Emerald Isle

The Secret of Labraid

In ancient days there was an Irish King whose name was Labraid Lioseach, known also as Labraid the Sailor for a long voyage he took into fairy seas, and when he came back from that voyage he was never seen without a deep hood over his head, except by one man.

That man saw him once a year to trim his hair, and after the King's hair was cut, the barber was put to death for fear he should speak the King's secret! So dreadful was this duty that the person who did the cutting was chosen by lot, and one year it happened to be the son of the poor widow Shaughnessey.

When Mrs Shaughnessey heard what was to befall her son, she went to the king and fell on her knees, begging and pleading that his life be spared, for who would look after her if he was gone? The King was moved by her pleas and sorrow, so he said her son would live on one condition – that he never breathed a word about the haircut.

Her son gratefully agreed to the condition and swore that he would never speak of it to another human being, so he did what was appointed for him and went home. But he had no peace for the wonder of the secret that he had learned preyed upon his mind so that he could not rest for thinking of it and longing to reveal it, and at last he fell into a wasting sickness and was near to die.

Then a wise druid came to see him, who was skilled in all maladies of the mind and body, and after he had talked with the youth he said to his mother,

“Your son is dying of the burden of a secret which he may not reveal to anyone, but until he reveals it he will have no ease. Let him walk along the road till he comes to a place where four roads meet. Let him turn to the right, and the first tree that he shall meet on the roadside let him tell the secret to it, and so it may be he shall be relieved and his vow will not be broken.”

The mother told her son of the druid's advice, and next day he went up the road till he came to a crossroads, and he took the road to the right, and the first tree he found was a great willow tree. So the young man laid his cheek against the bark, and he whispered the secret to the tree, and as he turned back home he felt lightened of his burden, and he leaped and sang, and he was as well and light hearted as ever he had been in his life!

Some while after that it happened that the King's harper, namely Craftiny, broke the straining post of his harp and went out to seek for a piece of wood to mend it. And the first timber he found that would fit the purpose was the very same willow tree by the cross roads.

He cut it down and took as much as would give him a new straining post, and he took it home with him and mended his harp. That night he played after meat before the King and his lords as usual, but whatever he played and sang the folk that listened to him seemed to hear only one thing, “Two horse's ears has Labraid the Sailor!”

Then the King plucked off his hood, and after that he made no secret of his ears and none suffered on account of them afterwards.

They say the King got his hair cut near the spot marked on the map below and while you're enjoying this site you might also enjoy a little Celtic and Irish music to set the mood, or just the one or two songs if you're not interested in the whole albums. Don't forget you can get some very nice Irish jewelry for yourself or someone else as well, or for the craftier maybe make your own!

More Tales from the Historical Cycle

The Vengeance of Mesegdra

Back in the days of Ireland of old, in the times when legends walked the earth and before the light came to drive back the shadows of ancient times, the word of a bard was much feared, for the people had no writing, so all of their words and histories were stored in songs and poems by bardic masters. As you can imagine they were very wary of get ... [more]

The Secret of Labraid

In ancient days there was an Irish King whose name was Labraid Lioseach, known also as Labraid the Sailor for a long voyage he took into fairy seas, and when he came back from that voyage he was never seen without a deep hood over his head, except by one man. That man saw him once a year to trim his hair, and after the King's hair was cut, t ... [more]

The Breaking of Seven Geases

It was the custom in Ireland of old to lay geases upon champions, heroes and warriors, these were magical forbiddings, deeds they must not do or disaster would follow, and no disaster fell so hard upon a man who broke his geases as upon Conaire Mor! His mother was a woman of the Sidhe called Etain, who had been married to King Eochaid, but disco ... [more]

The Vanishing of Cormac

Tierna the Historian was one of the many chroniclers and monks who wrote the tales of ancient Irish legends, telling us of strange and notable events in the almost forgotten past, the deeds of heroes and kings, and in one case, the disappearance of the High king himself! For it was by Tierna's hand we know that High King Cormac went missing for ... [more]

The Sword of Cormac

In the time between Fionn and St Patrick, there rose over the people of Ireland mighty High Kings, who held power by force of arms, wit and wisdom. One of the greatest among them was Cormac of the wide purple cloak, whose hair was as golden as the heavy torc around his neck, with teeth like a shower of pearls and skin as fair as snow. Grandson o ... [more]

Ethne Leaves the Fairies

Long ago when the fierce Milesians invaded Ireland and defeated the De Danann after many wars and battles, despite their sorceries and all their courage, skill and sciences, the folk of Danann made for themselves eldritch amulets and charms by which they and all their possessions became invisible to mortals, and so they continued to lead their old ... [more]

Strange Sailors

The Tailteann games were a grand affair in Ireland once upon a time, every bit as celebrated and renowned as the Olympics are today. Having their roots thousands of years earlier, in the time of the Tuatha Dé Danann, lakes were made and gigantic fires were lit during Lughnasadh, the summer feast in July. Druids and poets would compose cea ... [more]

Claddagh Rings

The Claddagh Ring is one of those well known emblems of Ireland that most people recognise, but how many know the stories behind it? Many's the young man has gifted one to his lady, giving his heart along with it, as did the ring's original maker. Back in the seventeenth century there was a young Irish lad by the name of Richard Joyce, w ... [more]

The Cursing of Tara

Ah Tara, Temair of old, seat of more than a hundred High Kings of Ireland for better than a thousand years, home to the royal lines of Cormac and Tuathal, where is your wisdom and beauty? Where are the mighty warriors and poets who once danced in your halls? Why now do cattle and livestock graze where the mighty Fionn faced the Tuatha sidhe with a ... [more]

Saint Patrick at the Hill of Tara

On Easter Sunday morning, in anno domine 433 it was that Patrick came face to face with the beating heart of the old religion at Tara, and did battle with the Druids. Although some might dispute the miraculous nature of the events that took place on that day, few argue they didn't happen, so take from that what you will! Laeghaire the king a ... [more]

Battle of Clontarf

Brian Boru was one of the greatest High Kings of all Ireland, a Christian king whose small dynasty challenged and broke even the power of the O'Neills, who had ruled Ireland from time immemorial. He rose to power at a time when the cruel Norseman was pillaging the lands of both Ireland and England, slaughtering and slave-taking, barbarians in e ... [more]

The Madness of Suibhne

King Suibhne was master of the northern land of Dalriada in Ulster, and a grim and fierce king he was too, yet fair to behold like palest snow, with deep blue eyes. A mighty master at arms, he was called to war often, but latterly to the bloody battle of Moy Rath. As he readied himself he heard in the distance a church bell ringing, and no man of G ... [more]