All About Ogham

Wedding Ogham

A personalized hand-painted Ogham artwork makes the perfect Irish wedding gift!

Ogham pieces, especially personalized Ogham works, have become very popular gift items, and I have therefore decided to provide a little Ogham history. First and foremost, however, is a quick lesson in how to pronounce the word. “Ogham” is pronounced “Ohm,” not “Og-ham,” as you might assume.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, Ogham is an alphabet, not a language, and is the earliest known form of writing in Ireland. The etymology of the word Ogham remains unclear. One possible origin is from the Irish og-úaim, “point-seam,” referring to the seam made by the point of a sharp weapon. The earliest inscriptions in Ogham date to the fourth century, but some contend the alphabet dates to as early as the first century BC.

An Ogham stone in Tralee, County Kerry

An Ogham stone in Tralee, County Kerry

There are two main schools of thought among scholars as to the motivation for the creation of Ogham. Some scholars suggest that Ogham was first created as a cryptic alphabet, designed by the Irish so as not to be understood by those with knowledge of the Latin alphabet. In other words, it was created by the Irish for political, military, or religious reasons, to provide a secret means of communication in opposition to the authorities of Roman Britain.

The second main school of thought is that Ogham was invented by the first Christian communities in early Ireland, out of a desire to have a unique alphabet for writing short messages and inscriptions in the Irish language. The argument is that the sounds of primitive Irish were regarded as difficult to transcribe into the Latin alphabet, so the invention of a separate alphabet was deemed appropriate.

Ogham alphabet

The Ogham alphabet

In either case, the alphabet consists of 20 linear characters, read from bottom upward. The characters of the alphabet were named after trees and plants. Originally, Ogham was inscribed on standing stones, carved into the edge of the stone. Roughly 380 of these standing stones have been discovered, with the highest concentration of them found in the southwestern part of the country, mainly County Kerry.

www.EverIrishGifts.com offers a large collection of hand-painted Ogham items, any of which can be personalized for that perfect Irish birth, birthday, wedding, or anniversary gift.

Friendship—or as they say in Ireland, cairdeas

There’s a saying that goes something like: “There are no such things as strangers, just friends you haven’t met yet.” Trite? Perhaps. True? Well, at least based on our encounters during a recent trip to Ireland, I’d have to say yes.

Here’s an example:

An American couple walked into a local pub. (Sounds like the start to a bad, possibly risque joke, doesn’t it?) Anyhow. The pub was Sheridan’s in Ennisnag, located near the Lawcus Farm Guest House, a delightful bed and breakfast outside of Kilkenny where we were spending a few nights. (More on the B&B in another post, since it’s so very worth discussing.) We would never have thought to stop in at Sheridan’s, but the B&B owner had suggested we might enjoy grabbing a pint there.

So after a full day of touring the surrounding countryside and with some time before dinner, we decided to stop in for a few minutes.

Picture, if you will, the two of us, clearly outsiders, walking through the door of Sheridan’s, which was about half full with maybe a dozen men—not another woman in sight, mind you. Like in the old Westerns, every head turned to look at us, and all conversation temporarily came to a halt. Hmm.

Well, it was maybe not the most auspicious beginning, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that it turned out to be one of the best evenings of our entire visit to Ireland. By the time we walked out a few hours later, we were on a first-name basis with almost everyone there, including Donnie, the proprietor, who knows how to pull a Guinness properly and spoke knowledgeably of everything from his travels around the world (Egypt, Pompeii, Mexico) to the locals buried in the cemetery across the street, with a bawdy joke thrown in for good measure.

We chatted with Willie, who works for a local gas company, and Willie’s father, Frank, a retired dairy farmer. Charming men, both of them, and so warm and welcoming once the initial reserve had quickly worn off. In fact, thanks to Frank’s generosity, glasses of Guinness kept appearing in front of us, and he would never hear of our buying the next round.

When we finally took our leave, it was accompanied by handshakes and hugs all around and sincere invitations to come back to Sheridan’s and visit our new friends the next time we find ourselves in Ennisnag. You know, I think we just might take them up on those invitations.

In the meantime, this lovely Ogham Wish wall art, individually handpainted on handmade paper in Ogham script (Ireland’s ancient alphabet) by well-known Irish artist Ethel Kelly, brings back good memories of the friendships we made in Ireland.

Stay Ever Irish,
Laura

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