The Ogham Alphabet

The Ogham alphabet was used to represent the Primitive Irish language. It was created using of a series of perpendicular and intersecting lines. It is most commonly written vertically and is read from bottom to top. When presented horizontally, it is read from left to right. Though its actual origins remain a mystery today, it is believed that Ogham was used in Ireland and parts of western England, Scotland and Wales between the 2nd and 6th centuries. It was mainly used for marking territories or memorials by being carved into rocks and trees. Today there are approximately 400 surviving examples.

At Ogham Art, we use one of the oldest known versions of the Ogham alphabet – 20 original characters along with the forfeda letter 'P'. As the Ogham alphabet evolved, more characters were added as new sounds were introduced into the spoken Irish language. Because these additional characters have little verification or consistency, we do not use them as part of our offerings. The only additional letters agreed upon are a few of the forfeda - decorative characters used to represent the sounds of 'EA', 'OI', 'UI' 'IO', 'AE'. They were believed to have been added hundreds of years after the primary use of Ogham. Again, we use only the letter 'P' from this additional group.

Because the Modern Irish alphabet (of Latin letter origin) lacks the J, K, Q, V, W, X, Y and Z that we use in the English alphabet, those letters are also missing from the Ogham alphabet - with the exception of 'Q' and 'Z'. (Note the Ogham letter representing the sound nG. This remains a common sound in the Irish language. At Ogham Art, you will find it in our Donegal / Dún na nGall bumper sticker!) Ideally, Ogham is used to represent Irish names and words. Not everything can be translated into Irish so substitutions are necessary to represent the sounds for names or words containing those letters. These are called multi-use letters: 'F' for 'V'; 'Q' for 'K'; 'I' for 'Y' or 'J', 'S' for 'X'; 'U' for 'W'. For example, the English letter 'V' would be represented by the Ogham letter 'F' for its similarity in sound. (In the Modern Irish alphabet, the 'V' sound is represented by the combination of 'BH' or sometimes 'MH'.)

At Ogham Art, we are committed to presenting and preserving this beautiful writing system in unique presentations. We will work with you to ensure that your finished piece is both balanced and aesthetically pleasing. If you have any questions about our process, please contact us.


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