Ogam Stone
A 5th century Ogham Stone from Roovesmoor Rath Ring Fort, Coachford, West Cork, Ireland
Image: The Heritage Trust
An article in the Irish Examiner on Monday, 4 November 2013 by Marc O’ Sullivan, Arts Editor, begins with the statement that, “THE British are peculiar. Their desire to conquer the world has been matched only by their obsession with bringing bits of it home with them.”
The article goes on to say that –
Nowhere is this more evident than in the British Museum in London. Visiting it last week, my eye was drawn to a large slab of stone, about the height and width of a man, perched upon a formal plinth in the Great Court. It bore an inscription in ogham. On a plaque beneath, the crude translation of these elegant notches — read anti-clockwise — disclosed that the slab was originally raised in honour of ‘Vedac, son of Tob of the Sogain’. It was one of three 5th century ogham stones taken from Roovesmoor Rath — a ring fort outside Coachford, in West Cork — by the delightfully named General Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt Rivers. He presented the group to the British Museum in 1866.
The Roovesmoor Rath ogham stones were among more than 20,000 items of archaeological interest Pitt Rivers collected over several decades, and many of them are now housed in the museum named after him in Oxford. I’m sure he meant well in presenting the ogham stones to the British Museum, and because of his largesse many thousands, if not millions, of visitors are now aware of the ogham script, the earliest written record of the Irish language. But the stones belong in a rath in West Cork, not in a cultural institution in London.
But do they? As with the Parthenon (Elgin) Marbles we’re faced with the same questions: should objects be returned to their place of origin or is it better that they are seen and appreciated in a wider international context?
Full Irish Examiner article here.