|Current head||MacMurrough Kavanagh|
The Laigin, modern spelling Laighin (Irish pronunciation: [ˈl̪ˠaːjɪnʲ]Lain), were a population group of early Ireland who gave their name to the province of Leinster (Irish Cúige Laighean, province, literally fifth, of the Laigin; The English word "Leinster" derives from Irish Laigin and Old Norse staðr, place, territory). Laigin is a plural noun, indicating an ethnonym rather than a geographic term.1
The use of the word cuige, earlier cóiced, literally "fifth", to mean "province", implies the existence at some point in prehistory of a pentarchy, whose five members are believed to have been population groups the Laigin, the Ulaid (Ulster) and the Connachta (Connacht), the region Mumu (Munster), and the central kingdom of Mide. Archaic poems found in medieval genealogical texts distinguish three groups making up the Laigin: the Laigin proper, the Gáilióin, and the Domnainn, who are likely related to the British Dumnonii.2
Early Irish historical traditions credited the founding of the Laigin to the legendary High King Labraid Loingsech. His grandfather, Lóegaire Lorc, had been overthrown by his own brother, Cobthach Cóel Breg, and Labraid forced into exile. After a period of military service on the continent, Labraid returned to Ireland at the head of an army, known as Laigin after the broad blue-grey iron spearheads (láigne) they carried. The Lebor Gabála Érenn dates Labraid's accession to 300 BC.345 Modern historians suggest, on the basis of these traditions and related placenames, that the Laigin were a group of invaders from Gaul or Britain, who arrived no later than the 6th century BC, and were later incorporated into the medieval genealogical scheme which made all the ruling groups of early Ireland descend from Míl Espáine. Placenames also suggest they once had a presence in north Munster and in Connacht.6
See O'Rahilly's historical model for a summary of the Laigin at the height of their power in Ireland. They may have conquered approximately half the island.
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In the famous Ulster Cycle, the king of the Connachta, Ailill mac Máta, is said to belong to the Laigin. This is thought by Byrne (2001) to be related to a possible early domination of the province of Connacht by peoples related to the Laigin, the Fir Domnann and the Gamanrad. His brother is Cairbre Nia Fer, King of Tara.
- Francis J. Byrne, Irish Kings and High Kings, Four Courts Press. 2nd edition, 2001, p. 46
- Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, "Ireland, 400-800", in Dáibhí Ó Cróinín (ed.), A New History of Ireland Vol 1, 2005, pp. 182-234
- R. A. Stewart Macalister (ed. & trans.), Lebor Gabála Érenn: The Book of the Taking of Ireland Part V, Irish Texts Society, 1956, p. 275-277
- Book of Leinster: "The Destruction of Dind Rig"
- Geoffrey Keating, Foras Feasa ar Éirinn 1.29-1.30
- Byrne 2001, pp. 130-164
- O'Rahilly, T. F., Early Irish History and Mythology. Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. 1946.