It appears that King Laoghaire had two daughters, named Ethne the fair, and Fedelm the ruddy. He had sent them, for what reason is not explained, to his relatives in Connaught, and placed them under the care of two Druids or magi, named Mael and Caplit. Patrick was at Crochan, or Cruachan, the royal cemetery of the kings of Ireland of the race of Herimon, and a very antient residence of the kings of Connaught, in the county of Roscommon. There was a well or fountain called Clebach, on the side of the fort, looking towards the east. There Patrick and his attendants assembled one morning at sunrise. He selected, perhaps, the place and hour with the hope of conciliating some Pagan superstitions. Tirechan says that the virgins found Patrick at the well with a synod of bishops, senodum sanctorum episcoporum; but it is probable that by this word our author means only an assembly or company, not a synod properly so called. It will be better, however, to tell the story in the exact words of that antient historian, translated as closely as possible : —
Then St. Patrick came to the well (ad fontem) which is called Clebach, on the sides of Crochan towards the east; and before sunrise they [i.e. Patrick and his followers] sat down near the well. And lo! the two daughters of King Laoghaire, Ethne the fair (alba), and Fedelm the ruddy (rufa), came early to the well, to wash, after the manner of women, and they found near the well a synod of holy Bishops with Patrick. And they knew not whence they were, or in what form, or from what people, or from what country; but they supposed them to be Duine Sidhe (viros Sidhe) or gods of the earth, or a phantasm.
And the virgins said unto them, “Where are ye? and whence come ye?”
And Patrick said unto them, “It were better for you to confess to our true God, than to enquire concerning our race.”
The first virgin said,
“Who is God?
“And where is God?
“And of what [nature] is God?
“And where is His dwelling-place?
“Has your God sons and daughters, gold and silver?
“Is He everliving?
“Is He beautiful?
“Did many foster His Son?
“Are His daughters dear and beauteous to men of the world?
“Is He in heaven or in earth?
“In the sea?
“In mountainous places?
“Declare unto us the knowledge of Him.
“How shall He be seen?
“How is He to be loved?
“How is He to be found?
“Is it in youth?
“Is it in old age, that He is to be found?”
But St. Patrick, full of the Holy Ghost, answered and said,
“Our God is the God of all men.
“The God of heaven and earth, of the sea and rivers.
“The God of the sun, the moon, and all stars.
“The God of the high mountains, and of the lowly valleys.
“The God who is above heaven, and in heaven, and under heaven.
“He hath a habitation in the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that are therein.
“He inspireth all things.
“He quickeneth all things.
“He is over all things.
“He sustaineth all things.
“He giveth light to the light of the sun.
“Lumen noctis et notitias valat.
“And He hath made springs in a dry ground,
“And dry islands in the sea,
“And hath appointed the stars to serve the greater lights.
“He hath a Son co-eternal and co-equal (consimilem) with Himself.
“The Son is not younger than the Father,
“Nor is the Father older than the Son,
“And the Holy Ghost breatheth in them (inflat in eis).
“The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are not divided (non separantur).
“But I desire to unite you to the Heavenly King, inasmuch as you are the daughters of an earthly King — to believe.”
And the virgins said, as with one mouth and one heart —
“Teach us most diligently how we may believe in the Heavenly King. Show us how we may see Him face to face, and whatsoever thou shalt say unto us, we will do.”
And Patrick said, “Believe ye that by baptism ye put off the sin of your father and your mother?” — They answered, “We believe.”
“Believe ye in repentance after sin?” — “We believe.”
“Believe ye in life after death? Believe ye the resurrection at the Day of Judgment?” — “We believe.”
“Believe ye the Unity of the Church?” — “We believe.”
And they were baptised; and a white garment put upon their heads.
And they asked to see the face of Christ. And the Saint said unto them, “Ye cannot see the face of Christ, except ye taste of death, and except ye receive the Sacrifice.”
And they answered, “Give us the Sacrifice, that we may behold the Son our Spouse.”
And they received the Eucharist of God, and they slept in death (dormierunt in morte).
And they were laid out on one bed, covered with garments: and [their friends] made great lamentation and weeping for them.
And the Magus Caplit, who had fostered one of them, came and wept, and Patrick preached unto him, and he believed, and the hairs of his head were taken off.
And his brother Mael came and said, “My brother hath believed in Patrick, but it shall not be so [with me]; yea, I shall bring him back to Paganism, and to Milthous.”
And he spake harsh words to Patrick, and Patrick spake to him and preached to him, and converted him to the repentance of God: and the hairs of his head were taken off — that is, the magical rule [which] was seen on his head, as is said, air bacc giunnæ†.
It was of him was spoken that most celebrated of all Scotic proverbs, “Calvus is become like Caplit.”
And they believed in God. And the days of mourning (ululationis) for the king’s daughters were accomplished, and they buried them near the well Clebach; and they made a circular ditch, like to a Ferta‡; because so the Scotic people and gentiles were used to do; but with us it is called Reliquiæ, that is, the remains of the virgins. And this Ferta was granted (immolata est) with the bones of the holy virgins to Patrick and to his heirs (heredibus) after him for ever. And he made a Church of earth in that place.
— An account from the Book of Armagh, as recounted in Dr. James Henthorn Todd’s St. Patrick Apostle of Ireland: A Memoir of His Life and Mission (1864).
† Irish, “as a band (bond) of Gehenna (Hell)”
‡ a sepulchral mound of clay covered with grass