Delve into the enchanting myths and legends that revolve around Ogma, the Celtic god of eloquence, knowledge, and strength. Explore the tales of his heroic feats, linguistic achievements, and encounters with other mythological figures. Immerse yourself in the captivating narratives that highlight Ogma’s wit, wisdom, and prowess. Uncover the rich tapestry of Celtic mythology and the profound significance of Ogma’s presence. Embark on a mythical journey as we delve into the timeless stories that celebrate the power of language, knowledge, and the enduring legacy of this strong and eloquent deity of Celtic lore. Consider now the Legends of Ogma.
The People’s Champion
When the Tuatha Dé Dannan arrived in Ireland they brought with them many things of value but most of all they brought their skills and talents. From a prophetic dream of the Fir Bolg King, Eochaid, the soothsayer Cesaird divined a description of the arriving tribe. He referred to them as a “thousand heroes covering the ocean; speckled ships will press in upon us; all kinds of death they announce, a people skilled in every art…”. So what then does it take to be more than a hero among the Tuatha Dé Danann? How does one rise above all others so that none would question their right to be the peoples champion? The answer is none other than Ogma.
According to our stories, Ogma was there when the Tuatha Dé returned to Ireland. He fought in the First Battle upon the plains of Moytura and in the aftermath when Bres became the nominated King of Ireland, Ogma took his place in the King’s hall as Champion. Yet we know that the rule of Bres was not as just as the people had hoped and soon enough the bias of Bres for his fomorian kin became apparent. It was said that;
“Bres held the sovranty as it had been conferred upon him. But the chiefs of the Tuath Dé murmured greatly against him, for their knives were not greased by him, and however often they visited him their breaths did not smell of ale. Moreover, they saw not their poets or their bards or their lampooners or their harpers or their pipers or their hornblowers or their jugglers or their fools amusing them in the household. They did not go to the contests of their athletes. They saw not their champions proving their prowess at the king’s, save only one man, Ogma son of Etáin.”
Bres in his bias placed Ireland under taxation to his Fomorian kin and stripped all positions of power and prestige he could from the Tuatha Dé Danann. These chieftains of the people found no welcome and hospitality in the court of Bres seeing none of their people in positions of respect and honour, “save only one man, Ogma son of Etáin”. For all that the biassed King could find replacement for other roles within his court, it seems that Ogma above all others could not be stripped of his position as Champion. So he instead set Ogma to a task beneath his station:
“This was the duty which he had, to bring fuel to the fortress. He used to carry a bundle every day from the Clew Bay islands. And because he was weak from want of food the sea would sweep away from him two thirds of his bundle. So he could only carry one third, and yet he had to supply the host from day to day.”
In this task Ogma never faltered and so, though he suffered and struggled, he could not be displaced as Champion. This we know for sure as when Bres was deposed and Nuada restored a young hero called Lugh arrived at Tara. Having proved his right to enter the King’s company by being Ildanach, or having ‘many linked skills’ upon him, he was straight away challenged by Ogma in a test of strength.
Warrior and Scholar
There are many conflicts in the legends of Ogma from the very first arrival of the Tuatha Dé Dannan in Ireland to its defence from the Fomorian invasion causing the second battle upon the plains of Moytura. It is here that we see what task Ogma promised and how it was fulfilled.
Ogma as the people’s champion was put to the question by Lugh;
‘And thou, O Ogma’, saith Lugh to his champion, ‘what is thy power in the battle?’
‘Not hard to say’, quoth he: ‘repelling the king and repelling three enneads of his friends, and capturing the battalion up to a third by the men of Ireland’.
When the battle came Ogma was as good as his word, breaking lines of Fomorians wherever he directed his prodigious strength and it was by his ferocious skill that Tethra, a King of the Fomorians and his bodyguard were slain. In the aftermath of the conflict, Ogma went beyond the simple acts of battling and recovered the sword of Tethra. In an almost ritualistic act he took to cleansing the sword and it’s said that the sword spoke to him of all of its deeds so that they might be remembered.
As great as he was a warrior, he was equally great a scholar. It was said that Ogma, a man well skilled in speech and in poetry, invented the first written script in Ireland and it carried the name Ogham. Our Legends tell us that Ireland existed as an oral society where all things of import were carried in the memories of bards, brehons and druids, but Ogma, as a proof of his ingenuity, invented a script which allowed for the sounds of words to be captured in wood and later stone. The legends of Ogma say that this speech should belong to the learned apart, to the exclusion of rustics and herdsmen. So it is said that the Ogham got its name according to sound and matter, who are the father and the mother of the Ogham, created by the mind of Ogma and the hand and knife with which he carved the first sounds into matter.
From Stones to Poems
To this very day the writing of Ogham appears up and down the island of Ireland, carved in the very rocks of its landscape. There are many famous examples housed in the University College in Cork, more stone that were repurposed into other older buildings, yet there are still some Ogham stones that stand in situ where our ancient ancestors placed them, marking boundaries, or linegages, or grave sites.
The fascination with Ogham has carried on down through the centuries and has informed in many subtle ways the cultural identity of our people even now. From the founders of the Gaelic League, to members of the Irish Rebellion of 1916, many notably educated individuals involved in the struggle for Irish independence, also sought to explore our ancient past for roots of our pre colonial cultural identity.
To explore more on the link between Ogham and Irish cultural Identity check out Lora’s Masters Thesis:
FROM STONES TO POEMS THE ROLE OF OGHAM IN IRISH IDENTITY IN THE LEINSTER REGION DURING THE 19TH AND 20TH CENTURIES HERE
The legends of Ogma are not just some distant myth to be related around a hearth fire, but also stories with underlying meaning to be considered and explored as we grow in understanding ourselves and the path this champion of the Gods has laid out before us.
Where To Now?
If you think that Oghma is interesting, and might even be something you’d like to explore further, you can always: