Ogham Stones in Wales
Pic: Babel Stone
|From the wonderful Babel Stones site, we learn that Wales has the greatest number of Ogham stones of any region outside of Ireland (35 stones with definite Ogham inscriptions), but as can be seen from the map below, they are unevenly distributed, with large numbers in the south-west and the south-east, and only a handful in the north.
Red tags mark the sites of certain Ogham inscriptions (a dot indicates that the stone is in situ)
Yellow tags mark the sites of dubious or unconfirmed Ogham inscriptions
Blue tags mark museums or other sites where Ogham stones are held
The modern names of Post-Roman Welsh kingdoms are overprinted in white
The distribution of Ogham stones in Wales closely reflects the geopolitical situation of post-Roman Britain. The majority of stones are concentrated in the area of south-west Wales that belonged to the Kingdom of Dyfed (early 5th century through to the early 10th century), which was the major centre for Irish settlement in Wales during the post-Roman period. During the late 4th century and early 5th century large numbers of the Déisi crossed from the Waterford area of Ireland to Britain, and settled in the land of the Demetae in south-west Wales. Their leaders displaced the original British ruling class, and founded the kingdom of Dyfed, which is believed to have been bounded on the north by the River Teifi and on the east by the River Tywi. Dyfed was neighboured on the north by the Brythonic Kingdom of Ceredigion, and to the south-east by the Brythonic Kingdom of Glywysing, but to the east lay the Kingdom of Brycheiniog (largely corresponding to the area of modern Brecknockshire), which had also been founded by Irish raiders, and was ruled by kings of Irish descent.
The Influence of Irish Settlement and Raiding
|Over twenty Ogham stones are found within the territory of Dyfed, including a couple of stones which are just on the other side of the River Teifi, in erstwhile Cardiganshire (RHDDL/1 and LDYSL/1), but the modern course of the river clearly deviates from the course the river took fifteen hundred years ago, and they would originally have been on the Dyfed side of the river. At least eight Ogham stones are also found in the territory of Brycheiniog, testifying to the strength of Irish settlement in these two areas, and evidence that the Irish language was widely spoken here, at least by the ruling elite and land owners. There are also two Ogham stones east of the River Tywi, in what would probably have been the territory of Glywysing, suggesting that Irish settlement pushed eastwards from Dyfed into the western part of its Brythonic neighbour. To the north of Dyfed, in the territory of Ceredigion there is only one doubtful Ogham stone (LARTH/1).
Irish Settlements in Western Britain
Pic: Babel Stone
In contrast to the large number of Ogham stones in South Wales (at least 32), there are only three certain Ogham inscriptions in North Wales, all within the territory of the Kingdom of Gwynedd. There had been extensive Irish raiding and settlement in the north of Wales as well as in the south, especially in the Llŷn Peninsula (the name of which is derived from the Laigin, the men of Leinster) and Anglesey, but during the late 4th century and early 5th century there was strong resistence to the Irish incursions, led by Cunedda (founder of the kingdom of Gwynedd), and the Irish did not manage to gain control of any of the kingdoms in the north. So it is perhaps to be expected that there are a few Ogham stones in the area of Gwynedd, but not very many, reflecting the presence, but not dominance, of Irish settlers in the region.
Overview of the Archaeology of Dark Age Britain
Dark Ages Wales
Pic: Babel Stone
|The Ordnance Survey Map of Britain in the Dark Ages (first published 1935) gives a very useful overview of the archaeological remains in Britain during the period 410–871, and comes with indexes which give the exact location of each feature marked on the map. In the case of Celtic memorial stones (with or without Ogham inscriptions), where possible the index on pages 50 and 51 provides a reference to Nash-Williams’ The Early Christian Monuments of Wales (Cardiff, 1950), from which it is possible to identify the stone in question in the CISP database.
