Stone Engraved with Ancient Irish Writing Found in English Garden

Stone Engraved with Ancient Irish Writing Found in English Garden

Irish Script

Ogham stone
The early Irish language was often carved in stone; Photo: The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum

The Portable Antiques Scheme records historical objects discovered in England and Wales. When Senior contacted them, Gilmore investigated the stone but needed expert advice. After seeing Gilmore’s photos of the stone, University of Glasgow historian Kathryn Forsythe confirmed that the lines are inscriptions of the early style of ogham.

A few months ago, Forsythe made her way to Coventry to photograph the stone for 3D models. She partially translated the inscription, which says, “Maldumcail/ S/ Lass.” Gilmore says the first part relates to someone’s name, Mael Dumcail. But the rest is still unknown.

The object is made of sandstone. It weighs about 5 ounces and is 4 inches long. The lines of inscription are carved into the three corners of the stone’s faces. This was a common way to write ogham before discovering vellum (scraped calfskin), parchment (scraped sheepskin), and paper.

A Rare Discovery

Graham Senior (right) poses with The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum curator Ali Wells (left) after donating his old Irish stone; Photo: The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum

An ogham stone is a rare find. There are only about 400 known ogham inscriptions, and only 10 were found in England, Gilmore said. She said most are from Ireland, but some are from Celtic regions of Britain like Wales, Scotland, and Cornwall.

Senior donated his stone to the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry, where it will be on display until April 2025. The museum plans to investigate the stone and its inscription thoroughly. Herbert Museum curator Ali Wells said, “We might never know how Mael lost the stone and how it ended up in a garden in Coventry, but I hope future research will reveal more.”

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