Labraid Loingsech

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[Ir., speaker, seafarer, exile, mariner].

Also Labraid Móen, Máen, Maon [dumb, speechless] and Labraid Lorc [fierce]. Ancestor deity of the Leinstermen whose story of the revenge of his father's death and the regaining of his kingdom is told in Orgain Denna Ríg [The Destruction of Dind Ríg]. Although the Lagin, progenitors of Leinster, ranked Labraid ‘a man higher than the gods’, and his children include the deity Nechtán (1), Kuno Meyer thought he might have been a historical king at the time of the Roman invasion of Britain. Pedigrees make him twenty-fifth in direct line from Éremón, ancestor of the Gaels, and he is the grandson of Úgaine Mór, whose name appears at the head of many medieval genealogies.

Whatever the historical correlative for Labraid's persona, his reign signals the advent of the Lagin to dominance in eastern Ireland. The Book of Leinster dates Labraid's killing of Cobthach at 307 bc; in the Annals of the Four Masters the date is 431 bc. In stories subsequent to the action of Orgain Denna Ríg, Labraid extends his dominion over much of Europe, to Italy, and in another text as far as Armenia. From these adventures he brought back 2,200 foreigners with broad spears [laignib], thus the Lagin or Leinstermen. The influential Geoffrey Keating (17th cent.) treated him as a historical figure.

In oral and written tradition of much later composition, Labraid was thought to suffer horses' ears, an affliction he shares with the Welsh March ap Meirchion and King Midas of ancient Greek tradition. To keep this shame secret, he executed every barber who cut his hair. One young barber was spared on the pleadings of his mother, a widow. But he grew sick with the burden of the secret and so, on the advice of a druid, told it to a tree, thus curing himself. Later, however, the tree was cut down and made into a harp on which Labraid's harper Craiphtine played; in the midst of the music the harp revealed Labraid's secret. He felt immediate remorse for the barbers he had killed and hence-forward owned up to his blemish.

See Thomas F. O'Rahilly, Early Irish History and Mythology (Dublin, 1946), 101–20;Francis J. Byrne, Irish Kings and High-Kings (London, 1973), 130–6;Brian Ó Cuiv, ‘Some Items from Irish Tradition [horse's ears]’, Éigse, 11 (1964–6), 167–87;Máirtín Ó Briain, [Irish text of ‘Midas and the Ass's Ears’], Béaloideas, 53 (1985), 11–74.Pádraic Colum made Labraid a hero of juvenile fiction in The Story of Lowry Maen (New York and London, 1937).

Subjects: Religion.

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