Source : Map of Britain in the Dark Ages 2nd Edition (Ordnance Survey, 1966)
Key to Map
- ♗♗ = Bishop’s seats
- ✠✠ = Monastic sites
- ♁ = Hermitages◉ = Forts
- ⊥ = Memorial stones (5th–6th centuries)
- + = Minor Christian monuments in Wales (7th–9th centuries)
- • = Casual finds in Celtic area
- ⊖ = Frankish-Gaulish ware
Black = Celtic
Red = Christian Anglo-Saxon
Tracking Down Irregularities
This map is very useful, but strangely enough there are a number of memorial stones in both Cornwall and Wales that are marked as having an Ogham inscription for which I can find no evidence for actually having an Ogham inscription :
- Lancarffe House, Bodmin, Cornwall (LCARF/1)
- Llanfaelog, Anglesey (LFAEL/1) [not marked as an Ogham stone on the actual map, but indicated as having an Ogham inscription in the index of Memorial Stones on page 50]
- Llanfihangel-Cwmdu, Brecknockshire (No CISP entry)
- Ystradfellte, Brecknockshire (No CISP entry)
- Margam Mountain (Mynydd Margam), Glamorganshire (MARG1/1)
Up until a few days ago I had assumed that these must all have been accidentally mislabelled by the editors of the map, and that they were almost certainly without any Ogham inscription. However, on Monday I noticed on the page describing the forthcoming third volume of A Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales the statement that “[d]iscoveries made in the course of fieldwork in 2007 include a previously unknown ogam inscription on a roman-letter inscribed stone from Llanfaelog”. Upon enquiry, Professor Nancy Edwards was kind enough to provide me with the details of this discovery, and it transpires that the Ogham inscription is on the stone indicated as having an Ogham inscription on it in the index of memorial stones in the Map of Britain in the Dark Ages (cross-referenced to ECMW 10, the Mailisi stone). This stone and its Latin inscription, MAILISI, was first noticed by John Skinner in 1802 (Ten Days Tour through the island of Anglesea page 42 and 48; in Archaeologia Cambrensis Supplement, July 1908), when it was already in use as a lintel in a barn, and it remained built into the barn wall until the barn was demolished in 2001. Skinner only notes a Latin inscription, and I can find no mention of an Ogham inscription on this stone in any source other than the Ordnance Survey map. Moreover, according to Professor Edwards the Ogham inscription was not visible until the stone had been removed from the structure of the barn in 2001, so where, I wonder, did the Ordnance Survey get the idea that the stone did have an Ogham inscription on it ?
Was the Ogham inscription later obscured?
|Perhaps it is just a lucky coincidence that they accidentally mismarked the Mailisi stone as an Ogham stone, but given that there are nearly fifty memorial stones in North Wales, and only two of them (other than this stone) definitely have an Ogham inscription, it would be remarkably serendipitous to make such a mistake on the one stone that really does have an Ogham inscription amongst all the others that do not. I wonder if perhaps at one time the Ogham inscription was visible, and had been noticed by an Ordnance Survey surveyor, but later became obscured when the window it was a lintel to was perhaps rebuilt, and so the Ogham inscription was not noticed by Nash-Williams. Whatever the true explanation may be, it has made me think again about the other four stones in Wales and Cornwall that only the Ordnance Survey map indicates as having an Ogham inscription on them. Does the Ordnance Survey perhaps know something about these stones that Macalister, Nash-Williams and everyone else did not know? A further issue with the Ordnance Survey map (and also with the Wikipedia map) is that some of the stones indicated as having an Ogham inscription may not really have an Ogham inscription on them at all. Because of the nature of the Ogham script and the way that it is carved along edge of stones, Ogham inscriptions tend to be less durable than Latin inscriptions.
Macalister 1945 #327
Pic: Babel Stone
Over the centuries the edges of a stone can become abraded, and the strokes of Ogham letters (especially the vowel letters) can disappear. The result of this is that most Ogham inscriptions are incomplete, and need to be reconstructed to a certain extent. This also means that ogamologists need to be on the look out for odd incisions and marks on the edges of stones that might be the vestiges of an Ogham inscription that has been all but worn away.
Unfortunately, this also means that natural features of the rock or marks made by later processes (such as sharpening farm implements or weapons) may be mistaken for the remnant strokes of Ogham letters. It is also possible that Ogham inscriptions were deliberately obliterated at a later date, usually when a cross was added to the stone, either because they were thought to be pagan marks or because they were aesthetically displeasing.
