[From ManxNoteBook vol iii,1887]



THE FIRST OGAMIC INSCRIPTION EVER heard of in the Isle of Mann was discovered at Ballaqueeney in the year 1874, by the Rev. F. B. Grant, formerly curate of Rushen Parish Church. A brief account of the discovery will interest the readers of THE MANX NOTE BOOK. In a conversation which I had with that gentleman in April, 1875, concerning the antiquities of the district in which he then resided, he informed me that while excavations were being made in 1874 at the Chronk—a rising ground adjacent to Port St. Mary station on the Ballaqueeney estate-—for the purpose of obtaining ballast for the railway, many ancient stone cists formed of slabs of slate were brought to light, and that in one of these graves was found a stone upon which he had detected an inscription, in characters which no one in the locality had been able to decipher. From his verbal description of the characters, I had no hesitation in pronouncing them to be Ogams; and begged Mr. Grant to favour me with a copy of the inscription. He courteously promised to comply with my request, and, a few days afterwards, sent me the following letter :— Port St. Mary, April 14, 1875.

Dear Sir,

The enclosed is a copy of inscription taken from the stone referred to by me the other day. Mr. Kelly talks of getting the stone repaired (which is in a very precarious state,) but fearing that may not be realised for some time, I thought it better to forward the following copy. Hoping to hear soon of the result.

I am, yours faithfully,

Mr. W. Kneale. F. B. GRANT.

The letter contained a copy of the Ogam inscription, a facsimile of which copy is exhibited in the accompanying phototypograph. On the back of the paper on which the transcript is written, Mr. Grant gives a rough pen-and-ink sketch of this ancient Keltic memorial stone, and supplies the following particulars concerning it:

Ballaqueeney Oghams

"Copy of inscription, (reduced scale) upon a stone found—1874—in a grave forming [part of] an ancient churchyard upon the estate of Ballaqueeney, Rushen, the property of Mr. Henry Kelly. The measurement of the stone is 20 inches in length by 4 in breadth—4½ being the extreme." Mr. Grant’s transcript is valuable as having been made when the Ogam stone was in a better state of preservation than it is at the present time. Unfortunately this monumental stone was kept in the garden at Ballaqueeney from 1874 to about 1885 and it has consequently suffered greatly from exposure to the weather. Since Mr. Grant’s transcript of the legend was taken in the year 1875, two characters have been obliterated, and several others, and portions of others, have been almost entirely effaced. Copies of this Ogamic inscription taken recently are therefore to some extent necessarily defective. Fortunately the characters which have been obliterated can be supplied from Mr. Grant’s transcript, which was made when the values of all the Ogams could be accurately ascertained.

Before proceeding to offer some brief remarks on the Ballaqueeney inscription, I wish to call the attention of the reader to the Ogam alphabet (see the phototypograph)—the alphabet long in use among the Irish and some other Keltic nations. The characters are lines or groups of lines deriving their significance from their position on a stem-line over, under, or through which they are drawn either straight or oblique. In many cases the edge of the stone on which the Ogams are incised serves the purpose of the stem line. This archaic alphabet consisted of twenty letters; and five characters representing diphthongs were subsequently added.

The Ogam inscription discovered and copied by the Rev. Mr. Grant is cut on the side of the stone, the first score being ,56/8 in. from the bottom. It is read from left to right, and from the base of the stone upwards, and the line of charadters is carried on over the rounded top, on which it terminates. The inscription consists of 74 scores, the long scores representing the consonants, the short ones the vowels. The scores forming the consonants for the most part are about 2 inches in length, the scores forming the vowels about one inch.*

The distance between contiguous scores of the same letter varies from 3/16 to about 3/8 of an inch. There are no traces of divisional points ; but, there are longer spaces between the words than between the letters.

For a considerable time (before I had an opportunity of inspeáling the Ballaqueeney stone), assuming the copy taken by Mr. Grant to be accurate in every particular, I read the inscription thus :—


rendering it

[The Stone] of Binaidon, the son of Mucoi Conaf.

