Beith (letter)

Beith is the Irish name of the first letter of the Ogham alphabet, ᚁ, meaning "birch". In Old Irish, the letter name was Beithe, which is related to Welsh bedw(en), Breton bezv(enn), and Latin betula. Its Proto-Indo-European root was *gʷet- 'resin, gum'. Its phonetic value is [b].

Aicme Beithe Aicme Muine
[b]Beith [m]Muin
[l]Luis [ɡ]Gort
[f]Fearn [ŋ]nGéadal
[s]Sail [z]Straif
[n]Nion [r]Ruis
Aicme hÚatha Aicme Ailme
[j]Uath [a]Ailm
[d]Dair [o]Onn
[t]Tinne [u]Úr
[k]Coll [e]Eadhadh
[kʷ]Ceirt [i]Iodhadh
Ifín [p]Peith

The Auraicept na n-Éces contains the tale of the mythological origins of Beith[1]

In the medieval kennings, the verses associated with Beith are:

Féocos foltchaín: "Withered foot with fine hair" (Word Ogham of Morann mic Moín)
Glaisem cnis: "Greyest of skin" (Word Ogham of Mac ind Óc)
Maise malach: "Beauty of the eyebrow" (Word Ogham of Culainn)[2]

Peith , a late addition to the Forfeda, is a variant of Beith, with a phonetic value of [p], also called beithe bog "soft beithe", [p] being considered a "soft" variant of [b]. It likely replaced Ifín , one of the "original" five Forfeda. Prior to the addition of the Forfeda to the original twenty letters, both [p] and [b] were probably symbolized by the same letter: Beith.


  1. Calder, George (1995) [1917]. Auraicept na n-Éces: The Scholars' Primer. Edinburgh (reprint Dublin): John Grant (reprint Four Courts Press). pp. 273–4. ISBN 1-85182-181-3.
  2. McManus, Damian (1991). A Guide to Ogam. Maynooth, Ireland: Maynooth Monographs. pp. 42–3. ISBN 1-870684-17-6.

See also

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