One of the more recent, which happened on this Gathering Day exactly 20 years ago, concerned the Hollywood superstar Mel Gibson.
Deep into the production of Braveheart, which at the time was being filmed around Meath and Dublin, the Aussie actor decided to take a few days off to visit Puck Fair — a festival he said he had heard about during his childhood.
Arriving in Killorglin just after midnight, he strolled around the town with a small entourage, un-noticed amidst the crush of humanity on that mild August night.
Passing the closed door of a pub on Langford Street, Gibson paused to listen to a well sung verse of ‘Raglan Road’ drifting through the windows. Asking the doorman to gain admittance, the Aussie received a polite but firm no.
An actor well used to the instant subservience his presence generated, Gibson played his trump card early: “Don’t you know who I am? I’m Mel Gibson, and I’ll be directing two armies in battle tomorrow morning.”
The unimpressed guardian of the doorway stared him straight in the eyes and said: “I don’t care if you’re a first cousin of Charlie Haughey himself, you won’t be getting in here tonight.”
Many famous faces have been drawn to Killorglin down the years, including Brendan Behan, back in the 1950s. After an extended few days of convivial engagement in the town’s hostelries, the Borstal Boy author is said to have delivered one of his more famous observations: “Other people have a nationality — the Irish have a psychosis.”
Further back, JA Froude, a travel writer who toured Kerry in the 1800s, was moved to remark: “Order is an exotic in Ireland. It has been imported from England but will not grow. It suits neither soil nor climate.”
“Puck is the central point of the year for the people of Kerry, everything that happens in Killorglin is measured either before Puck or after Puck,” says Gerard Foley, whose family line dates back to the fair’s earliest times.
“It’s a time for meeting old friends, and many people will convene at the same pub where they met last year and just continue the conversation as if it never stopped. For exiles who live overseas, it’s a time even more important than Christmas — it is considered essential for them to be home for Puck.”
Gerard is the present generation to don the mantle of Baron of Killorglin, a title dating back to 1800, which allowed the family exact tolls from every farmer who bought livestock at Puck. Wooden trestles would block all the roads leading to the town, manned by men with stout sticks, demanding their legal dues.
In 1957, however, Gerard’s father famously declared: “Killorglin is now a free port,” and ceremoniously threw the wooden trestles into the River Laune.
“We were sorry not to have salvaged one of the trestles,” said Gerard.“It would have made a wonderful piece of Puck Fair history to display somewhere suitable.”