Dingle Peninsula Ogham Stones
The earliest recorded form of the Irish language is provided by the inscriptions on ogham stones. Ogham is an alphabetic cipher based on the Roman alphabet, with each letter represented by a group of from 1 to 5 parallel lines carved to either side of or across a stem-line. At Maumanorig this stem-line is carved on the face of the stone, but usually it is provided by one or more of the sharp edges of the stone. At Ballintaggart, Lugnagappul, Ballineesteenig and several other sites, the inscriptions occur on rounded boulders and the scores are disposed along an imaginary stem-line. These rounded boulders may all have been collected from the storm beach at Minard where many similar boulders still remain. The inscription usually consists of the name of the person commemorated followed by the name of his father which is introduced by the word MAQI (son of). COIMAGNI MAQI VITALIN is an example of this simple formula. The names are almost always in the genitive case, and the nominative on which the first name depended is left unexpressed. However, at Kilmalkedar and Maumanorig, the inscriptions commence with ANM meaning 'name of', 'inscription of or 'soul of'. AVI (grandson or descendant of) is sometimes substituted for MAQI. The inscription may also include the term MUCOI which introduces the name of a remoter ancestor. This term occurs in at least 10 inscriptions on the Dingle Peninsula, and in the 4 or 5 examples where the succeeding name is preserved, it is that of Duibhne (DOVINIAS), eponymous ancestress of the Corca Dhuibhne. The 350 or so ogham stones known in Ireland are heavily concentrated in counties Kerry, Cork and Waterford. About one-third come from County Kerry, and the barony of Corca Dhuibhne alone accounts for about 60 of these. In their distribution pattern within the barony there is a clear distinction between the area N and E of the central mountain ridge and Brandon mountain, where only 2 ogham stones have been recorded, and the area to S and W of the mountains where the remainder are concentrated. It may be no coincidence that in early histoyic times these two areas, between which the mountains form an effective barrier, correspond with the territories of the Uf Fhearba and Corca Dhuibhne respectively.
The Arraglen stone is located on a high mountain pass between the two areas. The general distribution of ogham stones extends into Western Britain, particularly South Wales and Cornwall, and this may be due to Irish influence in Wales where Irish colonies were established under the late Roman Empire. The linguistic evidence suggests that the earliest inscriptions may date to the end of the 4th century, that the majority probably belong to the 5th or 6th centuries, and that some may be 7th century or later. The relationship between the ogham stones and the early Irish church is not yet clear. MacNeill asserts that the ogham traditional is unequivocally pagan and that the spread of Christianity was the cause of its eventual abandonment. Macalister argues that it was 'essentially pagan in its original associations' and attributes the defacement of certain inscriptions, especially those incorporating the MUCOI formula, to an attempt to 'de-paganise' the monuments. However, about one-third of the Irish ogham stones (and a similar proportion of those in Corca Dhuibhne) occur at sites with some ecclesiastical associations, and many are inscribed with crosses. De Valera suggests that' their concentration in the Munster region may indicate a connection with the very earliest pre-Patrician church in that area. Hamlin also maintains that their context is largely Christian and suggests the possibility that some of the ecclesiastical sites at which ogham stones are found may belong to a very early horizon of the diocesan church. The form of the inscriptions is commemorative and the stones may have acted as grave-markers, but it has also been suggested that some stones were set up to mark tribal or other boundaries, and Harbison (forthcoming) suggests that some may be associated with pilgrimage.
The ogham inscriptions of Britain and Ireland have been studied and interpreted by many authors, most recently by Macalister who published a corpus in 1945. Many of the inscriptions are damaged and there has not always been agreement on their original content. It has not been feasible during this survey to attempt a restoration of the problematic inscriptions, but a new corpus is being undertaken at present by Dr. Proinseas Ní Chathdáin and Dr. Ann Hamlin.
This above information was sourced from the Archaeological Survey of the Dingle Peninsula (1986) and provided to dodingle.com courtesy of Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne. Republication of the extract or any part therin, in any form or capacity, is strictly prohibited without the express permission of the publishers. © Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne 1986-2010.
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