Why to single out this section of the Auraicept?


The Auraicept, as found in the manuscript Book of Ballymote contains three versions of the description of the Irish language. Each section is attributed to a different author. They are called the book of Ferchertne, the book of Amairgein Glungeal and the book of Fenius Farsaidh. The book of Fenius contains also a book of the Ogam, somewhat drowned within grammatical topics. It however provides an interesting light on the way trees and letters are associated.

The Ogam of Ferchertne is also interesting but it rather tells us the way the letters should be written.


There exists also a so-called Ogham tract, yet another text contained in the  Book of Ballymote, which provides three different presentations of the Ogam, Ogmas Ogam, Morann Mac Mains Ogam and Mac ind Oics Ogam.


[Calders text is in the font Courrier New and my commentaries are in Times New Roman between [ ]. A few remarks on the remarks are in font 8.] [Ill not translate the ut dicitur (Latin for so it is said)]


[Here the text begins]


This is the beginning of this book according to Fenius, and according to Iar mac Nema, and Gael son of Ether. These are its persons; and this is its period, to wit, when all the children of Israel came out of Egypt. In Dacia it was invented, though others say it was in the plain of Shinar. The reason for writing it, because it was by the great school requested of Fenius, Iar, and Gaedel son of Ether that it should be selected for them as their Primer after it had been given by Moses and learned with him by Cae Cainbreathach



Now Fenius Farsaidh is the same man that discovered these four alphabets, to wit, the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin alphabets, and the Beithe Luis Nin of the Ogham, and it is for this reason the last, to wit, the Beithe is more exact because it was discovered last. There were in the school twenty-five that were noblest among them, and these are their names, which are upon the Beithe Luis Nin both vowels and consonants:


And there were seven that were most noble among these, from whom the seven principal vowels of the Ogham have been named, so for that reason they have been placed apart:aura7.jpg


Others say that ten principal vowels stand in it and these are their names aura8.jpg

And these are the three that increase those to the above seven, to wit, aura9.jpg, so on that account, their vowels and consonants have been set apart, and these are their names which are thus upon them.[and we just gave their names].

Others, however, say that it is not from men at all that the Ogham vowels are named in Gaelic but from trees, though some of these trees are not known to-day [Emphasis by me]. For there are four classes of trees, to wit, chieftain trees, peasant trees, herb trees, and shrub trees; and it is from these four that the Ogham vowels are named. Chieftain trees, quidem, to wit, oak, hazel, holly, apple, ash, yew, fir. Peasant trees, to wit, alder, willow, birch, elm, white thorn, aspen, mountain-ash. The shrub trees here, to wit, black-thorn, elder, spindle-tree, test-tree [or true tree. Ogmas ogam will hint it is the white thorn.], honeysuckle, bird-cherry, white-hazel [?, there are many legends related to this white hazel which should be different from the normal hazel. I was however unable to find non mythical information relative to the existence of this tree in the Islands of Britain]. Herb trees, to wit, furze, heather, broom, bog-myrtle, lecla, to wit, rushes, etc.


*** here is the Irish original version of this text on the different values of the trees. I translated it partly when its meaning is not very clear ***



Asberat immorro araile co nach o dhainibh [duine = a human; the ib ending marks a dative plural: dhainibh = since (= by) the humans] itir ainmnighter fedha [cf. fedach = the branches; the Auraicept defines line 395 what has to be understood by fedha: Fedha: fidh immorro (The fedha: similar to a tree) translated by Calder as wood vowels in the sentence (BB. 318 α 28): As to fedha, wood vowels, moreover, two kinds are reckoned of them, to wit, artificial tree and natural tree. In the following, however, Calder tends to translate fedha, by tree or wood. Ill not follow him on this matter, and I will translate fedha by inventing the word tree-letter as did the Auraicept itself (the word fedha does not exist elsewhere in Old or Middle Irish)] inn n-ogaim isin Gaedhelg acht o chrandaibh gen gu haichinter anniu araile crand dibh. Air atat ceithri [four] hernaile [ernail = part, division] for crandaib [crann or crand = tree, wood (material), small stick used for casting lots. Here, again a dative plural] -i- [i. e.] airigh [aire = who has value, free man, chief; airech = who goes forwards] fedha [tree-letter] 7 [and] athaigfedha [aithech or aithig = peasant, receiving wages (DIL) or else = house master (Vendryes); also: athaig = space] 7 lossa fedha [the grass tree-letters; lus = grass, genitive losa] 7 fodhla fedha [Calder translates fodhla by shrubs and links it to feda in his glossary, but I was unable to confirm this choice in the other dictionaries. The only possible links are 1. fedach = branch and 2. fodelg, small thorn. Could the fodhla fedha thus be the tree-letters with smalls thorns ? ]; 7 is uaithibh sin a ceathrur ainmnighter fedha in oghaim.

