{Editor's comments, including some spelling modernizations, appear in curly brackets in this document.}



[Read before the Royal Irish Academy, November 14, 1870.]

BEFORE indicating the proximate causes of difficulty in transcribing Ogham legends, some instances were adduced, as well to illustrate such difficulties as to corroborate other proofs of the agreement of the Ogham characters with those of the Roman alphabet. The biliteral inscriptions at Crickhowel, Clydai and Tycoed, in South Wales, were stated not to be, as they would appear from the published drawings of them, inconformable to the accompanying Latin inscriptions; but, on the contrary, to be, so far as they remain, substantially in accordance with them.

The sources of difficulty (bearing in mind that there are rarely, if ever, any divisions of words in Ogham legends, however long) were indicated --

  1. In the absence of composite forms from the Ogham alphabet, and in the phonetic change caused by the disappearance of any single digit.
  2. In the necessity of observing the shifting position of the groups, over, under, across, and on the directrix line, concurrently with the internal changes taking place in the group-constituents.
  3. In the arrangement of the characters in lines of different direction on the same monument; so that the light necessary to bring one line of groups into observation leaves the others unilluminated.
Instances were adduced of mistakes in transcription by the writer, illustrative of these sources of error. One of these was in reference to the biliteral and bilingual inscribed stone of Killeen Cormac {= Cillín Cormaic}, near Dunlavin {= Dún Luáin}, discovered by the Rev. John Sherman {= Shearman}, and communicated to the Academy in May, 1865. The writer was jointly responsible for the reading of the Ogham characters saei occurring in part of the legend apparently as the equivalent of the Roman-written "DRUIDES." So much interest had been excited by Mr. Sherman's discovery, that the stone was afterwards moulded, in plaster of Paris, by an eminent member of the Academy, who placed the moulds at the disposal of the writer. The moulds were not put together for several years; but when the cast was taken from them, a group of Ogham digits which had not previously been observed became apparent. This was the letter f, which converts the saei into safei. Saei being a form, in the original text of the Brehon laws, signifying sapiens, or sagus, its appearance with the radical element assimilating it to sophos still unelided, seems to point to an even earlier origin for their remarkable inscription than for the compilation of those laws. Warned by his own failures, and having this instance of the value of an exact text before him, the writer began to examine more critically the works of others, and soon became satisfied that he was by no means singular in his liability to errors of this nature. Amongst other instances, it was mentioned that a cast of the Ogham legend on the Newton Stone (Aberdeenshire) having been obtained from the Museum of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, it was found that several groups of characters existing on the lower part of the pillar had been overlooked by the numerous draftsmen and photographers by whom the Newton inscription has so often been represented. Under these circumstances, the writer became convinced that, without casts from the originals, it was a waste of time to speculate on the meanings of texts, of the accuracy of which there could be so little assurance; and turned for a remedy to the Royal Irish Academy, as the body most interested in securing exact material for this branch of study. The result of his representations was that the Committee of Polite Literature brought the subject before the Council in the following Report, dated 29th May, 1869:--

"The Committee of Polite Literature have had under their consideration the expediency of taking steps to encourage the systematic study of Ogham inscribed stones in the British Islands.

"In Ireland, there exist upwards of one hundred known Ogham legends; and, probably, a larger number remains to be brought to light. Considerable numbers of these are probably older than any of the MS. glosses on which the text books of early Irish grammar have been constructed. To place these lapidary aids in an authentic form at the disposal of philological scholars would be a step in the promotion of learning worthy of the Royal Irish Academy.

"The published and MS. Ogham texts, as at present accessible to students, are in general unreliable. It might fairly be doubted whether two in three do not contain inaccuracies rendering them worse than useless for exact study. These inaccuracies arise from the difficulty of copying objects generally found in the open air, and which, to be fully seen, must be viewed in various lights: the same causes render photographs also unreliable.

"The Academy already possesses twelve Ogham inscribed stones and several casts in plaster of Paris; and other plaster casts are ready to be presented as donations. Means also are in preparation for taking casts by a less troublesome and expensive process than in plaster.

