Sunday, October 27, 2013



A recent trip to Ireland provided the inspiration for this challenge. Unlike the relatively "young" USA where we think of history in terms of decades, Irish history is measured in millennia. My family name (O'Brien) harks back to Brian Boru, who united the tribes of Ireland 400 years before Columbus set out to "find" America.

Of the many things that captured my imagination during our visit to Ireland were these ancient stones carved with Ogham writing. The stones date back to 4th and 5th century AD, but some scholars believe the Ogham alphabet was invented around 100 BC.

There are a few hundred of these stones still standing today. They're typically carved with names, as memorial stones or border markers for tribal territories. Family stories are very important to the Irish, as a way to stay connected with past generations.

I based my drawing (image on left) on one stone that was found in County Kerry and later moved to Adare. 1,500 years ago, when this stone was freshly cut, it honored the people who lived before. Usually names were written as part of a family or lineage. This stone reads (translated to English) "Coillabus, son of Corbos, descendant of Qeraios".  There were stones that listed daughters too, but not many survived and I didn't see any of them in person.

In this piece, I've added a mark of my own in Ogham letters, along right side of the composition. It reads "cate inigena iosef mucoi obrien". Crudely translated it means "Kate, daughter of Joseph, of the tribe O'Brien". (I apologize to any Irish language scholars; I have no idea how our names would be spelled in old Irish and the grammar is probably shite.) All I can say is my heart is in the right place.

This piece represents my appreciation for my parents, grandparents, and the people who raised them – as far back as our stories go.  I doubt my marker will last a thousand years, but you never know. Maybe a generation or two.


Technical details: finished size 18"w x 45"h.  The edges are not completely straight, which is a departure for me. I used a remnant piece of fabric for the background, and I liked the way it was shaped. Slightly imperfect, like a fragment of paper or weathered stone.

I created the image of the stone starting with light cotton fabric, spots drawn and colored with black sharpie markers. Black areas were then quilted heavily with dark thread, leaving the light areas in shallow relief. Light lines (on right) were cut in fabric strips, fused to background and quilted.


  1. Wow Kate, this challenge has been so interesting. I have not been to Ireland but will one day. These stones are so fascinating and you have a great contrast between the ancient and the more modern depiction on the right.

  2. Amazing and very meaningful. So, the Ogham letters are lines, straight or slanted, of a certain length, above and/or below a meridian? Fascinating.

  3. Thanks Sue and Lisa-Marie!
    Yes, the letters start from the bottom and go up; the edge of the stone is used as the center line. Sometimes people would write messages on pieces of wood, in which case they'd draw the center line and hash-mark the letters onto it. I love the way the letters look when they're strung together.

  4. A really interesting piece, Kate. It sort of reminds of the Rune stones I've seen in Sweden. I marvel, standing before them wondering what life was like when they were carved, who the people were that stood there and read them. I love the texture you've create on the surface of the marker and the colors you've chosen. A lovely sentiment!

  5. I really find this SO interesting, feeds right into my fascination of cairns and middens. Wonderful, Kate!

  6. It makes my heart sing! I also found the stones and cairns in Ireland to be moving. Did you go to Newgrange? It's a burial tomb from 1500 BC. Older than the pyramids and in perfect condition. This is a lovely piece.

  7. Hi Jeanne, I didn't get to Newgrange but it's on my list for next time! I'd love to make a trip centered around old ruins and mythical places.