----- Original Message -----
From: "Fhiona MacGhilleRhuadh" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Thursday, September 09, 2004 2:44 AM
Subject: and now for something completely different
> My questions are:
> 1) What is the earliest date/era in which Ogham as a
> system of writing is believed to have existed?
Generally, current academic opinion is that the earliest use of Ogham dates
to about the 3rd or 4th century CE in Ireland. Some earlier scholars (like
R.A.S. Macalister) placed Ogham earliest uses circa 3rd or 4th century BCE.
Toby Griffen emeritus professor of linguistics at Southern Illinois
University has written several papers on Ogham which suggest that it
precedes the 7th century BCE based on sound changes and the apparent
relationships between it and early Greek numerical alphabets. According to
Griffen (and based on an analysis of changes or loss of certain
sounds/letters in Celtic languages: the loss of Indo-European /p/ and the
possible origins of H in Ogham as being originally a *P), Ogham could be
dated into the 2nd militia BCE. Here's links to his work:
Griffen suggests that the ancient Greek numerical alphabet could have been
influenced by the Ogham rather than in the reverse of this order as some
scholars suggest. This would be a radical change to current academic thought
but is not wholly without merit IMO. I personally see the origins of Ogham
as being of the earlier datings based on its seeming relationship to basic
Irish sounds and its tally system-like organization. Tales of early Ireland
seem to date its usage back to the beginnings of traditional memory.
> 2) How many strings did Irish (court) harps have? I
> have seen a reference (somewhere) which stated that a
> practice harp had 20 strings, but that the actual harp
> had 26-29 strings.
I've seen the same mentions. I've also seen mention of early harps having v
arying numbers of strings (some as low as nine strings).
> 3) And one last question- Are there any examples of
> Pictish stone carvings in Ireland? If not, why not? Do
> we have any ideas? There are examples of Pictish
> stones in Scotland with ogham notched into them. Did
> the ogham come before or after the Pictish carving? Is
> there any way of telling which came first?
I don't know of any Pictish stones art that is said to have originated in
Ireland. It's generally assumed that Ogham was a later introduction to
Scotland from Ireland so my assumption is that Pictish stone art came first
and that possible some of the stones had Ogham inscriptions added to them.
It's practically impossible to date inscriptions without having datings from
in situ objects (or without some knowledge of the language's history and
The use of Ogham was said to have been a cornerstone of the schooling of
Irish Druids and Poets. As such, one could perhaps look for its origins back
to the beginnings of these schools and systems of learning. IMO, this is
particularly true when one considers the use of Ogham as a memory aid and
the central importance of memory to this specific group of the learned.