The Dangers of Imagination in identifying Ogham inscriptions
R. A. S. Macalister, author of the monumental Corpus Inscriptionum Insularum Celticarum [CIIC], had a particularly fanciful imagination when it came to recognising remnants of Ogham inscriptions. Macalister identifies LARTH/1 (CIIC 348), LDYSL/1 (CIIC 349), SISHM/1 (CIIC 376), HENLL/1 (CIIC 364), PTREF/1 (CIIC 401) and TIRPH/1 (CIIC 404) in Wales, and SENDL/1 (CIIC 478) and SCLEM/1 (CIIC 473) in Cornwall, as having traces of an Ogham inscription on them. In a couple of cases there is no visible trace of any Ogham letters left on the stone, but Macalister speculates that a perceived pattern of flaking along the edges indicate that an original Ogham inscription has been deliberately obliterated. Macalister is the only authority to see the remnants of an Ogham inscription on most of these eight stones, and for some of these stones other authorities have explicitly discounted the possibility of an Ogham inscription. Thus, it is doubtful that these stones did originally have an Ogham inscription on them, but because they have been identified as having one by Macalister, they are still marked as such on the Ordnance Survey and Wikipedia maps. I have attempted to distinguish between certain Ogham inscriptions (including stones such as DFYNG/1 and MTHRY/1 that have vestiges of an Ogham inscription that are recognised by more than one authority) and doubtful Ogham inscriptions on my map, by marking certain Ogham stones with a red tag (35 stones), and marking doubtful and unconfirmed Ogham stones with a yellow tag (11 stones).
The Welsh Ogham stones are all dated to the 5th and 6th centuries, and as is the case with the Ogham stones of Cornwall and Devon, most of them have a dual inscription, in Latin (script and language) on the face of the stone, and and in Ogham/Irish on the edge of the stone. Of the 35 definite Ogham stones in Wales, only five do not have a corresponding latin inscription (BRAW1/1, BRIDL/1, LFRN2/1, LOUGH/1, YFLL2/1). In all cases the inscription records the name of a person, and optionally the name of the person’s father or some other familial relationship. In almost all cases the commemorated person is male, but in one case the Ogham inscription refers to the commemorated person as the daughter of someone (EGLWC/1).
High likelihood of the Stones being Memorial Markers
Pentre Poeth Ogham Stone
Pic: Babel Stone
|Seven of the Latin inscriptions on biscript stones incorporate the hic iacit “here lies” formula, and a little over half of the definite Ogham stones are sited in churchyards or in churches, so it seems probable that most of the stones were memorial stones or grave markers (although none have been archaeologically associated with a grave). Two stones from Brawdy, one Ogham only (BRAW1/1) and one Ogham and Latin (BRAW3/1), were found next to an Iron Age hill fort (they were being used as a footbridge and as a gatepost, so they may well have been moved from an original location inside the hill fort). It has been suggested that the hill fort may have been reused as burial site, as was the case with some other hill forts in south-west Wales during the early medieval period, which would explain the presence of two Ogham stones in the same location (see Nancy Edwards, Early-Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales: Context and Function page 22). Another stone (CLOCG/1) originally stood on the summit of a burial mound called Bryn-y-Beddau “Hill of the Graves”, in the close viscinity of a number of stone circles.
Two stones originally stood close to Roman roads : the memorial to Icorix (BRYNK/1) was 200 m. from the road to Caernarfon and 300 m. from a minor Roman fort; and the memorial to Voteporix the Protector (CDWYR/1) was found at the edge of a churchyard about 200 m. south of a Roman road. The siting of these two memorial stones may reflect a continuation of the Roman custom of roadside burial, or may simply thave been intended to let the memorial be seen by people travelling along the road. Although most stones were probably memorials to the dead, there are also a few stones that are sited on open moorland (YFLL2/1) or in mountainous countryside (PONTS/1) that are nowhere near ecclesiastical or burial sites, and so may have been used as markers of land ownership, as was probably the original purpose of Ogham stones in Ireland.