"The Committee of Polite Literature, therefore, report to the Council:--

"That, with a view to the formulation of a more complete lapidary museum, means ought to be adopted for securing authentic casts of the chief Ogham inscriptions in the British Islands."

This Report was received and adopted, at a meeting of the Council, on the 7th of June, 1869, and a sum of money was placed by the Council at the disposal of the Committee for the objects indicated.

The circumstances which prevented anything effectual being done in furtherance of the proposal during the last session, are stated in the letter, subsequently addressed to the Council by the writer, inserted below. Various methods were meanwhile under consideration, by which the casts might, if possible, be obtained in some species of papier machie {= mâché}, capable of being easily handled and conveniently kept. Aid was afforded to the writer in this particular, through the instrumentality of Mr. Burchett, of the Science and Art Department, South Kensington, by Mr. Atkinson, one of the Examiners of the same Department. The instructions for the moulding of decorated surfaces, furnished by Mr. Atkinson, were found perfectly applicable to the moulding of inscriptions. They are as follows:--

Paper. -- A strong, pulpy, long-grained paper, like extra thick blotting paper -- one layer of this is sufficient, if thick enough.

Dutch-toy paper has been used successfully. Japanese paper also, for small work.

Use. -- Wet the paper well, and with a common clothes-brush kept well wet, beat the softened paper into the surface to be moulded. If any breakage occurs repair by adding another piece of paper, and strengthen if necessary by rubbing some paste, taking especial care that it does not penetrate to the object, and then adding [with paste] another layer of paper to strengthen.

Draw. -- When moist enough to be elastic or rather pliant.

To cast from paper mould. -- To prepare the mould, equal portions of naptha and liquid glue, mixed and put on freely with a soft common sash-tool or similar brush. This will rapidly harden; it is then fit for casting from.

To prepare mould. -- Give a thin coat of common raw linseed oil all over; pour on plaster in the ordinary way.

Having tested the method as communicated by Mr. Atkinson, by taking a mould in paper from the cast of the Newton Stone, the writer pepared to carry out his design on an extended scale in the country. He was accompanied by Mr. Burchett. The locality selected was the western division of Corkaguiny {= Corca Dhuibhne}, in Kerry, of which Dingle {= An Daingean} is the most convenient centre. This region was chosen as being at once the richest and the most fully explored field for inscriptional pursuits. It was known to the writer that, in other districts almost equally rich, other inquirers have been, and are, successfully engaged in the discovery of similar monuments -- notably, Mr. Brash, of Cork {= Corcaigh}, and Mr. Williams, of Dungarvan {= Dún Garbháin} -- and it was deemed better to avoid any interference with their labours, one great reward of which is the right to claim priority of discovery.

In applying the process to the various classes of inscribed monuments occurring in the Dingle district, it was found necessary in all cases to be provided with apparatus for carrying away the moulds, so adapted to the shape of the objects as to preserve, as far as possible, their several contours and angularities.

For legends extending along a continuous angle or arriss, a light cradle, consisting of two boards, six feet long by six inches wide {= 183cm x 15cm}, hinged lengthwise, and adjusted to the angular opening by moveable cleats, was found sufficient. For more complicated forms, specially designed templets {= templates}, made in card-board, were provided. On the care with which these were fitted to the salient and re-entrant forms of the surface, as also in some cases to convex and cylindrical outlines, rested much of the success attending on the operations. The paper employed was thick violet blotting, supplied by Messrs. Cowan, D'Olier-street. An improvement in the formation of templets would probably be effected by the emplyment of a light sheet lead.

Having by these means secured moulds of many of the inscribed stones of the district, it was considered advisable, before offering the collection to the Academy, to test the feasibility of reproducing a mould in metal. With this view the mould first taken from the cast of the Newton Stone was put into the hands of an ingenious workman of Messrs. Ross and Murray, who returned it with a perfect reproduction in white metal. Although the mould underwent no preliminary process of hardening, it yielded its metal duplicate without losing its sharpness, and quite satisfied the writer that the moulds taken in the country were strong enough, however slight in appearance, to be converted without risk into permanent matrixes {= matrices},

Being so assured, the writer addressed to the Secretary of Council the following letter:--

"20, North Great George's-street,
Dublin, 28th October, 1870.