Finding however from a rubbing lent to me by my friend, Dr. Haviland, and from a subsequent examination of the legend, that Mr. Grant had made a slight error in copying the third character (which he gave as incorrect oghamN, whereas it should be correct ogham F,) I rectified the error in the first name, changing BINAIDONAS into BIFAIDONAS. The true reading therefore seems to me to be


which I venture to translate,

[The Stone] of Bifaidon, the son of Mucoi Conaf.

The inscription is a very simple one, presenting merely a proper name with its patronymic, both in the genitive case—the word Lia being understood at the beginning. The first name—that of the person commemorated—with a slight variation in orthography, has been found in an Irish Ogamic legend. The name Bifodon occurs upon an Ogam-inscribed stone at Kilbeg in the parish of Kilberry-Meaden, Co. Waterford. The inscription was deciphered by Mr. Brash, and the stone is preserved in the museum at Kilkenny. A somewhat similar name, Bifator, is on a stone at Cork.

MAQI is the Gaedhelic word Mac, a son, in the genitive case. It is the key-word of the inscription—a proper name going before it, and another following it.

Mucoi, a word which occurs so frequently on Ogam inscribed monuments, and which is rarely found unaccompanied by a preceding "Maqi," is variously interpreted. With respect to this word, Mr. Brash remarks :—"The orthography of Mucoi is carefully preserved in every case of its use, which appears to be twofold: first, as a proper name, as in the inscriptions from Roovesmore, &c.; and secondly, as a profession, in those from Gurranes, &c. O’Brien’s dictionary gives us "Muicidhe, a swineherd," O’Reilly’s dictionary "Mucaidhe, s.m. a swineherd." Names derived from animals are usual among the Gaedhil, as Mac Turc, Mac Sionach, Mac Tire, Mac Cue, and Mac Con; here we have son of the Boar, Fox, Wolf, and Dog, which are no more terms of reproach than are such names as Hogg, Bull, Steer, Ram, and Lamb in English. Neither should the term swineherd be considered a term of reproach or opprobrium; in truth it was probably quite the contrary among the old Gaedhil, as a considerable source of their wealth was derived from that domestic animal, of which they appear to have had enormous herds."

QUNAFA. The patronymic I propose to read as Conaf. This name was found by Professor O’Looney in an Ogam inscription at Callan Mountain, in the County of Clare. Q, the first letter in the patronymic, a letter not found in the modern Irish alphabet, occurs constantly in Ogamic words, and is frequently used for C. Of the former letter, Dr. Stokes, the distinguished Keltic scholar, says :—"Furthermore, as I have shown elsewhere, the presence of Q (Ky.) and Y in the Ogam alphabet, and the absence therefrom of aspirated letters, tend to prove that it must have been invented or introduced long before the eighth century, when the oldest existing Irish MSS. were written; for the language of these abounds in aspirated tenues, but affords no instance of the employment of the compound letter or semi-vowel in question." According to Professor Sullivan, pure Irish was probably spoken in the Isle of Mann in the sixth and seventh centuries. From the archaic character of the grammatical forms of the words on the Ballaqueeney memorial stone, it may safely be affirmed that the Ogam inscription discovered by the Rev. Mr. Grant is several centuries older than the oldest Irish manuscripts extant.+ WM. KNEALE.

* It may be well to state here that in all the Irish Ogam inscriptions, with one exception, the vowels are represented by small round or oval dots or very minute scores, on the angle of the stone; that the Irish and Welsh Ogams are identical in form and power; and that in all the Scottish examples the vowels are similar to the consonants.

+ In days of yore, the Keltic inhabitants of Mann evidently kept up a connection with Ireland and Scotland. The three countries were collectively denominated Trefod, i.e., Three Lands, which word is thus defined in Cormac’s Glossary "Trefod, i.e., tn foide, i.e., Erind, Manaind, acas Albain." See Dr. Stokes’s edition of the Glossary.

In another ancient Irish Glossary (O’Davoren’s) also edited by Dr. Stokes, the Isle of Mann is called FALGACH :—" At fo. so. a. I, Incipit for fes fer falccaig, ‘here begins the feast of the men of Falgach’—one of the names for the Isle of Man." See p. LIX.


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