The names engraved in the Ogham inscriptions on the Welsh stones are overwhelmingly Goidelic, with only a few names that are probably Brythonic, some possibly indicative of intermarriage between Irish settlers and the native British inhabitants :
- TRENACCATLO “Of Trenaccatlo” [corresponding to Trenacatvs in the associated Latin inscription] (RHDDL/1)
- INIGENA CUNIGNI AVITTORIGES “Of the daughter of Cunignos, Avittoriga” [the daughter's name is either Goidelic or Brythonic, but the father's name is Brythonic; this stone is perhaps a memorial to his British wife set up by an Irish settler] (EGLWC/1)
- MAGLICUNAS MAQI CLUTARI “Of Maglicunas, son of Clutarias” [both names are Brythonic, and Thomas 1994 identifies the father with Clotri, one of the kings of Dyfed] (NEVRN/1)
- SAGRAGNI MAQI CUNATAMI “Of Sagragnus, son of Cunatamus” [the son's name is Goidelic, but the father's name is Brythonic] (SDOGM/1)
Small number of Irish settlers assimilating with the Romano-British Population
In comparison with Cornwall and Devon, where three of the six definite Ogham inscriptions that we can read commemorate people with Latin names (Ingenuus, Iustus and Latinus), only four out of the thirty-five definite Ogham inscriptions in Wales commemorate someone with a Latin name. This difference is probably due to the relatively small number of Irish settlers in Dumnonia becoming culturally assimilated within the Romano-British population; whereas the Irish settlers in Wales belonged to large Irish communities, and so there was no pressure on them to adopt Latin names in favour of Irish names.
- ETTERNI MAQI VICTOR “Of Etternus, son of Victor” [both names are Latin] (CLYDI/1)
- TURPILLI MAQI TRILLUNI “Of Turpillius, son of Trillunus” [both names are Latin] (CRCKH/1)
- POPIAS ROLION MAQI LLENA “Of Popia, … son of Llena” [Popia or Popias is probably a Celticized version of the name Pvmpeivs given in the associated Latin inscription] (KENFG/1)
- VITALIANI “Of Vitalianus” (NEVRN/2)
The CRCKH/1 and KENFG/1 inscriptions both illustrate the use of the rare Ogham letter Ifin or Iphin (earlier Pin, from Latin pinus “pine” or spina “thorn” ?) – (in manuscript texts written as two overlapping diagonal crosses, but in monumental inscriptions written as a single diagonal cross) that is used to represent /p/ in Latin, Brythonic or Pictish names. As Primitive Irish did not have a /p/ sound there was originally no Ogham letter for /p/, and so the cross-shaped letter was added to represent this foreign sound. In later medieval Irish tradition this letter was repurposed as the diphthong /io/, and a new letter Peith ᚚ introduced to represent /p/ in its place. The only other definite occurence of this letter on an Ogham stone inscription is in County Kerry, Ireland (COOLE/1), where it is used to write the name Erpenn, which Macalister suggests is a hybrid of the Pictish name Erp and the Irish diminuitive -én.
One other interesting feature of the Ogham transcription of non-Irish names is exhibited by the St Dogwell’s stone (SDOGW/1), where the name written in the Latin script as HOGTIVIS is written in the Ogham script as OGTEN[AS]. The language and derivation of the name Hogtivis is obscure, but it cannot be Goidelic. In writing the name Hogtivis in Ogham letters, the initial H has been dropped, which confirms that the Ogham letter uath ᚆ, which in later medieval Irish tradition is used to represent the Latin letter H, but which does not occur in Ogham inscriptions on memorial stones, was not used to represent the /h/ sound at this time. Exactly what the original phonetic value of this letter was is unknown ([y] has been suggested), but it had become obsolete by the time that Primitive Irish came to be inscribed on memorial stones in the 4th to 6th centuries.
This is a mirror of the article on Babel Stone. If you go through to the original article you will find out more details about the Ogham Stones in Wales, complete with illustrations and transcriptions.
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