Irish grid ref: V 6569 5291. On the windswept headland to the south of Lough Fadda, at the far-western point of County Cork, Southern Ireland, stands the ancient monument which is known as Ballycrovane Ogham Stone, a very tall standing stone (menhir) which has an Ogham inscription carved on its edge. But this tall, thin pillar-stone pre-dates the Ogham inscription by over two-thousand years – back to the Bronze-Age, at least. The ancient standing stone is located in a field on the top of the hill overlooking the harbour at the south-side of Kenmare Bay – at Ballycrovane on the Beara Peninsula (Ring of Beara) – a few hundred-yards south-east of the ‘Faunkill and the Woods’ road and the little coastguard station, then with ‘possible’ access through the farmyard*. Ballycrovane is 2 miles to the south-west of Ardgroom village and the R571 road; the village of Eyeries being a further 2 miles to the south-east. [*The stone is on private farmland, so you “might” have to pay a small fee to visit the monument!]
Ballycrovane Ogham Stone is said to be ‘the tallest Ogham stone in Ireland’ and probably in Europe, for that matter. It stands at a very impressive 17 feet (5.3 metres) and is said to be several feet below ground, but it is only a very slender pillar-slab and it tapers slowly away to the top. At the eastern edge there is an Ogham inscription which is becoming difficult to see because of weathering. This stone was obviously erected here during the Bronze-Age, with the notches being carved onto it in more recent times, probably during the 3rd-5th centuries AD. The inscription is now thought to recall someone called Deich and Toranus – the full Latin translation being: MAQI DECCEDDAS AVI TURANIAS which would be ‘Of the son of Deich a descendant of Torainn’, but could the inscription in fact be a kind of dedication or memorial to the Deisi – the ancient tribe that inhabited Ireland – during the 3rd-4th centuries AD? We may never know that question.
Ogham was the ancient (Goidelic) language of the Celts who inhabited the western fringes of Britain in pre-Roman times, but it was still being used by the ancient Britons up until the 5th-7th centuries AD – the so-called Dark Ages, at which time many Ogham memorial stones were Christianized with a carved cross. The script consisted of a series of short notches or strokes, carved vertically and also slanting on the edges of grave-covers and some standing stones, similar in fact to the wording and epitaphs that we see on gravestones in churchyards today. Antiquarians and historians in this particular field have now been able to translate, in Latin form, these usually short inscriptions by following the Ogham script alphabet, the key to which was in the 14th century Book of Ballymote.
The author James MacKillop in his work ‘Dictionary of Celtic Mythology’ says of the Ogham language: “The earliest form of writing in Irish in which the Latin alphabet is adapted to a series of twenty ‘letters’ of straight lines and notches carved on the edge of a piece of stone or wood. Letters are divided into four categories of five sounds.” MacKillop goes on to say: “Ogham inscriptions date primarily from the 4th to 8th centuries and are found mainly on standing stones; evidence for inscriptions on wood exists, but examples do not survive. The greatest concentration of surviving Ogham inscriptions is in southern Ireland; a 1945 survey found 12 in Kerry and 80 in Co. Cork, while others are scattered throughout Ireland, Great Britain, and the Isle of Man, with five in Cornwall, about thirty in Scotland, mainly in ‘Pictish’ areas, and more than forty in Wales. South Wales was an area of extensive settlement from southern Ireland , including the migration of the Deisi.”
Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, Oxford University Press, New York, 1998.
Photo copyright: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/507477
Reader’s Digest., Illustrated Guide to Ireland, The Reader’s Digest Association Limited, London, 1992.
Scherman, Katherine., The Flowering Of Ireland, Victor Gollancz Ltd., London, 1981.
The Megalithic Portal: http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=12