Ailm is the Irish name of the sixteenth letter of the Ogham alphabet, ᚐ. Its phonetic value is [a]. The original meaning of the name cannot be established with certainty.[1] The Bríatharogam kennings all refer to the sound [a] and not to the meaning of the letter name, either as the sound of a "groan", or to the Irish vocative particle, á. Thurneysen suggests that Ailm, Beithe was influenced by Alpha, Beta. However, beithe is an Irish word, and there is no reason to consider ailm a sole, loaned letter name among the original feda; Thurneysen did not suggest this letter name involved such a borrowing.[2] The word is attested once outside of the Ogham grammatical texts, in the poem "King Henry and the Hermit",

Ogham letters ᚛ᚑᚌᚐᚋᚁᚂᚃᚓᚇᚐᚅ᚜
Aicme Beithe
Aicme Muine
[b] Beith [m] Muin
[l] Luis [ɡ] Gort
[w] Fearn [ɡʷ] nGéadal
[s] Sail [st], [ts], [sw] 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
Forfeda ᚛ᚃᚑᚏᚃᚓᚇᚐ᚜
(rare, sounds uncertain)
[ea], [k], [x], [eo] Éabhadh
[oi] Ór
[ui] Uilleann
[p], [io] Ifín [p] Peith
[x], [ai] Eamhancholl
caine ailmi ardom-peitet

which translates to

Beautiful are the pines which make music for me.[3]

This single reference is the reason ailm is sometimes associated with pines. However, the poem likely post-dates origins of the medieval tradition of arboreal glosses of the ogham letters, so is more probably influenced by this tradition than an independent source for the meaning of ailm.[4]


In the medieval kennings, called Bríatharogaim or Word Ogham the verses associated with ailm are:

ardam íachta - "loudest groan" in the Bríatharogam Morann mic Moín

tosach frecrai - "beginning of an answer" in the Bríatharogam Mac ind Óc

tosach garmae - "beginning of calling" in the Bríatharogam Con Culainn.[5]


  1. ^ McManus, Damian. (1991). A guide to Ogam. Maynooth: An Sagart. ISBN 1-870684-17-6. OCLC 24181838.
  2. ^ McManus, Damian (1988). "Irish Letter-Names and Their Kennings". Ériu. 39: 161. JSTOR 30024135.
  3. ^ Murphy, Gerard (1956). Early Irish lyrics: eighth to twelfth century. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 18.
  4. ^ McManus, Damian (1988). "Irish Letter-Names and Their Kennings". Ériu. 39: 127–168. JSTOR 30024135.
  5. ^ McManus, Damian (1988). "Irish Letter-Names and Their Kennings". Ériu. 39: 127–168. JSTOR 30024135.