PATRICK AT CLEBACH WELL
Patrick and his household camped during the night close to this well of Cliabach, or Clebach, intending next day to proceed to Cruachan. They rose early, before the sun, to chant their office, and prepare to celebrate the mystic Sacrifice. They were dressed in their long robes, worn by the monks of the time; but their tonsured heads were bare, and their feet were sandalled. There is a green bank all round the well; and limestone crops up here and there, making natural seats just on the margin of the great limpid fountain. It was a quiet and beautiful spot; and so the clerics sat down on the rocks, with their books in their hands, to chant their Office, just as the sun was rising over the far-distant hills of Leitrim, through which they had traversed some days before.
But now they, too, see a strange sight at early morn—two maidens tripping down the green meadows; one of fair complexion, with her golden hair streaming in the wind; the other of ruddier features, crowned with auburn hair. They were attended by their maids and by two aged men, clearly Druids, who had charge of the maidens, as their fosterers. It was customary for these royal girls, according to the simple habits of the times, to come and wash in the fountain, as royal maidens did in ancient Greece. But now, when they came to the fountain and saw the clerics seated with the books in their hands, dressed in strange garments, and speaking strange words, they stood lost in amazement. But they were royal maidens, daughters of the High King of Erin, and they were not afraid. Their curiosity prompted them to speak, for, as the Book of Armagh tells us—they knew not who the strangers were; nor of what guise; nor of what race; nor of what country—they thought them fairy men, or gods of the earth, or, perhaps, ghosts.
Wherefore they said—“Who are you, or whence have you come?” Whereupon Patrick, repressing their curiosity, said—“It were better for you to confess your faith in our true God than to ask about our race.” The narrative is exact, but the questions are compressed in it.
Then the elder girl, the fair-haired Eithne, said—“Who is your God? Where is your God? Of what is He God? Where is His dwelling place? Has your God sons and daughters, gold and silver? Is He ever-living? Is He beautiful? Have many chiefs fostered His Son? Are His daughters beautiful and dear to the men of this world? Dwelleth He in heaven or on earth—or in the sea, or in the rivers, or in the mountains, or in the valleys. How is He to be loved? Is He to be found? and shall we find Him in youth or in old age? Tell us this knowledge of God, and how He can be seen.”
This flood of questions the curious maiden, with royal courage, addressed to Patrick, the leader of those strange beings. Then Patrick, full of the Holy Spirit, says the writer, replied to the royal maidens, answering all their questions, but beginning with the most important.
“Our God is the God of all men; the God of the heavens and of the earth, of the sea and of the rivers; the God of the sun and of the moon; the God of the lofty hills and of the deep valleys; a God who is over the heavens, in the heavens, under the heavens; Who hath for His dwelling-place heaven and earth and sea, and all things that are therein. He breathes in all things, gives life to all things, rules all things, sustains all things.
“He kindles the light of the sun, and the moon-light he keeps by night. He made the fountains in the dry land, and the dry islands in the sea; and the stars He has set to aid the greater lights. He has a Son alike and co-eternal with himself. Neither is the Son younger than the Father, nor is the Father older than the Son, and the Holy Spirit breathes in them both; nor are the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost divided.
“Now, as you are the daughters of an earthly king, I wish to bring you nigh to this heavenly King. Believe ye, then.”
And the maidens, as with one voice and one heart, said—“Teach us with all care how we may believe in this heavenly King; tell us how we may see Him face to face, and how we may do all that you have told us.” Then Patrick, after instruction, no doubt, said—“Do you believe that by baptism the sin of your father and mother (original sin) is taken away?” They said—“We believe it.” “Do you believe in penance after sin?”—that is, as a remedy for sin. “We believe it.” “Do you believe in a life after death, and a resurrection on the day of judgment?” “We believe it.” “Do you believe in the unity of the Church?” “We believe it.” Whereupon they were baptised, and Patrick blessed a white veil and placed it on their heads. This was, apparently, not the veil of the baptismal rite, but the white veil of their virginity, which they consecrated to God.
Then they ‘asked to see the face of Christ,’ but the Saint said to them—“You cannot see the face of Christ except you taste of death and receive the Sacrifice” (before death). And they replied—“Give us the Sacrifice that we may see our Spouse, the Son of God.” So, by the well-side, under God’s open sky, the Sacrifice was offered, and they received the Eucharist of God, and fell asleep in death. Then they were placed in the same bed covered with one coverlet; and their friends made great mourning for the maidens twain; but all heaven rejoiced, for so far as we can judge they were the first of the white-robed host of Irish maidens who passed the gates of death to be with their Spouse for ever in heaven.
‘Give us the Sacrifice.’ Each bright head
Bent toward it as sunflowers bend to the sun:
They ate; and the blood from the warm cheek fled:
The exile was over; the home was won:
A starry darkness o’erflowed their brain.
Far waters beat on some heavenly shore:
Like the dying away of a low, sweet strain
The young life ebbed, and they breathed no more:
In death they smiled, as though on the breast
Of the Mother Maid they had found their rest.
AUBREY DE VERE.
We have here given the account of the Book of Armagh, word for word. To add to it would be to spoil it. The same account, in almost exactly the same words, is given in the Irish of the Tripartite; so we may fairly assume it gives us not only an exact, though brief, account of what happened by Clebach Well, but also a fair summary of Patrick’s preaching to the people whom he was about to baptise there. Then we are told of the two Druids who hitherto were listeners only, if they were at all present at the earlier portion of this beautiful scene. It is rather doubtful, for it is stated when the maidens fell asleep in death, that Caplait, who fostered one of them, came and wept; whereupon Patrick consoled him, no doubt, and preached the Gospel to him also, ‘and he believed, and was shorn as a cleric’—that is, he received the tonsure by which he became a cleric destined to the service of the Church.
But his brother Mael acted differently at first. He came up in anger, and said, “My brother has become a Christian, but it must not be so, nor shall it profit thee; I will bring him back to heathenism;” and he spoke injurious words to Patrick. But Patrick here, in a patient spirit, made allowance for the anger of the man. He was long-suffering with Mael, and continued to preach to him until he converted him also to penance; then he tonsured him like his brother, changing the airbacc giunnae, or Druid’s tonsure, into the frontal clerical tonsure then used in Ireland, whence, we are told, arose the celebrated Irish proverb, ‘Mael is like unto Caplait,’ which seems to signify the hardened sinner has at last been converted.
So both the Druids believed in God, and when the time of wailing for the maidens was over they buried them by the fountain Clebach, making for them a round grave or ferta, according to the ancient custom of the Scots. But we call it, says Tíreachán, a ‘relic,’ from the relics of the dead which are therein. And that graveyard, or ferta, with the bones of the saints, was given to God and Patrick and to his heirs for ever. They also built a church of earth in the same place, and it was called Sendomnach Maige Ai, and was given to Patrick for all time.
There can be no doubt that this ancient church is that whose ruins, though of later date, still stand close by Clebach’s Well. It is called ‘Ogulla’—the Church of the virgins—and has given title to the parish. At first sight it might seem that the well is too far from Cruachán, somewhat more than a mile, to be the well where the maidens were wont to wash. But the Druids with their charge may have lived nearer to it, and it is certainly the only fountain on the eastern slopes of Cruachán which answers the description in the text. The name, too, of Ogulla is peculiar and convincing.