Ogham Alphabet

Ogham is an Early Medieval alphabet, uses between the 4th and 10th centuries AD. However, it is believed its origins are as early as the 1st century BC.

Ogham was used primarily to write the early Irish language (Primitive Irish), from the 4th to 6th centuries AD, known as the orthodox inscriptions, and later the Old Irish language from the 6th to 9h centuries AD, known as scholastic ogham.

Throughout Ireland and western Britain, there are about 400 surviving orthodox inscriptions on stone monuments. Most of them are personal names.

“Ogham” refers to the form of letters or script, while the letters are known collectively as the Beith-luis-nin. This is named after the first few letters of the ogham alphabet, similar to how the “alphabet” is made up of the first two letters of the Greek alphabet, “alpha” and “beta.” However, the order of the first letters is BLFSN, so there are a few theories about how its name developed.

The ogham alphabet originally had 20 distinct characters grouped into four series, and five additional letters were introduced later. The ogham script is written bottom-to-top and left-to-right.

What is the Ogham Alphabet?

Ogham is an early medieval alphabet that was primarily created at first to write in the early Irish language and orthodox inscriptions during the Christianisation of Europe, mainly to translate the bible into common speech and to communicate with other Christian nations. There are around 400 orthodox inscriptions that have survived throughout the years on different stone monuments which can be found throughout western Britain and Ireland itself. This is the most significant place to learn about the history of the Ogham language, where the majority of these inscriptions contain names and personal names of individuals throughout history. Because of this, Ogham is known as the Celtic tree alphabet, and this tradition persists today.

The word, Ogham, is up for debate as to its etymology. One possible explanation is that it derives from a word translated to seams created by a point, which could show how the forms themselves have been created. Ogham is the form of letters, but the letters are known as beith-luis-nin. This is so-called because of the first few letters of the alphabet, which are the same way the Latin alphabet is called (after the Greek letters alpha and beta, which are the first 2 letters).

What is the History of the Ogham Alphabet?

The earliest inscriptions can be traced back to the 4th century AD, but some debate whether the origin was in the 1st century. This is because many accounts of classical inscriptions flourished around the 5th and 6th centuries, but certain phonological evidence makes it clear that although it had persisted to this era, it was created and adopted many years prior. A possible explanation as to why it did not preserve itself was that the use of stone tablets was a novel idea in this era, and the inscriptions may have been made on wood and other bio-degradable and perishable material.

Ogham Symbol
English Letter
b [ b ]beith [*betwias] - birch
h [ y ]uath - hawthorn
l [ l ]luis - rowan
d [ d ]dair [*daris] - oak
f [ w ]fern [*wernā] - alder
t [ t ]tinne - holly
s [ s ]sail [*salis] - willow
c [ k ]coll [*coslas] - hazel
n [ n ]nion - ash
q [ kʷ ]ceirt [*kʷertā] - appl
m [ m ]muin - vine
a [ a ]ailm - white fir
g [ g ]gort [*gortas] - ivy
o [ o ]onn [*osen] - gorse
ng [ gʷ ]ngéadal [*gʷēddlan] - reed
u [ u ]úr - heather
z [ sw ] [ ts ]straif - blackthorn
e [ e ]eadhadh - poplar
r [ r ]ruis - elder
i [ i ]iodhadh - yew
ppeith - soft birch
oiór - gold
marks start of texteite (feather)
uiuilleann - elbow
iaifín - pine
marks end of texteite thuathail (reversed feather)

Ogham Alphabet