Concerns about the goat’s capture and confinement are being raised against the background of the 2013 Animal Health and Welfare Act.
The tradition of crowning of a wild male mountain goat each August to reign over the town for three days and three nights of revelry dates back at least 400 years, with the first written record of the Killorglin fair going back to 1613.
The goat is crowned by a young maiden chosen from the community, paraded, and then placed in a cage on a 18m-high stand. Stalls line the streets and live music takes place each night in a festival which has broadened in recent years into family events, street entertainment and craft fair.
With pubs open late, and drawing tens of thousands of visitors each year, Puck Fair is estimated to be worth €7m to Killorglin annually.
A spokeswoman for the festival said hundreds of years of tradition and legend surrounded Puck Fair and “the goat is the festival.”
This year’s King Puck is an all-white male goat. It was caught near Castlegregory in west Kerry some weeks ago and has been “acclimatising” to its environment. The goat is “royally treated” and overseen by animal welfare officers, said the festival spokeswoman.
However, Aran, the Animal Rights Action Network, says their concerns span the range of the festival — the catching of a wild goat, parading it through the town and exposing it to noise and drunken revelry.
Aran said the use of a live puck breaches “the five freedoms” safeguarded in the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, including freedom from discomfort, pain, fear, and distress, “and freedom to express normal behaviour”.
Aran spokesman John Carmody said: “The puck is a wild animal, who doesn’t understand the loud noise, bright lights, and thousands of people in front of him, and he certainly doesn’t understand being hoisted into the air and left there to dangle over a weekend.”
Festival goers should “get with the times and take the puck out of the fair”, he said. “Tradition should never be used to justify animal suffering.”
Aran rejected the fair’s assertion that strict protocols are in place to ensure the welfare of the wild puck, “and they are overseen and checked by an independent veterinary surgeon”. “No veterinary inspections will ease the psychological problems the animal will endure,” Mr Carmody said.
Documenting this year’s festival will lead to an accurate overview of the goat being used, and along with footage from last year, it will be presented to Department of Agriculture “with the hopes of maybe getting the goat out of future puck fairs”.
The Puck Fair festival begins on Monday, August 10 with a horse fair, ending on Wednesday with fireworks and the taking down of the goat.