Airigh fedha [the noble tree-letters] quidem -i- dur [dair or daur or daire or doire: oak, copse of oaks, a very dense copse], coll [hazel, 9th letter; destruction , violation; also: the neck], cuileand [cuilenn or cuilend = holly; cuilendae: made of holly], abhull [aball: apple-tree; ubull: apple], uindsiu [uinnius = ash-tree; in the text (verses 648, 705) unnsi or uindsi = feminine gender (grammar)], ibur [ibar = yew-tree, yew wood, the text says also: ibor], gius [gis = pine-tree, fir-tree]. Athaig fedha [peasant tree-letters] -i- fern [alder, and also (poetry) a man; also: good], sail [willow, 4th letter; also: wooden beam], bethi [beithe or beith = birch-tree; note the special spelling used here: betha means: life, life duration], lemh [lem = elm; and also: weak, impotent, valueless], sce [sc = thorny bushes, hawthorn], crithach [crith = fluttering, crithach = aspen], caerthand [cer = berry, ball; certhann = rowan-tree]. Fodla fedha [See just above: Calder call them shrub letters, I suppose it means tree-letters with smalls thorns] andso [now] -i- draighen [black-thorn], trom [elderberry-tree; and also: heavy, tough], feorus [feorus = a plant, probably spindle-tree. In other old Irish texts, this word stands also either for galingale or for the plant providing papyrus (cyperus)], crand fir [true tree], fedlend [fithleg = honeysuckle, its linguistic root is: fith = sinew, fibre, vein (in a mine)], fidhat [fidot = aspen], finncholl [fn = vine; finn or find= white; coll = hazel; the finncoll (or findcholl) exists in the Auraicept only]. Lossa fedha [Tree-letter of the grass] -i- aitean [aitten = furze or gorse (DIL). Macbain translates aitenn by juniper. Vendryes translates by  gent pineux (thorny broom), I suppose to be genista anglica, the thorniest of all genista, i. e. broom. Its linguistic root is probably ith = cutting, sharp.], fraech [frech = heath; and also fury], gilcach [reed, rush, broom], raid [raideg = name of a plant. Probably the bog-myrtle, a sweet smelling bush.], lecla [a plant] -i- luachair [lachair = gorse; and also: shine] 7rl [etc.].


*** Back to the commented Calders translation ***


Now beithe has been named from the birch owing to its resemblance to the trunk of the birch, ut dicitur:


[Irish original version]

Feocos foltchain in beithi,


[Calders translation]

Of withered trunk fairhaired the birch,



and therefore on the birch was written the first Ogham inscription that was brought into Ireland, to wit, seven birches were brought to Lugh son of Ethleann, to wit, thy wife will be taken from thee [You may wonder what this wife is doing here. This mystery is explained in Ogmas Ogam version (see the Ogam tract). Note however that the Irish sentence is ambiguous. Another meaning is: your high burden will collapse. Irish: berthair (I read: bert air) = high burden, even though air is normally used as a prefix and this is the only twist with the grammar) do bean uait (Calder obviously reads ben for and ben = a female being Also possible, the reading do ben with the meaning to remove, to fall leading to do-beanuait = it falls; ref. Calders glossary: do-benaim I destroy. Hence my suggestion for an alternate meaning.] nisi eam custodieris, to wit, unless thou watch her. It is on that account b is still written at the beginning of the Ogham alphabet. Then as to luis, it is named from a tree, to wit, from mountain-ash, i.e., because luis is the name of mountain-ash in old Gaelic, ut dicitur: Delight of eye is mountain-ash, i.e., rowan, owing to the beauty of its berries. Fern, alder, again, is named from a tree, ut dicitur: The van of the Warrior-bands, that is, alder, for thereof are the shields. Sail, willow, again, is named from a tree, ut dicitur: The colour of a lifeless one, i.e., it has no colour, i.e., owing to the resemblance of its hue to a dead person. Nin too is named from a tree, viz., ash, ut dicitur: A check on peace is nin, viz., ash, for of it are made the spear-shafts by which the peace is broken: or, A check on peace is uindis [called uindsiu just above. The canonical form is indeed uinnius but an nn is often written as nd]. Nin [followed by: -i- ginol garmna. ginol = 1. jaw, 2. part of the weavers beam; garmna = shape of the tool of a weaver, angular?], that is a maw of a weavers beam which is made of ash, that is, in time of peace weavers beams are raised. Huath [called sce just above. The word ath shows five well-known meanings: 1. horror, terror, 2. hawthorn, 3. a colour, 4. un small number, 5. earth (substance), mold.], again, is named from a tree, viz., [sce] white-thorn, ut dicitur: A meet of hounds is huath, viz. [sce] white-thorn; or because it is formidable owing to its thorns. Duir, oak, again, is named from a tree, ut dicitur: Higher than bushes is an oak. Tinne [= 1. metal rod, 2. bacon, 3. letter t, holly, 4. music instrument], again, is named from a tree, i.e., holly, a third of a wheel is holly, that is, because holly is one of the three timbers of the chariot-wheel. Coll, again, is named