"DEAR SIR, -- Referring to the Report of the Committee of Polite Literature of the 29th of May, 1869, and to the consequent resolution of Council, of the 7th June, 1869, as to the formation of a museum of casts from Ogham inscribed monuments, I beg to state that being obliged to spend the vacation of that year out of Ireland, I was unable to take any step towards the object proposed during the session of 1869-70.

"Being free from the necessity of going abroad during the present year, and continuing to entertain the belief that, for the profitable study of at least Ogham legends, it is essential that a large number of examples should be brought together -- while confirmed by extended observations in my conviction, that the authenticity of such examples cannot be secured by any means short of an exact reproduction of the originals -- I have occupied myself during this autumn in procuring moulds of a considerable number of inscribed monuments, chiefly of the Ogham class.

"These moulds have been taken in paper, by a process which, as applied to such objects, is I believe substantially new. They are capable of being reproduced in plaster of Paris or in metal, from which an unlimited number of duplicates can be had; and will even yield a few impressions in paper, direct, but not without ultimate injury to themselves.

"The method of taking these paper moulds is in principle the same which was adopted in verifying the Croghan inscription in 1865 [Proceedings Royal Irish Academy, vol. ix, p. 161], and is a modification of the 'less troublesome and expensive process' referred to as in preparation in the Report of 1869. For carrying it out to its present measure of success, I am mainly indebted to Mr. Burchett, head master of the National Art Training Schools at South Kensington, and, through him, to Mr. George M. Atkinson, an Examiner of the same Department, who has been kind enough to furnish me with valuable suggestions both as to material and manipulation.

"For the purposes of study, as well as for facility of arrangement and economy of space, casts in paper, of adequate strength, are much preferable to reproductions in plaster or metal. To enable the student to give an undivided attention to such objects, it is necessary that they should be easily moved, so as to be placed in convenient lights and points of view. The difficulty of so dealing with heavy masses has greatly detracted from the value, for practical purposes, of the inscribed stones, which have, from time to time, been brought from their sites in the country, and placed in public and private museums. Any one undertaking the systematic study of such a collection, must be prepared to move considerable weights, must work under various inconveniences of posture, and submit to frequent interruptions dependent on changes of light and shade. The employment of paper duplicates, while affording entire freedom from these disadvantages, with the additional facility of a surface possessing uniformity of colour, will also, it is hoped, dispense with the temptation to further disturbance of the inscribed monuments still occupying their ancient sites.

"The possibility of obtaining any number of duplicates in paper, and of assembling, in one light and manageable collection, examples of all the legends extant, leads me to hope that the Council of the Royal Irish Academy will recommend the Academy to accept the donation which I propose to make of the original paper moulds of the inscriptions enumerated in the list annexed, as the nucleus of a paper-cast Inscriptional Museum, on the understanding that the reproduction of the moulds in plaster or metal, and the conservation of their casts for public study, shall be provided for by the Academy.

{Abbreviations and ditto-marks are expanded in this table.}
List of Moulds of Inscribed Stones from the following Localities in the County of Kerry.
No.Townland.Parish.No. of
Ord. Sur.
1Coomeenoole North,Dunquin {= Dún Chaoin}.52On Dunmore Head {= Dún Mór}.
2Vicarstown,Dunquin.52Otherwise Tyvoria.
3Ballywiheen,Marhin.42Otherwise Cahernagat.
4Ballinrannig,Dunurlin.42at Burnham House near Dingle.
5Ballinrannig,Dunurlin.42at Burnham House near Dingle.
6Ballinrannig,Dunurlin.42at Burnham House near Dingle.
7Ballinrannig,Dunurlin.42at Lough, near Dingle.
8Maumanorig,Marhin.42Otherwise Kilcoleman {= Cill Cholmáin}.
12Ballymorereagh,Kildrum.43Otherwise St. Manchan's.
13Ballymorereagh,Kildrum.43Otherwise Kilfountain.
14Emlagh West {= An tImleach},Dingle.53 
24Emlagh East,Dingle.53Otherwise Trabeg {= Trá Bheag}.
25Kinard East,Kinard.53 
26Kinard East,Kinard.53 
29Ballinesteenig,Cloghane {= An Clochán}.43 
30Arraglen,Cloghane.25All of the above in the barony of Corkaguiny.
31Camp {= An Com},Annagh {= Eannach}.37This in barony of Inaghiconnor.

