Ogma is another gifted god of the Tuatha dé Danann. He is said to be the son of the Dagda, although some texts describe him as his brother. He was the god of language, eloquent speech, learning and writing. Ogma was also a poet. He was said to be the fairest of the gods in that his hair and face were so bright, it looked like rays of the sun shone out of him. As such, he was often called Ogma ‘Grianianech’, meaning ‘sunny face’. Other names for him included Ogma ‘Cermait’ which means ‘honey-tongued’, probably due to his poetic speech.
Ogma is thought to have been the one who invented the Ogham alphabet. This was a series of ancient symbols and letters which were carved into wood, stone or manuscripts. Ogham is also known as ‘Ogham Craobh’ or ‘Tree Ogham’ because its symbols resemble that of branching trees. They were thought to represent letters of old Irish names for trees. Ogham inscriptions are still visible on stone monuments throughout Ireland today, particularly in Kerry, Cork and Waterford.
He taught people to write and communicate in the Ogham language but it is said that Ogma invented quite a lot of languages. He encouraged his tribe to study the art of words and poetry.
Ogma was also known as Ogma ‘Trenfher’, which means ‘strongman’ because he was also an invincible warrior with superhuman strength. When An Tuatha dé Danann first came to Ireland, they fought against the Firbolg in the first battle of Moytura. Ogma participated in this battle and they won. However, because Nuada was injured, the Tuatha de Danann had to appoint a new leader, Bres, who made them slaves to the Fomorians.
During the reign of Bres, Ogma was forced to carry firewood and serve the Fomorians. It is possible that it was from here that Ogma gained his huge knowledge of trees and used it to develop Ogham.
When Bres was overthrown and Nuadu restored, Ogma became Nuada’s chief warrior and champion. When Lugh first arrived at the court of Tara, hoping to join An Tuatha dé Danann, one of his trials was against Ogma. Ogma lifted a massive flagstone which normally required eighty oxen to move it and hurled it out into a field. Lugh answers the challenge by hurling it back. Ogma is so impressed by Lugh that when Nuada hands command of the army to Lugh, Ogma becomes his right-hand man.
Ogma is also considered as part of a triad of An Tuatha dé Danann. Together with the Dagda and Lugh, the three of them made up ‘trí de dána’ or ‘three gods of skill’ which was common practice by An Tuatha to work in groups of threes.
In one story Ogma, Dagda, and Lugh pursued the Fomorian army when they stole the Dagda’s Harp. The Dagda used to play the harp before a battle to remove the warrior’s fear and strengthen their resolve. After every battle, he used it to comfort them and replenish them for the next fight.
As the battle raged during the second Battle of Moytura, a few of the Fomorian soldiers stole the harp. When An Tuatha dé Danann found the harp missing. Ogma, Dagda and Lugh set out, even after a hard day’s battle, to find it. They found where the Fomorians had made their camp and they could see the Dagda’s harp hanging on the wall. The three warriors were greatly outnumbered but the Dagda stretched out his arms and called out to his harp. The harp sprang off the wall and flew straight to him.
The Fomorians woke at the sound and drew their weapons to advance on the three men. Ogma whispered to the Dagda “I think you’d better play your harp!”
The Dagda struck the strings with his hand and called out the ‘music of laughter’. In spite of themselves, the Fomorians began to laugh. They laughed so hard that they dropped their weapons. But when the music stopped, they snatched them up again.
This time, when the Dagda struck the strings, he called forth the ‘music of sadness’. All of the Fomorians began to weep bitter tears and hide their faces. When the music faded, they started to advance again.
Finally, the Dagda struck the strings of his harp so softly that it almost didn’t make a sound. He brought forth the ‘music of sleep’ and every Fomorian fell down into a deep sleep. Ogma, Lugh and the Dagda left them sleeping and stole away with the harp. The Fomorians never tried to steal it again.