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Dunloe Ogham Stones

This loose circle of eight Ogham stones stand upright in a small, ringed enclosure, near Dunloe Castle, along the Ring of Kerry. Seven of the stones were rescued from an underground passage at Coolmagort, in nearby Beaufort village. The central stone was taken from the ruined church at Kilbonane, which is also close by.  The Coolmagort slabs were not originally standing stones; instead they were laid horizontally, forming the roof of the subterranean structure. They date from the 5th or 6th century. Because they spent most of their lives in the interior, they are better preserved than many other Ogham stones. 

Ogham - A Secret Code?

Ogham is the earliest system of writing to appear in Ireland, dating back to the 4th century. It was used for about 500 years, evolving and adapting over that time. While some scholars argue that the Ogham alphabet evolved from earlier forms that emerged elsewhere, it is generally accepted that Ogham was invented by the Irish, during a time when Latin language was spreading throughout Europe. One theory is that Ogham was a form of secret communication in opposition to Roman Britain, which used the Latin alphabet.  The writing disappeared after the first few centuries of the Christian era. 

The Ogham Alphabet

Ogham is also called the Celtic Tree Alphabet because most of the letters are linked to the Irish names for certain trees. The letters are created by sets of strokes cut across or on either side of a vertical stem line formed by the edge or corner of a standing stone, and each stone commemorated a person. The edge of the stone served as the centre line. Ogham is usually read from the left hand side bottom up, across the top and down the other side. Many letters in the Roman alphabet do not exist in the Ogham alphabet; while Ogham has vowel sounds that do not exist in the Roman alphabet. For example, the letters 'x' and 'z' do not exist in Ogham. See below. 

Other Ogham Stones

There are an estimated 400 surviving Ogham inscription stone monuments, the bulk being in the south of Ireland in counties Cork, Kerry, and Waterford. The stone sites can also be found in England, Wales, Scotland, the Orkney Isles, and the Isle of Man.

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