Nion is the Irish name of the fifth letter of the Ogham alphabet, ᚅ, probably meaning "fork". In Old Irish, the letter name was Nin, a name which is notable for referring both to a specific letter, and to any of the Ogham letters in general.

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 glossators of the Ogam Tract and the Auraicept na n-Éces seem to refer to at least two Irish words nin, meaning "part of a weaver's loom", and "a wave". The corresponding adjective ninach is glossed as gablach and used as a synonym of cross, and the word seems to be roughly synonymous with gabul "fork, forked branch", and is thus a plausible base for a name for "Ogham letters", which after all (at least the consonants), look like forks or combs. The second nin seems to be cognate with Welsh nen "roof, heaven", with a meaning of "loftiness", with an adjective ninach "lofty". The kennings are explained by the glossators that weavers' beams were erected as signs of peace. The "arboreal" tradition claims the word as ash-tree, concluding that looms were made of ashwood. In some instances, the association with ashwood, which is best known as the raw material for spears, the kenning was amended to "destruction of peace". McManus (1988) suggests that the word for "forked branch" was applied to the olive branch, the shaking of which in Irish tradition requested an interruption of a battle. The kennings related to beauty, on the other hand, are maybe somehow dependent on the second meaning of "lofty".


In the medieval kennings, called Bríatharogam or Word Ogham the verses associated with Nin are:

costud síde - "establishing of peace" in the Word Ogham of Morann mic Moín

bág ban - "boast of women" in the Word Ogham of Mac ind Óc

bág maise - "boast of beauty" in the Word Ogham of Culainn.[1]

See also


  1. Auraicept na n-Éces Calder, George, Edinburgh, John Grant (1917), reprint Four Courts Press (1995), ISBN 1-85182-181-3
  • Damian McManus, Irish letter-names and their kennings, Ériu 39 (1988), 127-168.
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