BB. 326 α 39 AURAICEPT E. 26 α 43


from a tree, ut dicitur: Fair wood [cainfidh, cain = fair; fid = tree], that is, hazel, i.e., every one is eating of its nuts. Queirt [ceirt = 1. apple-tree and letter q, 2. rag], again, is named from a tree, i.e., an apple tree, ut dicitur: Shelter of a boiscill [not translated by Calder. baiscell or bascall or boiscell means: wild animal, hind. Word of unknown etymology], that is, a wild hind is queirt [An alternate translation is obtained by taking into account the possibility of pun on ceirt/cert. The Irish text says quert instead of queirt. Cert = 1. correct, 2. just, 3. straight, and a few certainly unrelated meanings: small, stone for cooking bread. Thus: elit (hind) gelt (grazing) [[Calder reads geilt = mad of terror, but the Irish text edited by Calder himself says indeed gelt]] quert rather means: a hind grazing in its right place.], i.e. apple-tree [aball]. [Hence my translation for the whole definition of ceirt: Queirt shelter of a hind, again, is named from a tree, i. e.., an apple-tree, ut dicitur: shelter of a wild animal, i. e.., a hind grazing is at its proper place, i. e. an apple-tree. In other words, the  i. e. does not explain something of the hind, but something of the place.] i.e., an apple tree. Muin [upper part of the back between the shoulder blades or letter m, vine], again, that is, a vine-tree, ut dicitur: Highest of beauty is muin, that is, because it grows aloft, that is, a vine-tree. Gort, again, that is, ivy:


[Irish original version]

Glaisiu geltaibh gort i- edind


Greener than pastures is gort, i. e. ivy.


Ngetal [getal = broom, and letter ng hence the writing ngetal], again, that is, broom or fern, ut dicitur: A physicians strength [luth lega, lth = strength or allud = fame; laig = healer, who comforts] is broom (Irish: getal), to wit, broom or fern. Straiph [straif = a plant used in dyeing or letter st (or sd) of the Ogam], again, that is, black-thorn [Irish: draighen = black-thorn. This relation between the letter st and the black-thorn exists in the Auraicept only.], ut dicitur: The hedge of a stream is sraibh [= sulphur or same as straif], that is, black-thorn. Ruis [letter r of the Ogam, elder-tree], again, that is, elder, ut dicitur: The redness of shame is ruis [ruice = stupidity, shame. The fruit of the black elder is obviously black. There exists however several kinds of elder that are red. The juice of all of them is red.], i.e., elder. Ailm [letter a and pine-tree], again, i.e., a fir tree, to wit, a pine tree. Onn [1. pine-tree, 2. letter o of the Ogam], that is, furze. Ur [r: 1. new (in good state), 2. letter u the Ogam and heath, 3. slightly fat, 4. bad, 5. beginning. Finally: r, ir = earth (matter)], that is, heath. Edhadh [heath or fury], that is, ed uath, horrible grief, to wit, test-tree or aspen. Ido [idad: letter i of the Ogam and name of a tree], that is, yew. Ebhadh [letter ea or ae of the Ogam and the aspen], that is, aspen. Oir [letter oi of the Ogam and ivy or spindle-tree], that is, spindle-tree, or ivy. Uilleand [uillenn = letter ui of the Ogam and honeysuckle], that is, honeysuckle. Iphin [letter io Ogam and gooseberry], that is gooseberry, or thorn, etc.

Now all these are wood names such as are found in the Ogham Books of Woods [Irish: Duilibh Fedha inn ogaim. This text: DE DUILIB FEDA has been edited and not translated by Calder.], and are not derived from men, ut alii dicunt [as said by others].