Dair Picture

As mentioned previously (in the posts ailm, beith and Coll), each letter in the first Irish Alphabet, called Ogham, was named after a tree. This tree is the common Oak, which is the letter 'd' in Ogham, its name is "Dair". In latin it is known as "Quercus Robur", quercus meaning "oak", Robur, meaning "strength or hard timber". In English it is known as the common oak or Pedunculate oak, in modern Irish dair Ghallda, which translates roughly as "strange oak", in Scots-Gaelic it's "darach", in Manx "daragh", as you can see Scots-Gaelic, Manx and Irish/Gaeilge are from the same branch of Celtic Languages. The Ogham Letter dair is the topmost letter on the right side with a vertical line with two horizontal lines coming out of it, the one below that is from a 7th century Irish Alphabet, below that an 11th century Irish alphabet, and the final bottom one is from the 16th century cork Gaelic alphabet. Auraicept na N-éces a 7th century work of Irish grammarians (which is the first instance of a defence of vernaculars, arguing for the use of spoken Irish over Latin predating Dante's De Vulgari eloquentia by 600 years) splits Ogham between 2 castes of society, Eight chieftains/kings letters/trees are Alder, Oak, Hazel, vine, ivy sloe, Furze, heath, Eight Peasant trees Viz, Birch, quicken tree, willow, ash, whitehorn, whin and apple tree, all other letters are shrubs so are also peasant trees.

History and Myth

Oak has played a major role in celtic mythology, so much so that one of the words that is most associated with Celts, "druid" comes from the Proto-Indo-European root dru, meaning "oak" both the Irish word "dair" and the welsh word "derwen" share this root, though I have seen it refered to in Irish as Duir too. Strabo (1st century AD) said that a sacred grove of oak was the meeting place of the Galatian (Galatia in western Turkey) Celts, and Pliny the Elder, from the same century as Strabo, told of a festival which on the sixth day of the moon, druids climbed an oak tree, cut a bough of mistletoe and sacrificed two white bulls as part of a fertility rite. While in the Mediterranean mythology's oak was sacred to both Zeus and Jupiter.

In Ireland there was 5 great trees in myth, one of them, Eo Mugna, was an Oak at the mouth of the shannon in co. meath. Some of these trees were said to be large enough to shelter a thousand men also in Early Ireland, Trees such as oak and yew were also associated with kingship. Even after christianity arrived, oaks survived as important and are the root of a few place names in modern Ireland, for instance, co. kildare, in Irish is Cill dara, means "church of the oak", co. Derry in Irish is Doire Calgaich, meaning "calgach's oak grove" and Durrow in Co. Loais (where the 7th century illustrated book of durrow is from) comes from the Irish Dair magh meaning "oak plain". In Irish fairy lore, the oak is one of three magical woods, along with ash and thorn. Also alot of modern Irish first and second names root is from Dair, such as Daire, dara, darragh and daragh.

About the Tree

The common oak is a decidious tree that can grow up to 25-35 metres tall, and very occassionally 50 metres, to grow the average of 25m, it would take about 50 years. It has very short stalked leaves 7-14 cm long, flowers in mid spring and its fruit, called acorns, ripen by the following autumn, acorns normally come in groups of one to four per peduncle. The acorns have a stem attached, while the leaves have no stalks, this is how you tell the common oak apart from others. This oak provides a home to numberous insects that live in the leaves, buds and accorns, and is a valuable food source for mammals and birds, mostly notably the squirrel. The oldest oak in Europe is in Stelmuze, Lithuania, which is believed to be 1,500 years old, while the oldest Oak in Ireland is in Abbeyleix, Co. Laois, which is 600 years old and the tallest is in Farnham estate, Farnham, co. cavan at about 28 metres in height.
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