[OIr. fráech, heather].
Name borne by dozens of personages from early Ireland, both legendary and historical. Previously Fráech mac Idaith was thought to be distinct from Fráech mac Fidaig (or mac Fiodach); more recent commentary has argued that the identity of the Connacht warrior in the Ulster Cycle Fráech persists through several narratives, even though the action is discontinuous and contradictory.
Hero of the 8th-century Táin Bó Fraích [Cattle Raid of Fráech], an antecedent to the action of the epic Táin Bó Cuailnge [Cattle Raid of Cooley], Fráech is the son of the divine Bébinn, sister of Boand, and the handsomest young man in all Ireland. So great is his reputation for masculine allure that Finnabair, daughter of Queen Medb and Ailill, falls in love with him just hearing about him. Learning of this, Fráech seeks out Finnabair, whom he finds washing her hands in the river. She refuses to elope with him, but gives him a thumb ring she has received from her father and asks Fráech to seek his approval for the match. Ailill demands an exorbitant bridal price for Finnabair: all of Fráech's wealth, including the magical red-eared cows he had received from his mother. Fráech refuses. Later while the young man is swimming, Ailill, fearful that Fráech might elope with his daughter steals the gift thumb ring and throws it into the water, where it is swallowed by a salmon. He also commands that Fráech fetch some rowan berries that will prolong life and cure illness. As Ailill knows, the berries are near the dwelling of a dragon [Ir. péist], which he hopes will devour the swain. Fráech, with Finnabair's help, slays the dragon, but is wounded in the venture. One hundred and fifty maidens from the sídh, clad in crimson and green, take him first to the Otherworld, where he is healed, and then bear him back to Ailill's palace at Cruachain. At a triumphal banquet, Ailill demands the thumb ring, which Fráech produces, having previously caught the salmon that swallowed it. With the ring restored, Ailill grants Fráech's wish, and Fráech agrees to bring his herd of cows to Cruachain.
In the second, seemingly unrelated part of Táin Bó Fraích, the hero returns to his fortress one day to find that his wife, three sons, and herd of magical cows have been abducted. In seeking them out he is aided by Conall Cernach. They find the captives in a great fortress in the Alps, where a servant of Irish descent conveniently leaves a door open for the rescuers at night. Upon his return, Fráech then joins Medb and Ailill on the great cattle raid to retrieve the Brown Bull of Ulster. Within the action of the Táin Bó Cuailnge, Fráech is drowned in hand-to-hand combat with Cúchulainn.
The popularity of Fráech's story persisted in several variant written texts from the 11th to the 14th centuries, continuing in Irish and Scottish Gaelic oral tradition, changing the names of characters and details of the action. Numerous commentators have seen an anticipation of the Old English Beowulf in Fráech's slaying of the dragon. The motif of the ring in the fish's belly is an Irish instance of the international tale type 736A. It has been edited several times: