Mac Rustang's Grave

Patrick Weston Joyce

St. Kevin Brec, abbot of the monastery of Russagh near the village of Street in Westmeath, had a brother named Mac Rustang, of whom we know very little, except that he lived in the eighth century and was accounted a very learned man.

He was buried at Russagh; and for centuries after his death his tomb had a strange influence over women of every age and degree. No sooner did a woman catch sight of it than she began to laugh and scream hysterically; and nothing could stop her till she was removed out of sight of the tomb.

The old monastery of Russagh is still standing, and women may now safely venture into the graveyard, for the fame of the wonder has long since died out; and the people of the neighbourhood know nothing of Mac Rustang or his tomb.

In the Kongs Skuggio an Irish wonder is related somewhat resembling this, about a certain druh or clessan (a jester). The Irish tales are loud in their praises of the overpowering fun of the best gleemen or jesters:—"There was no care, fatigue or sorrow however great, that a man would not forget for a time while looking at this droll fellow and listening to his pleasantries; so that no man could refrain from laughing, even though the dead body of his father or mother lay stretched out before him" ("Smaller Social Hist. of Ancient Ireland," p. 516). But the Kongs Skuggio's clessan beat all other jesters hollow, for his laugh-provoking influence did not cease with his life. Many years after his death the people went to bury a man in the grave where this clessan lay, and they took the poor jester's skull and placed it on a high tombstone in the churchyard (and "there it has stood ever since"). And whoever comes into that graveyard and looks on the skull at the place where the mouth and tongue were—whether he is disposed to sadness or cheerfulness—bursts into immoderate laughter on the spot, and cannot control himself but goes on splitting his sides without stopping till he takes away his gaze. "And that clessan's bones now make almost as many people laugh as he himself did while he was alive."

It would be for the good of the community if that skull lay there still; for a good hearty laugh is wholesome, as it helps to brighten life as well as to ward off disease and other ills that flesh is heir to. (How a good laugh will sometimes frighten away the devil:—for this see my "English as we speak it in Ireland," p. 56.) But the skull is gone; the poor clessan that owned it is forgotten; and the place is now as gloomy as any other graveyard.