Recalling my Puck Fair childhood

Róisín Burke has many happy memories of of her childhood trips to Kerry’s unique Puck Fair, which is at least 400 years old




IT has been many years since I walked the streets of Killorglin, amidst the hustle and bustle that consumes the small town during the Puck Fair. I remember the jaunty banter, packed streets, and a Puck goat perched perilously 40 feet above the crowds in the middle of the square.

I remember the stalls with all kinds of gloriously shiny trinkets and brightly coloured plastic toys.

I remember old men chatting together in low gravelly tones and suddenly turning heads with a grandiose, rapturous laugh that always made me jump.

I remember squeezing my way through the crowds, dodging and diving in any gap that presented itself and I can recall the frustration of not being able to see what was ahead of me on the streets.

To combat this I used to follow sounds that seemed interesting in the hope of finding some excitement. I would track men with microphones, salesman’s pitches, musical treats on the street and anything else that sounded like it could feed my fascination for this eclectic festival.

I’d often forget to eat. I would spend the day wandering the alleys, only to be shot with pangs of hunger when the day slowly settled into night. This was quickly sated with a burger and a can of Coke and to this day I maintain there is no greater meal than one had in a state of severe childish hunger.

After a long day of sights and sounds, weary but wise to the ways of The Kingdom, I would curl up in the car and revisit the excitement of the day in my dreams as we trundled along the 72 miles to home.

I did not know the reason for the festival. I had no idea of the great traditions and rituals that surrounded the gathering of the goat. The crowned puck, sitting calmly above the throngs, while all manners of socialising carried on below, never struck me as a surprising element of the three-day event. I never questioned it.

This, I think, is the true beauty of the Puck Fair. For three days, the goat really is the king of the Kingdom. His authority is not questioned and his role is vital to the activities and events that occur in his honour.

Frank Joy, 59, has been the goat catcher of the Puck Fair for the past 23 years, although the festival is celebrating its ‘at least 400th’ year this weekend. Frank is the man who heads into the mountains to find a king.

“I get a group of fellas, about six or seven, and we comb the mountains. Sometimes you might come across a herd but there might not be a suitable goat so we have to keep going.

“The ideal Puck is about six or seven years old, with a healthy coat and of course good antlers — that is very important,” says Frank. “When we find him, we round him up. Sometimes we use a sheep dog. We get him into a corner and then we lasso him or sometimes it is easier to catch him by the horns. The Pucks are wild and they don’t want to be taken from their environment, so they will give you a few belts. They can be very aggressive.”

Once the Puck is caught, Frank takes him home and spends two weeks hand-feeding him to get him used to people.

“I feed him twice a day from my hand and after a while he is used to me and takes no notice. For the past six years, I keep a spare puck at home and this makes the wild one feel a lot better. I have a nanny goat as well and she recently had two kids so there is a family there for the wild one to join, which is nice for him.”

Frank and his son Francis are the guardians of the goat for the three-day festival. “There is no time for me to enjoy the festival,” Frank says, “I am on call 24/7 in case the goat needs me, it’s not like I can just nip into the pub for some porter.

“We feed him twice a day and we hold him carefully while the queen (a chosen 12-year-old girl) places the crown on his head.”

Once the festival is over, Frank and his son release the Puck back into the wild. “About an hour after the festival the goat is back on the mountains. The Puck is always delighted to be let loose again.

“Often when I am looking for a Puck I come across former kings. Every year we name the Pucks so there is a Charles Haughey, Enda Kenny and an Elvis roaming the mountains. There is also a Bertie Ahern — he went down a treat.”

Frank says he took on the role of goat catcher when asked by chairman Declan Mangan.

“Declan is a good friend of mine and when he asked me I suppose I just did him a favour. When he finishes, I’ll finish too. I don’t know who will take over. We are like the last of the Mohicans.”

- The Puck Fair takes place from Aug 9-12. (puckfair.ie).


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