There’s a distinctive smell that signals the opening day of Puck Fair — a mix of horse manure, chips, and cigarette smoke — although this year some smokers have traded their cigarettes for vaping.
The first day of the country’s oldest traditional fair got off to an early start and by lunchtime, most of the horse-trading was done and dusted in Killorglin’s fair field, where people started to arrive as early as 6am.
Donal Kissane from Beaufort wasn’t having much luck with his mare and foal which he expected to fetch €800.
The mare was bought as a weanling the previous year.
“It’s a bit tougher this year. There’s not as much demand. I’m being offered €600 and some people are trying to buy the foal on its own but I’m trying to sell them both,” he said.
Horse breeder Francis Sugrue from Ardfert was having better luck and said he managed to sell “a few” of the yearlings he had brought with him.
“It’s as busy at lunchtime as it was at 6.30 this morning. You’d nearly have to be here the night before,” he added.
Crossing the county bounds from Skibbereen, Sean O’Sullivan was on the look-out for a nice cob but expected he’d be going home empty-handed.
“They’re scare enough, a nice type of cob, and some of the prices are away with the fairies,” he said.
One man making plenty of money without any horse to sell was three-card trickster John O’Donoghue from Rhebogue Halting Site in Limerick.
“I’ve been coming here since I was a small child and when Puck was Puck,” said Mr O’Donoghue, who first travelled to Puck 55 years ago with his mother and father.
“I wasn’t always doing the cards but I make a nice living out of it,” he said. “We go around to all the fairs, starting in Spancil Hill in March and finishing at Maam Cross in October, and the UK as well.”
Traditionally the biggest day, thousands of people packed into The Square last night to watch the coronation of King Puck, hoisted aloft his 45ft vantage point from which he will reign for three days.
As always, legendary singer Seán Ó Sé, affectionately known as ‘The Pucker’, gave a rousing rendition of ‘An Poc ar Buile’.
Their association with Puck Fair has not been as long as Ó Sé’s, but Dublin outfit The Puckaroos marked their 40th festival yesterday. Made up of brothers Joe, Tommy, Des, and Dave King, Danny Mahady, Paul Gannon, Gary O’Connor, and Matt Boyle, the group has been playing at Kingston’s and Falvey’s pubs every year since 1977.
“When we first started coming to Puck, there was no such thing as closing,” Joe recalled. “The pubs closed for one hour to sweep out the sawdust and there were even times we got swept out with it.”
Since then, he said their fortunes have improved and they’ve moved up in the world, trading their campsite for a hotel.
An oasis, away from the hustle and bustle, is the pop-up café that has opened at the old Wesleyan church, in aid of the Irish Pilgrimage Trust, which brings children with special needs to Lourdes each year.
Eileen Crowley has been running the café with a team of volunteers, selling
delicious home baking.
“Everyone in Killorglin is involved. We get so much brought into us and it’s a great way of fundraising. Otherwise we’d be out with buckets collecting.”
Another local group
capitalising on the 100,000-plus visitors expected throughout the week is the very successful local rowing club, which has produced a world champion.
Monika Dukarska was only 16 when her parents immigrated to the Kerry town from Poznan in Poland in 2006. Within weeks she had joined the rowing club, learning the sport for the first time. Since 2013 she’s been representing Ireland at international competitions, becoming a citizen in 2009.
In November, she will defend her world coastal rowing title in France, a title she won in 2009 and 2016.
“We have a competition called ‘Pull Like a Dog’ after the O’Donovan brothers, where people can have a go at 250 metres in our rowing machine.”
Puck Fair continues today with Fair Day and tomorrow is The Scattering.
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