One of Ireland’s oldest festivals is on this weekend and it’s also one of our more unusual ones - famously involving a goat. And not just any old goat, mind - this is acaptured in the mountains of Kerry - by a practiced group of goat-catchers - who is destined to be crowned King Puck.
Puck Fair happens every year on August 10th, 11th and 12th in the town of Killorglin in Co. Kerry. This iconic festival is steeped in tradition and draws people from all walks of life from all over the world for three days of music, street performers, pageantry - and a little pinch of debauchery.
The first recorded mention of the Fair come from 1613 when King James I issued a charter recognising the Fair's legal status so it would seem that it was already well-established at this point.
There are a few popular theories as to the origins of the festival which is at the very least 400 years old.
One of the favoured stories comes from the time of Oliver Cromwell - it’s said that when he and his men were ravaging the area around Killorglin, a goat that had been separated from his herd found his way to the town and his distressed state alerted the townsfolk that the Roundheads were close. This gave them enough time to prepare and the goat has been celebrated ever since.
It’s also theorised that the festival has its roots in a pre-Christian festival to bring about a bountiful harvest - the male goat or “Puck” was supposedly a pagan symbol of fertility.
As the Puck Fair website puts it:
“Whatever its origins, the fair has long been and continues to be the main social, economic and cultural event in the Killorglin Calendar.”
“It is a time when old friends meet, when new friendships are forged and the cares of everyday living are put on hold.”
On the evening of the first day of the fair, the Gathering, the captured goat is crowned by the Puck Queen and lifted onto a high platform in the centre of the town.
The Queen is traditionally a local schoolgirl who submits an essay explaining why she deserves to be queen. The horse fair is also traditionally held on the first day with the buying and selling of horses and donkeys taking place in a field outside the town.
The second day is Fair Day, with stall, storytelling and a chance to see King Puck himself. Puck fair attracts locals and tourists in large numbers, - many taking advantage of the fact that the pubs don’t close until three am during the festival
On the evening of the third day, The Scattering, the goat is brought down from his tower where there is a parade in his honour. King Puck is then released back into the wild and celebrations, fireworks and revelry continue long into the night.
While there’s been controversy in recent yearsregarding the practice of contain a wild animal in a contained space for almost three days not to mind the objections of the Gardaí to the extended pub opening hours, it seems that Puck Fair will be here for a long time to come.
Long live King Puck.