Lóegaire (d. 461/3), putatively son of Niall and king of Tara, is eponymous ancestor of the dynasty of Cenél Lóegaire. Most sources, including the genealogies, call him a son of Niall Noígiallach (qv), making him, in spite of marked chronological difficulties, a brother of the other Uí Néill ancestor figures including Cairpre (qv), Éogan (qv), Conall Cremthainne (qv), and Conall Gulban (qv), the latter two possibly being duplicates. His mother is named as Rígnach. One of the earliest surviving sources, however, the poem ‘Baile Chuinn’ (a list of the kings of Tara, dating perhaps to the late seventh century), places Lóegaire between Niall and Cairpre but does not indicate any relationship. The version of the ‘Banshenchas’ (lore of women) in the Book of Lecan claims that he was married to Angas, daughter of Tassach, of the Uí Liatháin of Munster. While only one wife is named, genealogical tradition may have allowed for others; in any event, he is credited with twelve sons (among whom were Lugaid and Énnae, the principal ancestors of Cenél Lóegaire) and, according to the hagiographers, two daughters, Eithne and Fedelm.
Lóegaire is closely associated with Tara, where the earthwork of Ráith Lóegaire carries his name. The earliest tradition of succession to that kingship, preserved in the ‘Baile Chuinn’, places him immediately after Niall. He also features in the later ‘Baile in Scáil’ and in the Middle Irish regnal lists. He was reputedly a law-giver; the late introduction to the ‘Senchas Már’ claims that he set up a committee of nine men to revise the traditional laws of Ireland in a Christian spirit – a claim that is undoubtedly significant. Some accounts give his reign as thirty years, which, counting back from his obit, implies accession in 432; this, as noted in the Book of Leinster king-list, is the year in which St Patrick (qv) supposedly arrived in Ireland.
Synchronisation of Lóegaire's reign with the dates assigned to the Patrician mission is explicit in hagiography and is followed especially in the later annals. Lóegaire, according to Muirchú (qv), initially opposed Patrick, but accepted Christianity after a contest between Patrick and royal druids at Tara, where only the master poet Dubthach (qv) of the moccu Lugair and the young Fiacc (qv), future bishop of Sletty, deferred to the saint. Nevertheless, it was prophesied that none of his descendants would be king. In the version of Tírechán (qv), although Lóegaire allowed Patrick to preach within his realm and his daughters Eithne and Fedelm took the veil, he refused to believe (in accordance with the instructions of his father). When his time came, he preferred to be buried in the earthworks of Tara, facing his ‘ancestral’ enemy the king of Leinster.
A tradition of conflict between Lóegaire and Leinster is reflected in the annals. Later compilations assign him a role in the ‘great slaughter of the Leinstermen’, which the Annals of Ulster place at 452 without reference to Lóegaire, and also some role in the battle of Ard Corann, which is dated to 464 – after his death. The Annals of Ulster limit mention of Lóegaire to three notices: a celebration of the Feis Temro (feast of Tara) in 454, a victory over the Leinstermen at Áth Dara (assigned to various dates between 458 and 461), and his death, located at Grellach Dabaill, between two hills ominously named Ériu and Alba. His ultimate fate is elaborated on in the Middle Irish tale ‘Comthoth Lóegaire co creitim ocus a aided’ (the conversion of Lóegaire to the faith and his destruction). Here, mindful of a prophecy that he would meet his end between Ériu and Alba (which he understood to mean Ireland and Britain), he forswore an oath taken on the elements not to invade Leinster in pursuit of the legendary bóruma (cattle-tribute). Because of his bad faith, he perished between the hills so named. The story relates how, weakened by the heat, he was blown from his horse into a ravine – and so the elements inflicted on him a symbolic ‘threefold death’.
Historically, it appears that Lóegaire, like Cairpre, was ancestor of a midland dynasty (centred on Trim, and presumably including Tara within its ambit), that was drawn into a federation by the Uí Néill, perhaps before the opening of the seventh century. There are some indications that Lóegaire's floruit may have been in the fourth, rather than the fifth, century, and that the dynasty claiming descent from him, branches of which were strewn from Lough Erne to the Slieve Bloom mountains, absorbed some disparate elements. Certainly, the pedigrees of Cenél Lóegaire preserve a variety of personal names not found among the principal dynasties of Uí Néill; some of these (e.g. Mog and Dóer) have connotations of servitude more in keeping with a subject kindred. It may be significant that the Middle Irish regnal lists give Lóegaire's successor in the kingship of Tara as Ailill Molt (qv), whom the genealogists trace not to Niall but to the Connacht dynasty of Uí Fhiachrach. His son Lugaid (d. c.507), is said to have followed this Ailill; later Uí Néill kings of Tara, however, are not descendants of Lóegaire, but of his alleged brothers (or brother) Conall Cremthainne and Conall Gulban.