafás for uathbhás.  It was three hundred years later that standardisation came into use.  The issue of the simplification of Irish spelling was limited to Roman or Gaelic type was however controversial during the Twentieth Century. (Brendan Leen)  [x]

During 1685 Ruaidhri O ‘Flailbhear’s semi – mythical history of Ireland ‘Ogygia seu Remum Hibernicarum Chronlogia & etc’ was translated to English by Rev John Hely then published as ‘Ogygia or a Chronological account of Irish events, collected from Very Ancient Documents faithfully compared with each other & supported by the Genealogical & Chronological Aid of the Sacred & Profane Writings of the Globe.’  [xi]

The origins of Irish Character typography regress to the high standard of Calligraphy achieved by the Monastic scribes of the fifth century, also to the two discrete styles; the half – uncial & the minuscule – that emerged from the Scriptorium to subsequently exert a defining influence on the design of Irish printing types.  The full, rotund form of the half – uncial was typically used in the transcription of Latin tracts – notably, in the earliest known manuscript, ‘The Catach’, also the majestic ‘Book of Kells’.  The last person to design a fount of type in the Irish Character was Colm Ó ‘Lochlainn Typographer & Printer. (Brendan Leen)  [xii]

The Dialogue of the Two Sages’ now housed in Trinity College Library was written in the Irish Fenian dialect that provided the qualifications required to be a true Ollamh.  [xiii]

 ‘A Historical reader of Old Irish, texts, paradigms, notes & a complete glossary’ 1923 Pokorny Julius was published by Halle.  [xiv]

Prior to the twentieth century Irish was usually written in Gaelic script. Today this Gaelic type is almost entirely restricted to decorative and / or self – consciously traditional context.  The ‘dot’ above the letter is usually replaced by the following ‘h’ in the standard Roman alphabet.

Footnotes

This site has an excellent description of writings plus images entitled ‘Four Centuries of Printing’ by Brendan Leen: [xv]

An excellent list of texts is provided at this site: https://celt.ucc.ie/irlpage.html

The Celtic Literature of texts may be seen at this link: http://maryjones.us/ctexts/index_irish.html

Downloaded files by Elliott Lash may be obtained at this link: https://www.dias.ie/celt/celt-publications-2/celt-the-parsed-old-and-middle-irish-corpus-pomic/

Bibliography

[i] Irish Language, Alphabet & Pronunciation (https://omniglot.com/) [assessed 4th November 2019]

[ii] Gaelic Type (https://en.wikipedia.org/ ) [assessed 4th November 2019]

[iii] Inchagoill – Megalithic Ireland (http://www.megalithicireland.com/ ) [assessed 6th November 2019]

[iv] Early Irish Literature (https:/en.wikipedia.org/ ) [assessed 4th November 2019]

[v] History Ireland (https://www.historyireland.com/ )  [assessed 5th November 2019]

[vi] Gaelic Type (https://en.wikipedia.org/ ) [assessed 5th November 2019]

[vii] Irish Language, alphabet & pronunciation (https://omniglot.com/ ) [assessed 8th January 2020]

[viii] Gaelic Type (https://en.wikipedia.org/ ) [assessed 8th January 2020]

[ix] History Ireland (https://www.historyireland.com/ )  [assessed 5th November 2019]

[x] Four Centuries of Printing in the Irish Character (https://web.archive.org/ ) [assessed 8th January 2020]

[xi] 1793 in Ireland (https://en.wikipedia.org/ ) [assessed 8th January 2020]

[xii] Four Centuries of Printing in the Irish Character (https://web.archive.org/ ) [assessed 8th January 2020]

[xiii] Old Texts (https://www.sacred-texts.com/ ) [assessed 4th November 2019]

[xiv] A Historical reader of Old Irish etc (https://www.worldcat.org/ ) [assessed 8th January 2020]

[xv] Four Centuries of Printing in the Irish Character (https://web.archive.org/ ) [assessed 8th January 2020]

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