"I have the honour to be,
"Dear Sir,
"Your very faithful servant,
Samuel Ferguson.

"To John K. Ingram, Esq., LL. D., &c. &c.,
"Secretary of Council of the
"Royal Irish Academy."
The Council, at their meeting of the 7th November, 1870, having resolved to recommend accordingly, the writer now offered to the Academy the several moulds above enumerated, together with:

No. 31. Newton Stone, Aberdeenshire, Ogham legend in plaster of Paris.

No. 32. "Druides" Stone, Killeen Cormac, (part of) Ogham legend in plaster of Paris.

No. 33. Paper mould of Stone No. 1, in the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy.

No. 34. Paper mould of Stone No. 5, in the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy.

No. 35. Paper mould of the Non-Oghamic legend on the Newton Stone, from the plaster cast in the possession of the Academy.

No. 33. Paper mould of the Ogham inscribed stone from Fortwilliam in the County of Kerry, in the Museum of Trinity College, Dublin.



1. Inscription 19. Shearman and Ferguson read DUFTANO SAFEI SAHATTOS (Brash 1979:309); Brash read UFANO SAFEI SAH ATTOS (Brash 1879:312) Macalister reads correctly OVANOS AVI IVACATTOS (*Uan Uí Éochada, I think), and McManus agrees with this reading. Ferguson's comments about "safei" are therefore not worth considering -- but it must be remembered that in 1870 the study of Ogham inscriptions was still in its infancy.
2. The Newton Stone is not discussed in Macalister or McManus because it is Pictish. Brash gives the reading AIDDARCUNFEANFORRENNIEA[I/R](S)IOSSAR.
4. Macalister says "Whatever may be the significance of the marks upon the stone, at the structure called Tyvoria they are of no epigraphic significance."
6. Macalister gives 7 inscriptions (Nos. 148-154) in Ballinrannig.
7. Inscription 193. ANM COLMAN AILITHIR (but McManus doubts the reading COLMAN (1990:53)
8. Macalister gives 1 inscription (No. 187) in Kilmalkedar.
9. Macalister gives 1 inscription (No. 170) in Ballymorereagh.
10. Inscription 181. TALAGNI MAC/Q....
11. Macalister gives 9 inscriptions (Nos. 155-163) in Ballintaggart.
13. Macalister gives 2 inscriptions (Nos. 188-189) in Kinard East.
14. Macalister gives 3 inscriptions (Nos. 138-140) in Aghacarrible.
15. Inscription 147. MOINENA MAQI OLACON
17. Macalister gives 2 inscriptions (Nos. 176-177) in Camp.
21. Macalister gives 3 inscriptions (Nos. 429-431) in Clydai.


  • Brash, Richard Rolt. 1879. The Ogam inscribed monuments of the Gaedhil in the British Islands: with a dissertation on the Ogam character, &c. Illustrated with fifty photo-lithographic plates. Ed. George M. Atkinson. London: George Bell & Sons.
  • Macalister, R. A. S. 1996 [1945]. Corpus inscriptionum insularum Celticarum. Vol 1. Black Rock: Four Courts Press. ISBN 1-85182-242-9
  • McManus, Damian. 1991. A guide to Ogham. (Maynooth Monograph; 4) Maynooth: An Sagart. ISBN 1 870684 17 6; ISSN 0890 8806
    Michael Everson, Evertype, Dublin, 2001-09-21