St. Eithne, styled "of the golden hair", is commemorated in the Irish martyrologies under the 11th of January. She was daughter of Leoghaire, Ard-Righ, or Hy-Sovereign of Ireland at the time of St. Patrick's first visit, as a missionary, to the court of Tara (433). According to the prevailing custom of those days the children of kings and princes were frequently placed, at an early age, in charge of the family of some of the chieftains who coveted the honour of guardianship of the royal offspring. Hence it was assumed that Eithne and her younger sister were fostered close to Cruachan Magh Ai, the dwelling-place, or royal residence, of the Gaelic kings of Connaught. However the brief story of the saint's life centres in the one scene, which took place beside the brook of Clebach, County Roscommon, and is described in the "Acts" of the national apostle of Ireland.
On his way to the royal abode, during his mission to the western province, it is told that St. Patrick and his disciples camped one evening close to the Well of Clebach. On the following day the clerics rose at dawn to chant the Divine Office, and prepare for the mystic sacrifice. It would appear that the two royal princesses were accustomed to visit the same fountain in the early morn, and on this occasion were surprised at the appearance of the strange company who were in possession of the place. They were not, however, dismayed, and Eithne, the elder of the sisters, accosted Patrick and his companions, asking who they were and whence they came. Whereupon the apostle said "It were better for you to confess your faith in our true God than ask about our race." Then, at their request, St. Patrick unfolded to them the doctrines of Christianity, which, under the influence of Divine grace, they accepted with heart and soul. Having baptized them, the saint placed on their brows the veil of virginity.
Then, it is related, Eithne and her sister asked "to see the face of Christ, the Son of the true God", but Patrick said: "You cannot see the face of Christ unless you taste death, and receive the Sacrifice". Whereupon they besought him to give them the Sacrifice that they might see their Spouse, the Son of God. So, by the brink of the fountain, the Sacrifice was offered, and having received their First Communion, Eithne and her sister, in an ecstasy of rapture, swooned away and died. When the days of mourning were ended both were laid side by side, close by the scene of their death, where afterwards a church was raised over the grave.
APA citation. (1909). St. Eithne. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05369b.htm
MLA citation. "St. Eithne." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05369b.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Sean Hyland.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.
Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is feedback732 at newadvent.org. (To help fight spam, this address might change occasionally.) Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.